Preserving Nature in the National Parks
A History
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Chapter 6
Science and the Struggle for Bureaucratic Power: The Leopold Era, 1963—1981

Mission 66 and Parkscape U.S.A.

Conrad Wirth's Mission 66 had revitalized the National Park Service, lifting it out of the doldrums of the postwar years. Much as the New Deal had done, the program poured large amounts of money into the parks, to bring facilities up to standards the Service deemed appropriate. Horace Albright believed Mission 66 to be one of the "noblest conceptions in the whole national park history," ranking in importance "with the creation of the National Park Service itself." [1] Indeed, the emphasis of Mission 66 on park development and use made it more evident than ever that the large parks in the system were subject to a kind of recreational "multiple use." Taken as a group, they accommodated a range of uses, such as downhill skiing, motorboating, sportfishing, hiking, horseback riding, and hunting (in recreation areas and in Grand Teton National Park)—all facilitated by largescale camping and lodging accommodations.

The extensive surveys for future parks, begun as early as the 1930s and continued under Mission 66, began to pay off in the 1960s, with the growing national interest in setting aside recreational lands. Congress approved a remarkable array of additions to the national park system during the 1960s and 1970s. New parks were created at a more rapid pace than ever before, with many of the areas providing opportunities for intensive recreational uses. From the shoreline surveys alone, twelve parks came into the system between 1961 and 1972, including Cape Cod, Padre Island, and Point Reyes national seashores, along with Pictured Rocks, Indiana Dunes, and Apostle Islands national lakeshores. Together these new parks contained more than 700,000 acres, with 718 miles of shoreline as initially established. [2]

Wirth's expansionist zeal was rivaled by that of his successor, George B. Hartzog, Jr., who became Park Service director early in 1964 and used many of the surveys conducted under Wirth to bring about the creation of new parks. A politically astute lawyer and Park Service veteran, Hartzog adroitly capitalized on the momentum of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society to expand the national park system. Support for his expansion efforts continued through the first administration of President Richard M. Nixon. Under Hartzog ten new parks were created in 1964 alone. Other notable years included 1965, with fourteen new parks; 1966 and 1968, with ten each; and 1972, with thirteen. Overall, between 1961 and 1972 (the year Hartzog's directorship ended), a total of eighty-seven units came into the system, constituting nearly 3.7 million acres. Besides the seashore, lakeshore, and recreation areas, numerous small historical parks were established, plus larger natural units like Voyageurs, Guadalupe Mountains, and North Cascades national parks. [3]

Many of these parks were brought in under a new Service agenda: "Parkscape U.S.A." In the mid-1960s, seeking to maintain the momentum created by Mission 66, the Service devised this successor program, which had as its principal focus the continued expansion of the system, rather than construction of roads and facilities, as with Mission 66. In Director Hartzog's words, Parkscape U.S.A. would "complete for our generation a National Park System by 1972," the centennial year of Yellowstone. The tremendous surge in outdoor recreation during this era placed added pressure on national park areas and increased the urgency to create new parks. In 1966, at the close of Mission 66, total annual visits to the park system had reached 133.1 million, up from 61.6 million when the program began in 1956. By 1972, annual visits climbed to 211.6 million. [4] These figures stemmed in part from the increased number of parks over the years, but clearly the Service's responsibilities and workload were growing and the parks were under a greater burden than before. [5]

Among the new parks, the national recreation areas in particular added to the Service's involvement in recreational tourism. Director Hartzog stated in an article in the July 1966 National Geographic (a special issue celebrating the Park Service's fiftieth anniversary and the accomplishments of Mission 66) that the national recreation areas "have been so popular that [the Service knows now] that we do not have enough of them." Hartzog suggested that it was in this category that the "greatest expansion of the National Park System" would take place. In the same article, the director extolled the virtues of Lake Powell, the principal feature of recently created Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Hartzog viewed this new recreation area as representative of the "spirit of Parkscape U.S.A." His statement identifying the Park Service's significant new program with a large water impoundment came less than two years after passage of the Wilderness Act, which reflected a diametrically opposed philosophy of land management. [6]

During Hartzog's tenure and the Parkscape era, eight reservoirs were added to the system as national recreation areas, among them Bighorn Canyon, Lake Chelan, and Curecanti. Each of these new units marked a continuation of the national recreation area concept initiated in the 1930s with Lake Mead, and each reflected the strength of the recreational tourism urge within the Park Service. Yet Lake Powell (acclaimed in the National Geographic article for its sparkling waters and its swimming, waterskiing, and motorboating potential) flooded deep, strikingly scenic sandstone canyons of southern Utah. Water impoundment began in 1963, damaging the riverine ecology downstream in Grand Canyon. The dam that helped create a national recreation area began to degrade natural conditions in a national park. [7]

