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THE NATIONAL PARK wilderness NPS Arrowhead logo

looking to the future

For the first time in its history, the National Park Service has in action a program broad enough to permit effective long-range planning, on a scale large enough to overtake today's problems and to prepare for future ones before they develop. This is MISSION 66. It contains nothing new except a broader outlook and the element of scale. It emphasizes a firm determination to carry out without compromise the purpose of National Parks as defined by law and strength ened by tradition.

How does the wilderness idea fit into this program?

We may look for the answer in the development plans for roads and developed areas, in plans for the management of the wilderness area proper, and we shall, later, comment upon the several separate parts of the MISSION 66 program as they pertain to wilderness. But, the real answer lies in the precepts that give direction to park planning right from the start, and govern every step of the process.


How does one plan for a National Park?

The process requires these steps:

Inventory of the significant and distinctive resources of the park or monument. What does the area have?

Evaluation of the human benefits which should derive from those resources. What should people get out of a visit to the area?

Definition of the activities and experiences, the facilities and services required to bring forth those benefits. What must the visitor do, and what must be done for him?

Establishment of controls and limitations. To what degree can these things be done without loss of values or impairment of the resource?

The answers to these four questions are the basis for area planning, for they define the area objective, identify the legitimate needs of the visitor, and establish the controls necessary to perpetuate both the resource and the opportunity to enjoy it.

Saving the details for later, we can apply this line of reasoning, for example, to such areas as Mount Rainier or the Everglades, to Joshua Tree, or Dinosaur, and come up with some fundamental conclusions:


Wilderness—without in any way discounting the value of specific features of high visitor interest such as a geyser or a grove of Sequoias—wilderness is the significant resource of such areas.

Every person who visits such areas is entitled to and should have a wilderness experience.

Plans for such areas must preserve large, undeveloped wilderness, and as well the wilderness atmosphere of the park as a whole—the roadsides and the environment of developed areas.

Thus, the guidelines for a park are established, and within them, detailed planning can proceed. With this brief background, we can now look at MISSION 66 item by item, and understand how each part fits together, and contributes, not only to better park use, but to the preservation of natural and wilderness values.

The National Parks, to review briefly, are beset by four kinds of problems:

1. Competition for the use of park resources—park recreation versus exploitation for commercial or other public purposes.

Today, the National Parks are endangered less by the demands of industry for raw materials, than by other forms of public use, such as water and power developments, pipelines, and the like. How such conflicts are resolved depends, as much as any other factor, upon public understanding, and acceptance of the National Park objective. Favorable attitudes are generated through beneficial and appropriate park experience. The more a National Park is used, profitably and beneficially, for its intended purpose, the less vulnerable are its lands to threats of commercial exploitation.

To prepare the National Parks for as full a measure of recreational, educational, inspirational use as they can safely withstand not only is consistent with the park objective, but is also a defense against adverse use. To provide for appropriate and beneficial park use is to safeguard park integrity.

2. Inappropriate or harmful recreational use.

Appropriate park use derives from the unimpaired, unmodified, natural scene. There is no place in future plans for activities which deprive any visitor of full enjoyment of the natural scene, or which require unusual or inappropriate facilities or services.

3. Destruction of the physical resources of a park by man-caused or natural agents.

We have reviewed the record of progress in protecting park resources from fire, pests, erosion, and the like. Adequate funds, personnel, and facilities will strengthen the protection program all along the line. Equally important, protection will be backed up by continuous observation and research, to better harmonize protection practice, both as to method and degree, with the wilderness principle.

4. Problems attending increased visitation—damage, intrusion, impairment by people and by the facilities they require.

This is the basic subject upon which MISSION 66 bears most directly, and attacks from several directions.

The MISSION 66 plan coordinates all aspects of park operation— management, protection, development, and use. It continues the policies and strengthens the practices of all aspects of park preservation.

As for development, here, too, is a new opportunity to contribute to preservation while improving the quality of park use. The major contribution of this program to conservation stems from the fact that it is comprehensive and long-range. Many of today's problems of congestion, impairment, and incomplete enjoyment were brought on by piecemeal development controlled by expediency and the limitations of the moment. For the first time, it is now possible to plan intelligently to meet future problems, with reasonable assurance that those plans will be carried out. MISSION 66 is in a position to use development as a means of better preservation.

There will be no radical departures from past practice in carrying out the details of MISSION 66 development. Being a complete and comprehensive plan, does, however, give new emphasis and new force to the following:


Only two things about the MISSION 66 road program need be said: (1) Roads will not be extended into any area now considered park wilderness; the rebuilding of existing roads to bring them to a standard required today, and the completion of roads on a comparable scale in newer areas, constitute most of the road construction program; (2) the road system for a park is considered to be a basic instrument of park presentation and interpretation, and this principle will influence future road plans.



