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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
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L. National Seashores

The last of the new types of recreational areas added to the National Park System in the 1930s was the national seashore. The concept combined the preservation of unspoiled natural and historical areas with provision, at suitable locations, for beachcombing, surf bathing, swimming at protected beaches, surf and sport fishing, bird-watching, nature study, and visits to historic structures. The seashore concept also sought to protect the way of life to which the people of a given shore area had been accustomed for generations. [99]

In 1934 the National Park Service launched a preliminary survey study of some twenty areas along the Atlantic, Gulf, Pacific, and Great Lakes shores in an effort to preserve the remaining unspoiled coastlines for public recreation areas. Although extensive attention was not given to shoreline preservation until the 1950s, the fact that private development was consuming the remaining unspoiled seashore and lakeshore areas at an alarming rate and leaving less of it available for public use was increasingly recognized in the early 1930s. Little had been done to reserve shore areas for public use, and the rush for seashore summer homesites and the land and real estate booms of the prosperous 1920s had taken its toll. The Park Service thus felt that it was appropriate to include seashores and lakeshores in the overall land-use conservation and recreational planning programs made possible through New Deal relief efforts. [100]

Employing the technical expertise of the Coast Guard and other government agencies, the National Park Service continued its seashore and lakeshore studies in 1936 and 1937. The studies had two principal objectives: first, identification of those areas of outstanding importance from the national standpoint that might be considered as additions to the National Park System; and second, those that were outstanding from the state standpoint and that were needed primarily for recreational purposes. The study resulted in the recommendation that twelve major stretches of unspoiled Atlantic and Gulf Coast shoreline, comprising some 437 miles of beach, be preserved as national seashores in the National Park System and thirty areas be preserved as part of state park systems. [101]

One of the shorelines, Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, attracted considerable attention, and local Representative Lindsay Warren succeeded in getting legislation through Congress on August 17, 1937, authorizing the establishment of the cape as the first national seashore in the National Park System. The bill stipulated that the area should cover approximately 100 square miles of barrier islands and beach and that the cape would not be formally established until the state had acquired the lands, except within village boundaries, and turned them over cost-free to the federal government. Residents of the area might make a living fishing under rules to be established by the Secretary of the Interior. Except for certain portions of the area deemed especially adapted for swimming, boating, sailing, fishing, and other recreational facilities, the seashore was to remain a primitive wilderness area to preserve its unique flora and fauna. The act also provided for the retention of the 5,915-acre Pea Island migratory bird refuge under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture. [102]

In March 1938 a National Park Service planning team prepared a "Prospectus of Cape Hatteras National Seashore." The prospectus included the presentation of basic information relative to the area and the formulation of policies for its development. Since the cape was the first area of its kind to be authorized by Congress the Park Service adopted a policy to be used in the selection, development, and operation of this and other similar areas that might be acquired in the future. The policy statement read:

Primarily a seashore is a recreation area. Therefore in its selection, the boundaries should be placed in such a manner that the maximum variety of recreation is provided. Thus while provision for bathing may be the first consideration of these areas, it must be kept in mind that a far greater number of people will be more interested in using a seashore area for other recreational purposes. It is desirable therefore to provide ample shoreline for all types of beach recreation. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore provides such an area in that there is extensive shoreline for all forms of recreation both for immediate use and for future development.

Secondarily, the area should include adjacent lands which by reason of historical, geological, forestry, wildlife, or other interests, have sufficient justification to be preserved by the Federal Government. It is important therefore to reach back into the hinterlands and acquire areas which will provide a variety of interest, scenic, scientific and historic. This principle has been followed in determining the boundaries of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Thirdly, it is important to include in the area, lands necessary for proper administration and lands which serve principally as a protection for the recreational and other developments which are the primary purpose of the area. Inasmuch as the Cape Hatteras National Seashore area is composed of islands and peninsulas, the land area in most cases is circumscribed by water, which fact in itself offers considerable protection. Inasmuch as control of much of the water in the Sounds may be desirable for fish and bird life, the boundaries of Cape Hatteras National Seashore area will embrace a substantial portion of these waters.

The development and operation of the Seashore area shall follow the normal national park standards with the understanding that recreational pursuits shall be emphasized to provide activities in as broad a field as is consistent with the preservation of the area. It shall be the policy of the Service to permit fishing, boating and other types of recreation under proper regulations and in designated areas where such activities may not conflict with other factors of greater importance. Where natural landing fields occur, the use of land and sea planes may be permitted where not in conflict with the interests of wildlife or inconsistent with proper development and use of the area. [103]

The years 1939-41 witnessed the initial efforts taken toward the goal of establishing Cape Hatteras as a unit of the National Park System. On March 30, 1939, the State of North Carolina created the State Cape Hatteras National Seashore Commission to direct the acquisition of state and private lands for the national seashore with an appropriation of $20,000. While the state was beginning its land acquisition program Congress passed a bill redesignating the area as a "national seashore recreational area" and permitted limited hunting under carefully prescribed limits. By June 1941 the approved boundaries of the seashore included an aggregate of some 62,500 acres within which were three existing federal areas comprising 405 acres: Kill Devil Hill National Memorial, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. [104]

The Cape Hatteras land acquisition program lagged until after World War II . By then private development had made the projected northern boundaries unfeasible, and the revised boundaries were reduced to some 30,000 acres. With the generous aid of the Old Dominion Foundation, established by Paul Mellon, and the Avalon Foundation, created by Ailsa Mellon Bruce, substantial and equal grants were made to the Park Service, which matched by the State of North Carolina, made the establishment of Cape Hatteras possible in 1953. [105]

The seashore and lakeshore studies of the 1930s were not resumed until the Mission 66 program of the mid-1950s. With the support of the Old Dominion and Avalon foundations, the new shoreline surveys resulted in several major reports including Our Vanishing Shoreline (1955), A Report on the Seashore Recreation Survey of th< Atlantic and Gulf Coasts (1955), Our Fourth Shore, Great Lakes Shoreline Recreation Survey (1959), and Pacific Coast Recreation Area Survey (1959). Despite the fact that the second national seashore--Cape Cod--was not authorized by Congress until August 7, 1961, some twenty-four years after the initial authorization for Cape Hatteras, the National Park System had fifteen seashores or lakeshores by 1972 encompassing some 718 miles of beach and 711,075 acres. [106]


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

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