Preserving Nature in the National Parks
A History
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Chapter 5
The War and Postwar Years, 1940—1963

The Road to Mission 66

Although Newton Drury was not enthusiastic about recreational programs and the development associated with them, they remained viable during his directorship, even growing in certain aspects. As in the 1930s, Conrad Wirth spearheaded the Service's recreational planning efforts in the 1940s. After he became director in 1951, recreational tourism, culminating in the Mission 66 emphasis on intensive public use, would become more than ever the driving force within the National Park Service. It was the antithesis of the scientific approach to park management.

With reduction of Service personnel and termination of the Civilian Conservation Corps, maintenance of roads, trails, and buildings in the national parks had declined drastically during World War II. As anticipated, the end of the war brought a sudden upswing in the number of park visitors. Yellowstone superintendent Edmund Rogers reported that in the first three months following victory over Germany in the spring of 1945, visits to the park were up 56.4 percent. Immediately after the Japanese surrender in August, the number of visits "practically doubled" and continued to increase during the remaining weeks of the travel season. Overall, the number of visitors to the national park system jumped from 11.7 million in 1945 to 25.5 million in 1947. With poorly maintained park facilities, the Service, as Sequoia superintendent John White described it, felt more than ever like engineers "compelled to dam a stream in flood without opportunity to divert the flood waters." [80]

Advance planning for development of the national parks to meet the needs of tourism in the postwar era had begun shortly after Pearl Harbor, with a "Plans on the Shelf " program overseen, not surprisingly, by Conrad Wirth. Although Drury promised in his 1945 annual report that after the war the Service would "do what we were doing before the war, but do it better," in fact he did not effectively promote postwar improvement of park facilities. [81]

Yet Drury did attempt to get development funds, for instance in 1947 citing such problems as "poorly equipped and crowded" campgrounds, "pitifully inadequate" utilities, and hotel and tourist accommodations "vastly in need of enlargement and modernization." That year he estimated that annual appropriations of $45 million were needed over a span of seven years (an overall total of more than $300 million) to take care of physical facilities. Two years later he raised the multiyear request to half a billion dollars. But his efforts brought few results. Concerned about huge war debts, only in 1947 did Congress grant the Service a substantial budget increase—which was quickly followed by a return to minimal funding. [82]

Conservative by temperament, Drury, in his postwar funding quests, was probably inhibited by his longtime opposition to increased development of the national parks. His timid leadership, along with the restrained circumstances of the times, meant that he was not able to obtain sufficient support from Congress to launch an overhaul of national park facilities. [83] Even so, his funding efforts triggered fears of too much park development. In the spring of 1948 the Sierra Club advised the Service of its apprehension about the proposed park development program. Drury promised the club that the projects would not intrude on backcountry areas. In a revealing statement, he added that "perhaps an even more important point" was that the chances of the budget request being approved were "decidedly slim"—in effect, not to worry about it, the Park Service was not going to get the money anyway. Similarly, Drury once assured a group of eight Sierra Club leaders that the Service was unlikely to impair the parks; perhaps exhibiting his innermost attitudes toward park development, he told them, "We have no money; we can do no harm." [84]

Drury took a conservative stance with another program that had arisen and that again revealed the Service's affinity for intensive recreational development. Although funds for improvement of national park facilities remained limited, funds became available for studies of recreation potential at proposed reservoir sites in river basins of the West. The Park Service, having undertaken such a study for Lake Mead in the 1930s and accepted responsibility to manage the new Boulder Dam National Recreation Area, soon expanded its involvement with river basin development. It undertook recreational planning for the reservoir to be created behind Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River, and in 1941 agreed to survey the recreational potential of reservoirs planned by the Bureau of Reclamation for the Colorado River Basin.