As the environmental debates of the 1960s and 1970s intensified, the National Park Service was substantially compromising itself as an advocate for nature preservation. Indeed, reclamation interests, which were allied with the Service in national recreation area management, proposed about a half-dozen additional water-control projects in northern Arizona that would create a string of reservoirs all or partly within Grand Canyon National Park itself. Such proposals threatened to alter drastically the very heart of this spectacular park, one of the giants of the system. Conservationists eventually succeeded in blocking the proposals, preventing further degradation of Grand Canyon. [8]

Two of the new national recreation areas created during the Parkscape era—Gateway and Golden Gate—were not associated with big western reservoirs; rather, they were justified as providing the crowded New York City and San Francisco metropolitan areas with significant recreational opportunities. Yet they also brought the especially difficult challenges of urban conditions, not unlike those the Service already faced in managing the numerous parks and monuments in Washington, D.C. With the exception of Washington, the Park Service's chief involvement with cities had been management of small historic sites, such as Federal Hall on lower Manhattan Island and Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Having little experience with large recreational open space in or near major urban areas, the Service had to devote considerable attention to developing the skills and staffing necessary to administer Gateway and Golden Gate. Other national recreation areas near large urban areas soon followed: Cuyahoga Valley (near Cleveland), Chattahoochee River (near Atlanta), and Santa Monica Mountains (near Los Angeles). [9] The demands of these heavily used parks could not help but heighten the bureau's emphasis on planning, developing, and managing for intensive public recreational use.

Reservoir and urban park management drew Park Service attention to law-enforcement issues much more than before, as crowded public-use zones became scenes of increasing crime and accidents. Even the traditional natural parks like Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite began to experience urban kinds of law-enforcement problems, owing largely to crowded conditions. A 1970 Interior Department report on law enforcement compared Grand Canyon Village (an extensive development on the canyon's south rim) to a small city, with an average overnight population of 6,000 people, plus a daily transient population of 12,000. Similarly, figures for Yellowstone's Old Faithful Village were 5,000 overnight plus 10,000 transient. Yosemite Valley topped them all with 15,000 overnight and 18,000 transient, for a daily total of 33,000. Another internal report revealed that "major offenses" (homicide, rape, assault, robbery, and larceny) had more than doubled in the national park system in just a few years, jumping from about 2,300 incidents in 1966 to about 5,900 in 1970.

In the summer of 1970, a riot in Yosemite and a young boy's death in one of Yellowstone's thermal pools brought greater focus on lawenforcement and safety issues. The widely publicized riot by mostly countercultural youth in Yosemite Valley's Stoneman Meadows on the Fourth of July in 1970 emphasized to Park Service leadership that the bureau's lawenforcement capability needed serious attention. [10] The riot created a crisis atmosphere that made Congress more receptive to increases in lawenforcement funding. Russ Olsen, then assistant superintendent in Yosemite, later observed that Hartzog "parlayed" the American public's concern about law enforcement "into big bucks"; and in March 1971 the director announced the establishment of a law-enforcement office in Washington. He also announced a wider deployment of the U.S. Park Police, a Park Service unit previously engaged in policing parks and other federal properties in the District of Columbia and environs. Hartzog planned to increase the Park Police staff by 40 positions (from 371 to 411), the bulk of the new positions to be assigned to the Service's regional offices and to parks most in need of police authority.

In addition, the director began a "comprehensive" law-enforcement training program, to include 225 entry-level rangers and selected management personnel. He anticipated that by the beginning of the 1971 summer travel season, 50 rangers from throughout the national park system would each have completed 540 hours (17 and a half weeks) of police training. Furthermore, an "intensive" eight-week program was to be conducted for supervisory park rangers from the areas most impacted by crime; and a minimum of 100 rangers hired only for the summer season would receive training. [11]

Exacerbating the situation, law-enforcement emphasis conflicted with the antiestablishment attitudes of the times, as evidenced in Yosemite. As longtime Park Service law-enforcement authority William R. Supernaugh recalled, a critical factor was that park rangers did not understand the youth of this era—their concerns for free expression and their challenge to authority. The rangers were "separated in years and point of view" from the youth of the 1960s and 1970s. Still, the Service's expanded law-enforcement effort would become increasingly important in park management, and part of the customary scene in national parks.

