Table of Contents



Biographical Vignettes

Recommendations for
Further Reading

Parks and People

Evolution of a National Park Concept

Wildiands Designated...But Vulnerable

Creating a Service to Manage the System

Expanding the Scope

Revising the Mission

Rehabilitation and Expansion

Partners and Alliances

National Park Service: The First 75 Years
Creating a Service to Manage the System
National Park Service Arrowhead

Parks and People:
Preserving Our Past For The Future

                                          by Barry Mackintosh

Stanley Steamer, second car to enter Yosemite National Park, July 1900.

Creating a Service to Manage the System

Stephen T. Mather
Stephen T. Mather.

Among those recognizing the need for park management was Stephen T. Mather, a wealthy Chicago businessman, vigorous outdoorsman, and born promoter. In 1914 Mather complained to Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane, a former classmate at the University of California, about the way the parks were being run. Lane challenged Mather to come to Washington and do something about it. Mather accepted the challenge, arriving early in 1915 to become assistant to the secretary in charge of park matters. Twenty-five-year-old Horace M. Albright, another Berkeley graduate who had recently joined the Interior Department, became Mather's top aide.

Gilbert H. Grosvenor
Gilbert H. Grosvenor.

Mather and Albright took up the crusade for a national parks bureau. That summer they conducted a leading congressman, the editor of the National Geographic Magazine, the president of the American Museum of Natural History, the vice president of the Southern Pacific Railroad, and other prominent writers, editors, and opinionmakers on an elaborate pack trip through Sequoia and Yosemite. Gilbert Grosvenor of the National Geographic Society devoted the April 1916 issue to the parks, and favorable articles appeared in The Saturday Evening Post and other popular magazines. Mather hired publicist Robert Sterling Yard and obtained funds from 17 western railroads to produce The National Parks Portfolio, a lavishly illustrated publication sent to congressmen and other influential citizens.

Robert Sterling Yard
Robert Sterling Yard.

Congress responded as anticipated. Final success came on August 25, 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the long-awaited bill establishing the National Park Service. The act gave the Service responsibility for Interior's national parks and monuments, Hot Springs Reservation in Arkansas (made a national park in 1921), and "such other national parks and reservations of like character as may be hereafter created by Congress." In managing the parks, the Service was directed "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.
Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr..

Secretary Lane appointed Mather the first director of the National Park Service, and Albright became assistant director. Unfortunately, Mather shortly had to be hospitalized for one of several bouts of depression he suffered over the years, leaving the youthful Albright to organize the bureau, obtain its initial appropriations from Congress, and prepare its first park policies.

Franklin Knight Lane
Franklin Knight Lane.

The policies, issued in a letter from Lane to Mather in May 1918, elaborated on the Service's dual mission of conserving park resources and providing for their enjoyment by the public. "Every activity of the Service is subordinate to the duties imposed upon it to faithfully preserve the parks for posterity in essentially their natural state," the letter stated. At the same time, it reflected Mather's and Albright's conviction that more visitors must be attracted and accommodated if the parks and the Park Service were to prosper. Automobiles, not permitted in Yellowstone until 1915, were to be allowed in all parks. "Low-priced well as comfortable and even luxurious hotels" would be provided by concessioners. Mountain climbing, horseback riding, motoring, swimming, boating, fishing, and winter sports would be encouraged in keeping with the policy that "Every opportunity should be afforded the public, wherever possible, to enjoy the national parks in the manner that best satisfies the individual taste."

Ansel F. Hall
Ansel F. Hall.

Natural history museums, exhibits, and other activities supporting the educational use of the parks would be promoted as well. Interpretive efforts already underway in several areas soon blossomed into full-scale programs of guided hikes, campfire talks, publications, and exhibits. The first full-time park naturalists were appointed at Yellowstone in 1920 and Yosemite in 1921.

George Wright
George Wright.

Congress would appropriate no money for park museums until the 1930s; meanwhile, private philanthropy funded museums at Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Mesa Verde.

The policy letter also sought to guide further expansion of the park system. "In studying new park projects, you should seek to find scenery of supreme and distinctive quality or some natural feature so extraordinary or unique as to be of national interest and importance," it directed. "The national park system as now constituted should not be lowered in standard, dignity, and prestige by the inclusion of areas which express in less than the highest terms the particular class or kind of exhibit which they represent."



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