The Service also cooperated with the bureau on plans for river basins in Texas and California, and in 1943 it began surveying areas for possible recreational use along that part of the Alaskan Highway within United States territory. Another big opportunity came in 1944, when Congress authorized flood control in the Missouri River Basin and the Service agreed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct recreational surveys of the prospective reservoirs in that basin. Beyond recreation, the surveys included extensive archeological investigation and salvage of artifacts from reservoir sites. Providing funds to help keep Park Service staff on board, and overseen by Conrad Wirth's recreation and land planning office, these programs grew substantially during Drury's directorship. [85]

As had happened with Boulder Dam National Recreation Area, the Park Service moved beyond the initial surveys and planning toward actual management of reservoir recreation areas with marinas and campgrounds and attendant facilities. Drury was uneasy with these responsibilities, believing them inappropriate for the Park Service. They ran counter to his belief that the Service's essential mission was to maintain large natural areas in minimally altered condition while also accommodating the public. Early in 1945 H. W. Bashore, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, requested from Secretary Ickes a clarification of departmental policy on which bureau should assume recreation responsibility at certain reservoirs. Bashore's request related most immediately to Millerton and Shasta reservoirs in California, but it also raised fundamental questions regarding the Park Service's true purpose. [86] In an exchange of letters that became known as the "Black Magic—Ivory Tower" correspondence, Drury and the Interior Department laid out opposing views on the wisdom of expanding Service commitment to reservoir recreation management.

Drury believed that a departmental policy on the emerging field of reservoir recreation would have an "important bearing on the future operations of the National Park Service," and he appealed to Secretary Ickes. Seeking to limit involvement with reservoirs, Drury argued that there was "no black magic" in the management of such areas, and that they did not have to be the Service's responsibility. Noting also that it was cumbersome for two bureaus to divide management of reservoirs (as with flood control and public recreation), Drury then raised his chief concern: the potentially negative effects on the Service and on the national parks themselves. Additional involvement with reservoir recreation would, he predicted, "dissipate our energies and divert them from the performance of our primary functions." It would make the national park system vulnerable by diluting the standards and policies of park management that had evolved over time.

The director noted that Service policies against consumptive uses in the national parks (such as grazing, mining, and timber harvesting) were already disputed. These policies would become even more vulnerable if Congress and the public could no longer distinguish "true national park areas" from multiple-use areas. Thus the Service should "keep clear of such equivocal arrangements" as reservoirs, and "local or mass recreation" should not be a primary concern. Although recognizing the Park Service's legal responsibility to assist with state and federal recreational planning (stemming from the Park, Parkway, and Recreational Area Study Act of 1936, which the Service itself had promoted), Drury nevertheless wanted to avoid becoming the nation's recreation overlord. [87]

But with Ickes' concurrence, his assistant secretary Michael W. Straus (who would soon succeed Bashore as commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation) rejected Drury's recommendations as an "open abdication" of a serious responsibility and an attempt to retreat to an "ivory tower," away from the conflicts of recreational management. He argued that both "law and custom" (the Park Service's congressional mandates and its past efforts in recreation) made it the "best equipped" bureau to assume the duties in question. Straus noted the diversification of the national park system (a result of Park Service expansion efforts in the 1930s). He wrote that, beyond maintaining the "purity . . . of natural phenomena," the Service already managed reservoirs such as Lake Mead, and Jackson Lake (in Jackson Hole National Monument, soon to be incorporated into Grand Teton National Park), and historic areas like Independence Hall, the Statue of Liberty, and numerous sites in Washington, D.C. Straus saw Drury's opposition as "narrow-visioned" and urged an agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation for the Service to operate the recreational facilities at Millerton and Shasta reservoirs. [88]

Having once accused the Park Service of becoming a "Super Department of Recreation," Drury seemed to have hoped that he was now in a position to restrict the Service's recreational programs. (Indeed, he was currently overseeing the removal of most of the New Deal—created recreational demonstration areas from Park Service custody, as had been originally planned.) But Drury lost the policy debate with Straus. The Service was assigned to manage recreational facilities at Shasta and Millerton reservoirs in California, and at Lake Texoma on the Red River between Texas and Oklahoma.