The most significant scenic, scientific, or historical areas within a park shall be reserved exclusively for esthetic, interpretive, and recreational enjoyment. Other developments—accommodations and administrative facilities—when they are necessary in a park, shall be restricted, and, if necessary, relocated, in the less scenic and less vital portions of the parks. This is the principle behind the development of Colter Bay in Grand Teton, for instance; the New Canyon Village to replace intrusive facilities now on the rim of Yellowstone Canyon; the proposal to move the headquarters for Mount Rainier out of the park; to transfer developments from Spruce Tree Point to a less vital area in Mesa Verde; to limit accommodations in Everglades; to eliminate accommodations in Rocky Mountain; and to limit public use development in Yosemite Valley and to transfer all possible administrative and utility facilities outside that park.

This is the direction in which we will move in future planning for other areas, but it will take longer than the lifetime of MISSION 66 to complete the job. The pattern is set, and the way is clear to save the most precious areas and features for the purpose for which they are best suited—refreshment of the body, mind, and spirit.


Almost every problem and every principle discussed has counterparts in the problems of use and preservation of those extensive, undeveloped, natural areas we call wilderness. The wilderness, too, will be used by people—not intensively, for remoteness and the difficulty of travel and subsistence will remain a relatively effective safeguard against mass use. Nevertheless, use by people is recognized whenever we evaluate wilderness in terms of human experience—solitude, remoteness, quietude, beauty, sense of adventure.

Wilderness areas are most enjoyed by those who penetrate them. But, they also benefit every person who travels through a park. It is the undeveloped wild land beyond the roads that provide the setting and the background. Wilderness areas are preserved, not alone for the hiker, but equally for the benefit of all.


Wilderness areas are preserved by excluding roads and developments for permanent occupancy, and by leaving the natural resources unexploited. All of this is inherent in the MISSION 66 program, but to stop at this point would be an oversimplification of the problem. Wilderness, as it exists today, cannot long endure without attention—let us call it management, by which we mean only this: to correct and neutralize the influence of man. It does not mean control of natural forces or management of the environment for the purpose of creating a better wilderness.

As a consequence, we extinguish fires in the wilderness, control pests and disease, and repair damage resulting from man's activities. Trails are provided—to permit access and legitimate use, but also to minimize and localize the impact of feet and hoofs. When the number of wilderness users becomes significant we may, justifiably, prepare sites for camps, or for campfires, and arrange for the disposal of refuse to minimize and localize the effects of use. Regulation may be needed—limiting numbers, length of stay, the man-to-horse ratio, fishing, or other recreation practices. Each wilderness area is a special case, and any combination of these or other management practices may be called for to minimize the effects of man's presence.

Wilderness areas must be protected as well from impairment resulting from conditions existing outside their boundaries. Park streams whose headwaters drain from disturbed lands become silted; wildlife problems are created in the parks because of predator control, and the like beyond their borders; and epidemic insect infestations are generated in nearby burns or logging operations. These are but a few of many examples that might be cited.

Wilderness today is but a fragment of the wilderness that was. Wilderness has been reduced and divided; this, too, is man's doing, much of it inescapable.

When wilderness spanned the continent, wildfire, insect and disease were natural, normal factors in its ecology. The result was a varied environment, comprised of many plant types, many overlapping generations and stages of succession.

Today, wildfire and insect and disease infestations still occur, but now they have the capacity to change a much reduced wilderness area to a one-stage condition. It is our purpose to preserve a true sample of wilderness. This requires that natural forces be regulated to the degree necessary to keep them in scale with the reduced size of the wilderness that remains today.



MISSION 66 seeks to make those parts of a park that are already developed more effective in meeting visitor needs for refreshment, enjoyment, understanding, and inspiration. To move accommodations to less vital places is one step in the direction of dispersal of use. But more is planned.

Park roads will be utilized as an interpretive device, with roadside exhibits, markers, and signs as required. A journey through a park will become a continuous experience in seeing, understanding, and appreciating the natural scene, with many places for the visitor to pause for a spectacular view, to see a roadside exhibit, to walk a park trail. The objective of all is three-fold: to relieve the impact of multiple use of the climax scenic areas, to make more of the park usable, interesting, and enjoyable, and to emphasize the natural scene as the true climax element of a park experience.


To present and interpret a park in its most meaningful, most interesting, and most attractive light is the key idea behind all planning for visitor use, and to a very great degree it determines what developments and what services visitors require. The ultimate National Park System will provide a full representation of America—its scenic lands and natural features, and its history. It goes a long way toward doing so now. It is most important for that scene and that history to be so presented and so interpreted that it will have full meaning for Americans. To understand and appreciate wilderness is the first step in its preservation.


MISSION 66 proposes a much strengthened program of research and observation. Increased park use has introduced an element that year by year renders the problems of protection and preservation of the natural scene more complex. The normal pace of nature is slow, and the influence of man upon an environment is often indirect, obscure, and delayed, and often not recognized in time to take preventive action. Our use, management, and protection practices must be guided by accurate knowledge, secured through continuous observation and study of the natural scene and of man's effect upon it. This portion of MISSION 66, although small, is extremely important. Guesswork, rule-of-thumb, and intuition are not good enough—the preservation of this irreplacable resource requires precise knowledge and scientific procedure.

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Last Modified: Sat, Feb 1 2003 10:00:00 pm PDT

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