Parks, Politics, and the People
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The motivation to provide an account of my thirty-six years of experience in planning and administering national parks and other recreational areas grew out of the belief that such an account would be helpful to people who want to pursue careers in public service, particularly in the field of conservation of our natural and human resources.

It has been said that public servants live in a fishbowl. The public, Congress, and heads of government departments are constantly scrutinizing everything government employees do. Every letter they write, every document or plan they work on is the public's business. Public servants are subject to constant criticism, and they are often the victims of misrepresentation without benefit of any opportunity or means for rebuttal. Yet many of the best administrative, professional, and scientific people in the country are government employees. It is my belief that close observation by the public makes government employees more alert and proficient than they would be otherwise. Their skill and attitudes are thereby frequently adjusted and improved for better service to the country.

This is not to say that government service is all unrewarding drudgery. My point is simply that people should know as much as possible about the ups and downs of their proposed life's occupation and should select one they will enjoy, for if they do not enjoy their work they will not achieve success. Remember President Harry Truman's advice: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!" Although this statement was made in a political frame of reference, it can apply as well to any occupation, including working for the people at any level of government.

The event that crystallized my decision to write this, my first book, was the receipt of a letter dated January 5, 1957, from President Robert F. Goheen of Princeton University informing me that I, along with my counterpart and good friend in the United States Forest Service, Chief Forester Richard J. McArdle, had been selected to receive the Rockefeller Public Service Award for distinguished service to the nation in the field of conservation of resources. In his letter President Goheen said:

The purpose of the University and of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, 3rd in establishing the program was to strengthen public service by giving recognition to distinguished civilians in the federal government, to improve the public service as a career, and to make it possible for experienced men and women thus recognized to pass on to others some of the fruits of their career experience. Because of this last feature, the Trustees hope you will want to make some further contribution of your own, and to that end the University is prepared to provide financial assistance. .. . You have no obligation to the University nor to anyone else in connection with, or as a condition to receiving, the Award.

In my reply I stated:

I believe I understand fully the objective of the Princeton University and of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, 3rd in establishing the award, and the desirability of following certain procedures in order to obtain full benefits from its intended purpose. I am wholeheartedly in support of its purpose of creating in the public's mind an accurate picture of the scope and quality of work done by career public servants, which I hope will, at the same time, improve the quality of the career service.

I have been thinking about this book for a long time. When I retired from government service in 1964, I gave more thought to it, indicating in my retirement letter to my associates in the National Park Service that among the several things I was going to do in retirement was write a book, and a lot of people encouraged me to do so. I have tried to relate in an interesting way not only my own experiences but those of some of my associates and of the Park Service as a group, experiences that we have had as career public servants. Some of these episodes I think are quite interesting as illustrations of the problems that arise in public administration and of how they are approached and resolved. In telling of these experiences I hope to convey the overall importance of the human values in public service.

Although this book has turned out to be more about my own life in government than I originally intended, nevertheless that is perhaps the best way I can describe what government service is really like—its good points and its bad ones. Certainly it is the life I am best acquainted with, and I consider myself to be representative of thousands of other government employees. Much of the content of the book was assimilated from many years of association with National Park Service people in a common effort to serve our country as managers of the people's heritage, natural and man made. I thank each and every one of them for wonderful memories of the National Park Service of my time.

I am especially indebted to Horace M. Albright, one of the founders of the National Park Service and its director at the time the service's Civilian Conservation Corps organization and program were established in 1933. Mr. Albright read in draft the two chapters on the CCC, found them to be accurate and adequate, and suggested no corrections or revisions.

I must also say that had it not been for the succession of fine secretaries who kept me advised and helped in keeping my records straight during my years in the Park Service, I could not have attempted to write this book. To them—Florence Duncan, Lorraine Griffith, Virginia Ayres, Belva Brandon, Rita Matthews, and Helen Johnson—I owe a great deal.

Friends are a great asset and comfort, and they can keep one busy and on the right track. This book is as much the work of William S. Bahlman and James F. Kieley as it is mine. Bill spent hours on hours with me in the archives digging out material, setting up files, and being a general adviser. Jim has been my editor and must be given the credit for putting the entire manuscript in fine, readable condition. All three of us are retired National Park Service people, a part of the Steve Mather Park Service family.


Montgomery County, Maryland


Parks, Politics, and the People
©1980, University of Oklahama Press
wirth2/preface.htm — 21-Sep-2004

Copyright © 1980 University of Oklahoma Press, returned to the author in 1984. Offset rights University of Oklahoma Press. Material from this edition may not be reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the heir(s) of the Conrad L. Wirth estate and the University of Oklahoma Press.