In Washington, Hartzog placed the newly created law-enforcement office with the rangers, a move that reflected their long-established responsibility for such work. With the rangers bureaucratically allied with park superintendents (and solidly within the main feeder group for superintendency positions) the law-enforcement programs, or "visitor protection and safety" programs, as they would become known, were virtually assured of continued strong support from Service leadership. [12]

Following the tragic death of nine-year-old Andrew Hecht, who in June 1970 accidentally fell into one of Yellowstone's boiling-hot thermal pools, safety issues also came front and center. Hecht's parents filed a $1 million tort claim against the Park Service, charging that safety precautions around the thermal pools were inadequate. The Hecht case (and effective pressure applied directly on the Park Service by the Hecht family) brought public criticism on the Service for its overall weak safety program, generating a significant new emphasis on safety in the parks. An increased commitment of funds and staffing included a safety specialist in the Washington office, allied with the ranger operations. [13]

In another program expansion, Hartzog diversified and increased the parks' interpretive activities, particularly focusing on environmental education and "living history" presentations, the latter given at historic areas by Park Service employees dressed in period costumes. The motivations behind these two activities were related. Even living history (especially "living farms") contributed to the Great Society's efforts to improve public understanding of environmental matters. Reflecting Director Hartzog's deep personal commitment to the idealistic values of the Great Society (and in all probability his awareness of potential urban-area political support for the Park Service), the new programs focused on inner-city populations, mainly children, with the hope of enriching their everyday lives and perhaps their appreciation of nature and the nonurbanized world. [14]

Hartzog's "Summer in the Parks" program, providing entertainment and recreational opportunities for city dwellers, began in Washington, D.C., in the late 1960s and became a cornerstone of the Service's urban efforts. The director soon added other programs, involving many parks in the system. Among the new endeavors was the National Environmental Education Development program, which provided materials and curricula for environmental studies, kindergarten through high school, especially in schools near units of the national park system. Associated with this, Hartzog's Environmental Study Area program identified special areas in the parks where student groups could conduct field studies. In January 1970 the Park Service reported that it was operating 67 study areas throughout the system, and that 50,000 children were participating in the education program, with increasing involvement expected soon. Even more popular, the living history programs had spread to 114 parks by the mid-1970s. [15]

To assist with these efforts, Hartzog had an interpretive planning and design center built at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, which opened in March 1970. He located the new facility adjacent to the Stephen T. Mather Training Center—another new Park Service operation (begun during the Wirth era, but officially opened under Hartzog in 1964). The Mather center emphasized interpretive training for Service employees. Also in the early 1970s, Hartzog created a new unit in the Washington office to provide oversight and policy guidance for urban issues: the Office of National Capital and Urban Affairs, which included the divisions of Urban Park Planning and Urban Park Programs. [16]

In addition, in 1971 Hartzog centralized most park development activities by combining the eastern and western offices of design and construction (which Wirth had enlarged to push through Mission 66) into a single office in Colorado, the Denver Service Center. By the early 1960s, at the midpoint of Mission 66, Park Service design and construction offices had employed more than 400 people, including engineers, planners, architects, landscape architects, graphics specialists, and construction representatives, along with administrative support positions. When the Denver Service Center officially opened in 1972, it employed approximately 350 persons, committed in one way or another to national park planning, design, and construction. In addition, the center stationed specialists in the parks to oversee major projects. Reflecting the continuing emphasis on development, service center employment would increase with preparations for the 1976 Bicentennial, which included a huge design and construction program. The center's staffing would peak in 1978 at about 800 employees. [17]

A high point in the growth of Park Service activities during this era came with the demanding responsibilities in Alaska—the extensive planning for new parks, as mandated by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. From the first, the Alaskan effort was exceptionally political, involving other Interior Department bureaus and the U.S. Forest Service, plus the state government of Alaska and numerous Alaskan native groups. Tight congressional and departmental deadlines, along with intense surveillance from both environmental and private-enterprise groups, added to the pressure, so that the attention of Park Service leadership was continually drawn to this arena. The ensuing 1978 proclamation by President Jimmy Carter of national monuments totaling about 41 million acres in Alaska (mostly creating new units, but also including additions to some older parks) initiated huge additional land management responsibilities for the Park Service. Carter's action was sanctioned two years later when Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, increasing by approximately 2.6 million acres the Alaska lands placed under Park Service administration. [18]

The 1980 legislation also designated about 32.4 million acres of Alaska park lands as wilderness—more than ten times the total acreage so designated in all other parks. Congress thus bestowed on the Service the responsibility for more wilderness acreage than that of any other land-managing bureau—a factor that helped obscure the Service's reluctance to support passage of the 1964 wilderness legislation and, subsequently, its restrained implementation of the act. The antithesis of development, wilderness designation meant that restrictions would be placed on national park backcountry management, thereby protecting the designated areas not only from excessive use by the public, but also from the managerial and developmental impulses of the Park Service itself.

