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
Rehabilitation and Expansion
National Park Service Arrowhead

Parks and People:
Preserving Our Past For The Future

                                          by Barry Mackintosh

Finishing touches on a national shrine, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, circa 1941.

Rehabilitation and Expansion

Conrad L. Wirth
Conrad L. Wirth.

Director Wirth's response to the increasing park problems was Mission 66, a ten-year program to upgrade facilities, staffing, and resource management throughout the system by the 50th anniversary of the National Park Service in 1966. President Dwight D. Eisenhower endorsed the program after Wirth gave a slide presentation of park conditions during a January 1956 cabinet meeting. Congress proved equally receptive, appropriating more than a billion dollars over the ten-year period for Mission 66 development.

Lemuel L. Garrison
Lemuel L. Garrison.

A hallmark of Mission 66 was the park visitor center, a multiple-use facility with interpretive exhibits, audiovisual programs, and other public services. By 1960, 56 visitor centers had been opened or were underway in parks from Antietam to Zion, and many more followed. The ubiquitous Mission 66 employee housing, built from several standard plans, was and is far from luxurious, but it was a distinct improvement over most of what preceded it. Employees have also been well served by two other Mission 66 legacies: the Horace M. Albright Training Center at the Grand Canyon and the Stephen T. Mather Training Center at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, both opened in 1963.

Thomas Vint
Thomas Vint.

Mission 66 development, criticized by some as overdevelopment, nevertheless fell short of Wirth's goals — in large part because the Service's domain kept expanding, diverting funds and staff to new areas. More than 50 parks joined the system during those ten years, among them Virgin Islands National Park, Minute Man National Historical Park, Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and Cape Cod, Point Reyes, Padre Island, Fire Island, Assateague Island, and Point Lookout national seashores.

Expansion continued apace under George B. Hartzog, Jr., Wirth's successor in 1964. A hard-driving administrator, Hartzog had made his mark as superintendent of Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, where he laid the ground for Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch. Under his leadership, the Service and system branched out in many new directions.

A. Starker Leopold
A. Starker Leopold.

Natural resource management was restructured along ecological lines following a 1963 report by a committee of distinguished scientists chaired by A. Starker Leopold. "As a primary goal, we would recommend that the biotic associations within each park be maintained, or where necessary recreated, as nearly as possible in the condition that prevailed when the area was first visited by the white man," the Leopold Report declared. "A national park should represent a vignette of primitive America." The natural roles of predators, once routinely killed, and wildfire, customarily suppressed, received special emphasis.

Nature walks with Harold Bryant, Yosemite National Park, circa 1920.

Freeman Tilden
Freeman Tilden.

In the field of interpretation, living history programs became popular attractions at many areas, ranging from military demonstrations at Fort Davis National Historic Site to farming at Booker T. Washington National Monument. Environmental interpretation, emphasizing ecological relationships, and special environmental education programs for school classes reflected and promoted the nation's growing environmental awareness. A new interpretive design center at Harpers Ferry, occupied in 1970, commissioned creative writers, artists, filmmakers, and designers to bring a fresh new look to the Service's exhibits, films, and publications.

William C. Everhart
William C. Everhart.

The historic preservation activities of the Service expanded dramatically beyond the parks. Responding to the destructive effects of urban renewal, highway construction, and other federal projects during the postwar era, the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 authorized the Service to maintain a comprehensive National Register of Historic Places. National Register properties — publicly or privately owned, locally or nationally significant — would receive special consideration in federal project planning and various forms of assistance to encourage their preservation.

George B. Hartzog, Jr.
George B. Hartzog, Jr..

Several new types of parks joined the system during the Hartzog years. Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri, authorized by Congress in 1964, foreshadowed the comprehensive Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, which led to the preservation of other free-flowing rivers as national parklands. On the Great Lakes, Pictured Rocks and Indiana Dunes became the first national lakeshores in 1966, followed by Apostle Islands and Sleeping Bear Dunes in 1970. The National Trails System Act of 1968 gave the Service responsibility for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, running some 2,000 miles from Maine to Georgia. The Service entered the performing arts business with the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Wolf Trap Farm Park in suburban Virginia, and Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas; it also restored one of its existing holdings, Ford's Theatre National Historic Site, for stage productions.

