Preserving Nature in the National Parks
A History
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The national park system contains some of the most recognizable natural features on this continent. Such sublime scenery as the Grand Canyon, the Yosemite Valley and Half Dome, Old Faithful, and the Teton Mountains are familiar to millions. These and other landscape icons of the system symbolize the romantic nationalism that has always sustained public support of national parks. The celebrated geography of high mountains and vast open spaces has helped perpetuate a kind of "From the New World" fantasy—the parks as virgin land—which has long enhanced America's national park movement.

In part because of their great symbolic beauty, the national parks have been easy to write about with enthusiasm and effusion. Early studies, and many works published by the National Park Service itself, have tended to glorify the founding fathers of the Park Service and extol the expansion of the system. Although the founders deserve much credit, and expansion has certainly been important, the appeal of this zealous approach has diminished. Recent scholars have written not so much about how the parks came to be created and who promoted them, but about how they were treated after their establishment. As a study of the management of nature in the parks, this book belongs in the latter category.

Nature preservation—especially that requiring a thorough scientific understanding of the resources intended for preservation—is an aspect of park operations in which the Service has advanced in a reluctant, vacillating way. The analysis that follows is at times critical of the Park Service. Indeed, writing National Park Service history from within runs some risks— but it also enjoys certain advantages. As a historian with the Park Service for more than two decades, I have had the opportunity to observe the Service closely and to refine my understanding of its culture and corporate psyche. I have had ready access to the files and to the thoughts of fellow employees and retirees. Each individual held strong opinions about what the Service has been and should be, and discussed national park management with a high degree of candor and openness.

It is my hope that this book will inform future efforts of the Park Service, the public, and the Congress to address national park issues. To prepare for the future, it is important first to analyze the past with as much clarity and impartiality as can be mustered.

Richard West Sellars
Santa Fe, New Mexico


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