Although willing to manage large recreation areas such as Lake Mead and Grand Coulee, which could be construed to be of significance to the nation as a whole, Drury continued to oppose involvement with smaller reservoirs. [89] Ultimately, the Park Service was able to divest itself of recreational management at some lesser sites, beginning with a 1948 agreement for the Forest Service to assume the responsibilities at Shasta Reservoir. The following year, faced with difficulties caused by "unsatisfactory division of authority" between the Park Service and the Corps of Engineers (as Drury had anticipated), the Service was permitted to transfer all of its management responsibilities at Lake Texoma to the corps. [90]

The recreation programs promoted by Conrad Wirth beginning in the 1930s and expanded during Drury's administration had entrapped Drury in a situation he could not fully reverse. The Park Service's ties to river basin studies and reservoir management put it, as Drury stated it, in an "equivocal" policy and philosophical position. Although committed to protecting the parks' scenic landscapes from intrusions such as dams, the Service, through its reservoir work, lent support to the inundation of scenic canyons and valleys throughout the West. Moreover, Drury's fears that reservoir recreation commitments would make the national park system more vulnerable foreshadowed the troubles that arose when the expansive dambuilding programs of the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers began to threaten established units of the park system.

Drury, in fact, contributed to these troubles. Park Service involvement with the proposed Echo Park dam project, which was intended to inundate a large portion of Dinosaur National Monument and would become the most controversial of all postwar dam initiatives, had begun in 1941, the year after Drury became director. At that time the Service agreed with the Bureau of Reclamation to undertake the recreational survey for prospective reservoirs on the upper Colorado River. Drury hoped the Park Service might gain meaningful influence in the extensive planning under way for the Colorado basin; moreover, the bureau provided funds for the survey— surely an enticement for the Service. Included in the agreement was an understanding that, because the proposed Echo Park reservoir would drown a large portion of Dinosaur, consideration would be given to redesignating the flooded monument a national recreation area. [91]

Drury's initial willingness to support this plan seems itself equivocal and contradictory to his reluctance to manage reservoirs. The vast Echo Park area had been added to the original (and very small) Dinosaur National Monument only in 1938, and the Service lacked real familiarity with the recently added park lands that were proposed for inundation. Therefore, it had little appreciation of the area's scenic qualities—a key consideration for leaders like Drury—and the Park Service became a willing participant in the dam proposal.

The Service failed to take a position against the dam until the late 1940s, when the area's scenic beauty became more appreciated and it appeared that the dam might indeed be built. This delay nearly led to the flooding of a large part of the national monument. Furthermore, by the time the vacillating Drury began to oppose the dam, other water control proposals were threatening major national parks such as Grand Canyon, Kings Canyon, Glacier, and Mammoth Cave. [92]

Having been a cooperative endeavor with the dam builders, the Service's reservoir work had become, as Drury saw it, "a two-edge sword," with the recreational potential of artificial lakes being used as one pretext to gain approval for dams and reservoirs that would intrude on existing national parks and monuments. The preeminent example of the loss of a park's spectacular, natural landscape had come with the creation of a reservoir in Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley, and the specter of Hetch Hetchy disturbed Drury. There, as he put it, "something commonplace was substituted for something great and fine"—a situation he began to fear could be repeated. In June 1948 he instructed his regional director in San Francisco to be "very cautious" and avoid giving the dam builders "ammunition that will be used against the basic cause in which we are primarily engaged." [93]

In hearings held early in April 1950, the Park Service objected to the Echo Park dam proposal—a position contrary to that taken by Secretary of the Interior Oscar Chapman, who favored the dam. Later that year, in what turned out to be his last annual report, Drury stated that in recent years the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation had promoted projects that would "destroy or impair the beauty and interest" of the national parks. He called for balanced, long-range planning to address natural resource issues, including nature preservation. Acknowledging that the Park Service had worked "wholeheartedly and conscientiously" with the dam builders to promote reservoir recreation, Director Drury nevertheless argued that an "artificial body of water" in a park never makes a "satisfactory substitute for a natural scene"—a policy he had ignored in his earlier agreement to allow a reservoir in Dinosaur National Monument. [94]