Perhaps the most consequential departure came in 1972 with the establishment of Gateway National Recreation Area in New York City and nearby New Jersey, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco. These major responsibilities for urban mass recreation soon inspired national recreation areas serving other metropolitan centers: Cuyahoga Valley near Cleveland, Chattahoochee River near Atlanta, and Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles. Like earlier departures into historic sites, parkways, and reservoir areas, this expansion into urban recreation stimulated debate about the Service's proper role.

Phillip Burton
Congressman Phillip Burton.

At the beginning of 1973, President Richard Nixon replaced Hartzog with Ronald H. Walker, a former White House assistant. Lacking previous park experience, Walker wisely employed Russell E. Dickenson as his deputy, an old-hand of the Service who had lately headed the national capital parks. Walker remained just two years, to be followed in 1975 by Gary Everhardt, recently superintendent of Grand Teton National Park.

Everhardt's tenure coincided with the bicentennial of the American Revolution. For its part in the celebration, the Service completed a major development program at its two dozen historical areas associated with the Revolution. Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia became the centerpiece of activity in 1976. The old Liberty Bell was moved to a new pavilion, and Queen Elizabeth II presented a new "bicentennial bell" for the tower of the park's new visitor center. President Gerald R. Ford, once a park ranger in Yellowstone, spoke at Independence Hall on July 4.

Mt. McKinley National Park winter patrol, Superintendent Frank Been and friends, circa 1940.

Josh Barkin
Josh Barkin.

William J. Whalen, superintendent of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, succeeded Everhardt in 1977. Although Whalen's background was largely in urban parks, he presided over the greatest wilderness expansion of the park system ever to take place. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 had allowed for up to 80 million acres of Alaskan lands to be reserved for national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and wild and scenic rivers. After lengthy debate among the competing interests, Congress adjourned in 1978 without resolving the fate of the lands in question. Using the 1906 Antiquities Act, President Jimmy Carter then set aside many of the proposed parklands as national monuments. The next Congress reconsidered the issue and finally passed the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act of 1980. ANILCA, as it was known, converted most of the national monuments to national parks and national preserves, the latter permitting sport hunting and trapping. The largest of the new areas, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, contains more than 8,300,000 acres, while the adjacent Wrangell-St. Elias National Preserve encompasses nearly 4,900,000 acres. Together they cover an area larger than Vermont and New Hampshire combined and contain the continent's greatest array of glaciers and peaks above 16,000 feet. In all, ANILCA gave the park system over 47 million acres, more than doubling its size and insuring a spectacular wilderness legacy for future generations of Americans.

James V. Murfin
James V. Murfin.

Russ Dickenson returned from assignment as Pacific Northwest regional director to become director in 1980. Because the Service's funding and staffing had not kept pace with its growing responsibilities, Dickenson sought to apply the brakes on expansion of the system. President Ronald Reagan's administration and the Congress that took office with it in 1981 were of like minds. Rather than creating more new parks, they backed Dickenson's Park Restoration and Improvement Program, which allocated more than $1 billion over five years to stabilize and upgrade existing park resources and facilities.

William Penn Mott, Jr., who had directed California's state park system under Governor Ronald Reagan, followed Dickenson in 1985. Mott returned the Service to a more expansionist posture, supporting such additions as Great Basin National Park in Nevada — which he had studied and recommended while working as a Service landscape architect during the 1930s. Deeply interested in interpretation, Mott sought a greater Service role in educating the public about American history and environmental values. Among his most creative and successful innovations was the Horace M. Albright Employee Development Fund, enabling selected Service employees to take sabbatical leaves for special projects, training, or travel aiding their professional advancement.



Last Modified: Dec 1 2000 10:00:00 pm PDT

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