The Park Service met the act's ten-year deadline to evaluate roadless park lands of five thousand acres or more for their wilderness suitability, and submitted to the secretary recommendations for wilderness in fortynine parks. Further wilderness reviews continued. Realizing that public use of these areas had to be controlled, the Service initiated formal backcountry planning for wilderness and other undeveloped areas. From the beginning of the review process, however, environmental organizations charged that the Service was opting for smaller wilderness designations than it should. They claimed that, using land classifications recommended by the 1962 report of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, the Service had devised a purist definition of wilderness to exclude certain undeveloped lands. It also planned what the environmental groups viewed as unnecessarily wide buffer areas between wilderness zones and developed areas (especially roads), rather than extending the zones close to development. [19]

In a particularly striking case, the Service limited its wilderness proposal in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to conform with its plans to construct a second transmountain highway through the park. Opponents, claiming the Park Service was allied with "crowd recreationists," gathered sufficient support to defeat the road plans. The wilderness proposal was increased in size; however, entangled in the politics of road construction, it was never enacted by Congress. Similarly, the Service's expansive plans for developing Cumberland Island National Seashore into a recreation hub to accommodate more than fourteen hundred visitors a day foundered in the face of strong opposition seeking to protect the Georgia sea island's relatively undeveloped natural setting. Instead, access to the park was calibrated to allow a far more limited number of visitors per day, and more than twenty thousand acres of the park were designated as wilderness or "potential wilderness." Overall, Congress frequently disagreed with the Service's more limited proposals and increased them in size before enacting them into legislation. In part because of the opposition of local congressional members and a changing national political climate, several large parks containing huge tracts of de facto wilderness never gained the added protection of the Wilderness Act, among them Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Big Bend, in addition to Great Smoky Mountains. [20]

With the creation of several dozen new parks of different types during the 1960s and early 1970s, the growth of the national park system was so rapid that the Service established a task force to make recommendations on how such growth might be controlled. This was apparently the first formal effort of its kind in the bureau's history. The report, submitted in early 1973, stated that indeed "areas of questionable quality" had been included in the system, and that they had "overreached [the Park Service's] capability to manage a System at the desired level of quality." Without naming them, it recommended that some park areas, mainly "in the recreation category," should "not be administered by the National Park Service," and that there should be "no further urban recreation areas added to the System." Yet, instead of reductions, large numbers of new parks (including recreation areas and the Alaska expansions) added tremendously to the burden. Later studies to reduce the size of the system were conducted sporadically during the 1970s and 1980s. These efforts failed to produce results, in part because additions to the system most often were a result of congressional politics and largesse, and proposals for removal would be zealously resisted. [21]

Although Park Service leadership might have wished to get rid of certain parks it considered unworthy, it never ceased to promote overall growth of the system. Just before the 1973 report appeared, the Service issued a long-range National Park System Plan for natural areas, a document intended to guide expansion. The plan presupposed continued expansion, and (inspired by the rising public interest in environmental issues) stated that the national park system should "protect and exhibit the best examples of our great national landscapes, riverscapes and shores and undersea environments; the processes which formed them; the life communities that grow and dwell therein." The plan sorted the nation's natural history into physiographic and biological regions, representation of which would form the basis for a "completed National Park System." Identifying "gaps" in the system, the plan divided the regions into types of areas. For instance, the Great Basin region, centered in Nevada and Utah, contained areas of "mountain systems," "works of volcanism," "hot water phenomena," and "works of glaciers." [22]

Ironically, at the height of the environmental movement the Service contemplated expanding the national park system on the basis of scientific and ecological characteristics, while only grudgingly accepting ecological science as part of park management. The Park Service may have thought of itself as being ecologically aware, but it remained largely uninformed about its biological resources and oblivious to the ecological consequences of park development and use. Its reluctance, dating from the 1930s, to pursue recommendations of the wildlife biologists for scientifically based preservation of natural resources had no doubt allowed a vast multitude of both anticipated and unforeseen changes to the parks' natural conditions— changes that might have been avoided had the Service understood the parks better.

Before passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964, the Park Service was the only federal bureau with a mandate specifically encouraging preservation of natural conditions on public lands; thus it might have been expected to assume a leadership role in the emerging environmental movement. Instead, entangled in its own history and the momentum of its tourism and park development, the Service had to be awakened to ecological management principles by outside critics. Ecological management inherently required far deeper understanding of natural resources than did scenic preservation and tourism management, a factor that brought new pressure on a traditional Park Service. The Service's vacillating response would stand in marked contrast to its energetic support of law enforcement, safety, interpretation, and other matters related to tourism.


Preserving Nature in the National Parks
©1997, Yale University Press
sellars/chap6a.htm — 1-Jan-2003