Drury's lack of enthusiasm for reclamation projects and his lateblooming opposition to the Echo Park dam helped precipitate his sudden resignation early in 1951. Secretary Chapman, who still favored the dam, was severely criticized for forcing a respected conservationist out of office. Reflecting on his difficulty with the secretary, Drury later recalled that, as a dedicated Republican who had survived a decade of Democratic administrations, he had been like a "cat in a strange garret." He noted also the hostility of the Bureau of Reclamation, which, he claimed, was the "dominant bureau in the Department of Interior," and which "more or less colored" Chapman's views. [95]

Arthur Demaray, longtime member of the Park Service directorate, succeeded Drury. Having already indicated he would retire soon, Demaray remained director for only eight months, until December 1951, when Conrad Wirth assumed the office. [96] From the time of Drury's resignation, the Park Service, under orders from Chapman, accepted a diminished role in the Echo Park conflict—a role that surely did not enhance the Service's image within the growing conservation movement. Director Wirth often supplied information to and worked behind the scenes with opponents of the dam. Nevertheless, the hard-fought battle against the dam—ultimately successful in the mid-1950s—was waged mainly by conservation groups such as the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society, which used their increasing strength to fight reclamation projects. [97]

Even though Wirth opposed the Echo Park dam, his support for other national recreation areas contrasted markedly with Drury's ambivalence. In a 1952 address to the American Planning and Civic Association, the new director expressed pride in the Service's accomplishments in this area, boasting that its many years of experience made it best equipped to undertake planning for reservoir recreation: "We feel that these activities are closely related to other responsibilities of ours, and that it is just common sense that we should undertake them."

Wirth claimed that involvement with river basin development programs put the Service in a better position to defend the national parks against possible intrusions of dams and reservoirs. Like Drury, he favored the most impressive reservoirs, especially those behind Boulder and Grand Coulee dams. [98] His interest in the larger reservoirs would help lead the Park Service in 1958 to agree to take charge of recreation at another huge reservoir: Lake Powell, expected to flood nearly two hundred miles of southern Utah canyon country upstream from the massive Glen Canyon Dam, due to be completed in the 1960s. Just over two years after the defeat of the Echo Park dam, the Service signed on to help manage a reservoir that would drown some of the most spectacular sandstone canyons in North America. The sacrifice of this area to a new reservoir was part of the price of the compromise that had prevented construction of the Echo Park dam. [99]

Much of the land to be covered by Lake Powell had once been proposed for part of the national park system as a large, essentially natural area. Thus, at different times, the Park Service had been willing to manage Echo Park and the Glen Canyon area either as national parks or as reservoir recreation areas. This readiness to administer certain public lands under whichever management policy was arrived at by the political system was revealed in Wirth's 1952 address to the American Civic and Planning Association. The newly appointed director noted that many people considered Hells Canyon, along the Snake River on the Idaho-Oregon border, to be of "national park or monument calibre." But with the Bureau of Reclamation already planning to dam the canyon, Wirth suggested that it could therefore become a national recreation area under Park Service management. [100] Committed to recreation programs and to managing large natural areas, the Service revealed its opportunistic tendencies when an attractive prospect of either type arose.

As one of the chief proponents of the New Deal diversification of Park Service programs, Wirth did not suffer the equivocation that Drury experienced when contemplating the possible effects of reservoir management on the attitudes and priorities of the Service. With an emphasis on physical recreation much more than on the contemplative enjoyment of natural scenery, recreation areas involved substantially different management approaches, perhaps most notably the allowance of public hunting. These areas also emphasized water sports, which necessitated development of marinas and beaches, beyond the tourist accommodations and administrative facilities typically found in national parks. [101] They nurtured the Park Service's already-ingrained affinity for recreational tourism. And in this regard, Wirth soon focused his considerable bureaucratic skills on a huge new program designed to improve the capability of the national parks themselves to receive the hordes of tourists arriving in the 1950s.


Preserving Nature in the National Parks
©1997, Yale University Press
sellars/chap5d.htm — 1-Jan-2003