Mission 66: Birth of the Modern National Park

What Was Mission 66?

The National Park Service developed Mission 66 in the middle of the 1900s to expand visitor services and "modernize" park facilities. It followed the development of the US highway system and coincided with the creation of the first interstate highways. After World War II, the availablity of affordable cars after World War II, increases in income, and better roads combined to spur automobile-borne tourism. Consequently, Americans visited the national parks like never before. But the parks were not equipped to handle the growing visitation. In fact, visitation to the units in the National Park System increased from 17 million in 1940 to 56 million in 1956.

An aerial view of Flamingo
An aerial view of the Flamingo visitor center and marina.  Visitors exploring Flamingo today may notice changes since this picture was taken.

NPS photo (EVER 12280)

Conrad Wirth, then the National Park Service director, proposed the Mission 66 program to Congress in 1955. It was a ten-year project to be completed in 1966 for the 50th anniversary of the National Park Service. In 1956, the program gained the backing of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and was funded by Congress.

The old Ingraham Highway, a gravel road through the Everglades

NPS photo (EVER 18880)

Construction in the Everglades before World War II

Prior to the completion of the Ingraham Highway (the main park road today) this dirt road, known as the Old Ingraham Highway, would be used to reach the isolated area of Flamingo. The completion of more durable roadways, like the Ingraham Highway, helped to bring visitors to new areas. Subsequently, the National Park Service needed more facilities to accommodate the increase in visitation.
Civilian Conservation Corps workers constructing a maintenance building in the Everglades

NPS photo (EVER 307214)

During the Great Depression, young men from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked to create structures, trails, and other improvements for the national parks. Here CCC workers can be seen constructing a maintenance building in the Everglades. They often completed these structures with basic designs and cheap supplies.

Mission 66 included much needed upgrades to roads, utilities, restrooms, campgrounds, employee housing, and other essential infrastructure. However, the most noticeable change was a whole new category of park building, the visitor center. Visitor centers were a new concept, serving as the main point of contact between the park and the visitors. Visitors could have questions answered, attend interpretive programs, and orient themselves to the park all in one stop. Uniting functions in a single building would allow for the parks to handle the greatly increased demand more efficiently.

Birth of the Modern National Park

Last updated: September 29, 2021