On-line Book
cover to Admin History
NPS Expansion: 1930s







New Deal



NPS 1933-39




Expansion of the National Park Service in the 1930s:
Administrative History

Chapter Four: New Initiatives in the Field of Recreation and Recreational Area Development
National Park Service Arrowhead

A. Background to National Park Service Involvement in Recreational Policy Issues

Social conditions underwent marked changes in America during the 1920s and early 1930s. Such factors as mass production of automobiles, development, and expansion of the national highway system, shortened hours in the work week, and more days of leisure for the working man, together with a considerable rise in unemployment, greatly increased the demand for multiple-use recreational areas throughout the nation. [1] As early as 1920 Henry S. Graves, Chief Forester of the U.S. Forest Service, described the growing demand for outdoor recreational space by the American people:

Within the last few years there has been a widespread and spontaneous movement for outdoor recreation. Thousands who formerly spent their vacation days abroad or some nearby resort are traveling long distances by rail or motor to visit the mountains, lakes, and forests of our country.

In part this movement is explained by the betterment of roads, the wide ownership of automobiles, the diversion of travel from Europe by the circumstances of the war, the advertising of our recreation opportunities, and by the prevailing prosperity. A deeper cause is the existence of a new appreciation of outdoor recreation, a new impulse to seek the wholesome environment of the hills and forests and to refresh mind and body through the vigors of mountain and camp life. [2]

Accordingly, Graves argued that the formulation of a national recreation policy was necessary. Such a policy was needed to set forth the principal objectives of national recreation, identify the opportunities and needs of recreational development, establish the basic principles underlying the purposes of the various federal reservations, and delineate the functions of each in the implementation of a national recreational program. As part of this policy he urged that the federal government cooperate jointly with the states, counties, municipalities and local quasi-public organizations to establish recreational areas. Included in his recommendations were programs to preserve scenic values along highways and to promote wildlife conservation. [3]

Responding to the increasing demand for recreational development, the National Conference on Outdoor Recreation was organized in 1924 at the request of President Calvin Coolidge. The conference, which met in Washington, D.C., on May 22-24, 1924, drew some 309 delegates from 128 national organizations that were "interested in the promotion and development of one or more kinds of recreation, in the use of which the land, water, forest, plant, scenic or wild life resources of the United States are essential." The primary function of the conference was to assist in the formulation of a national policy which could "coordinate the activities of federal, state, county, municipal, and unofficial agencies in the field of outdoor recreation and to promote the development of the recreational resources of the country and stimulate their use." A secondary function of the conference was the promotion of the conservation and wise administration of the nation's natural resources. [4]

Two years after the conference Congress responded to the growing pressure for more recreational areas by passing the Recreation and Public Purposes Act. This law authorized the Secretary of the Interior to exchange, sell, or lease unreserved non-mineral public lands to the states and their political subdivisions for recreational development. The act permitted states, counties, and municipalities to acquire land for recreational purposes at low cost. [5]

In 1928 the Joint Committee on Recreational Survey of Federal Lands of the American Forestry Association and the National Parks Association published a report entitled Recreation Resources of Federal Lands. The report included a section on the necessity for a national recreation policy and the various land planning elements that were required in the formulation of such a policy:

Recreation as a recognized use of Federal lands has grown under conditions of opportunism and departmental individualism . Its dominating growth factor is economic pressure rather than coordinated planning and development by the departments of the Government. But it is an inescapable fact that recreation as a public use of Federal lands cannot be turned aside. Almost a quarter of our population is turning today to public reservations for outdoor recreation. Federal land is their property. They demand participation in its use to satisfy their recreational wants, and their demands must be met. Sooner or later the Federal Government, as an obligation of its stewardship, must plan and provide in a forward looking way for a clearly defined adjustment of recreation to the other uses of these public reservations.

City planning can make possible adequate playgrounds and parks to meet local needs, and counties and states can provide large parks and forests for transient enjoyment and relaxation out-of-doors, but man cannot replace the wilderness and the remaining wilderness of America, modified as inevitably it has been, is now found only in Federal ownership. It is then the great responsibility of the Federal Government to provide those forms of outdoor life and recreation which it alone can give and which are associated only with the wilderness.

Land planning or the dedication and classification of the land and its resources to highest service is the fundamental basis upon which the development of outdoor recreation as a national institution must rest. Upon the Federal Government, as an obligation of its stewardship, is imposed the duty to plan and provide in a forward looking way for the complete development of the economic and social resources of its vast

estate. The era of exploitation has passed. Federal land planning must find its proportionate place in the mosaic of nation planning and in coordination with city and regional land planning if a rapidly expanding population is to permanently enjoy the material and spiritual rewards to which it is entitled and which a country abundantly endowed by nature affords. [6]

Chapter Four continues with...
The National Park Service Enters Recreational Planning and Development Field


Last Modified: Tues, Mar 14 2000 07:08:48 am PDT

National Park Service's ParkNet Home