The latest E2 quest for U.S. National Parks and Monuments would not be complete without a brief history of the National Park Service itself. So, along those lines…

The concept of a “national park” has been generally credited to George Catlin. It was on a trip through the Dakotas in 1832 that he documented his thoughts on the increased impact the westward expansion might have on the indigenous Indians, the wildlife and wilderness. In his own words, they might be preserved “by some great protecting policy of government…in a magnificent park… A nation’s park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature’s beauty!”

The time is now 1864 and Catlin’s dream is starting to come true. Congress donates Yosemite Valley to California for preservation as a state park. In 1872, Congress sets aside Yellowstone country in the territories of Wyoming and Montana “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Since Wyoming and Montana were still territories and there was no state government to manage the area, it wound up in the hands of the U. S. Department of the Interior as a national park, the first area in the world to claim that distinction. In the 1890s and early 1900s, Congress followed that up by designating Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Crater Lake and Glacier as national parks.

In 1906, Congress passed the Antiquities Act which authorized presidents to set aside “historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic and scientific interest” in federal custody as national monuments. During his term in office, Theodore Roosevelt used the act to proclaim 18 sites such as the Arizona Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon as national monuments. Congress later changed the distinction from national monument to national park.

By 1916 the Interior Department was responsible for 14 national parks and 21 national monuments. The only problem was that there was no organization in place to manage them. Enter the United States Army. With the help of military engineers, park roads and buildings were developed. The cavalry served to protect against hunting, grazing and timber cutting. They also served to assist the public while they were visiting the parks. The problem was that there was no central administration or policies that governed the supervision of the parks and monuments.

This became quite evident when competing interests vied for the same resources. On one hand you had the conservationist movement who favored regulated use of the lands, such as the building of dams, and on the other you had the preservationist movement who sought to preserve the natural beauty of the lands. It came to head when Congress permitted a dam to be built in Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley over the opposition of the preservationists led by John Muir.

Recognizing the impending controversies, Congress responded. On August 25, 1916 President Woodrow Wilson approved legislation that created the National Park Service with the Interior Department. It then passed the management of the parks and monuments onto the newly created bureau with the direction to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Congress also recognized that the majority of the national parks were located in the west. In fact, Arcadia National Park in Maine was the only place in America east of the Mississippi River that held the distinction of being a national park. This was because most of the land in the west was federally owned and did not require purchase. This was not the case in the eastern United States. Many of the lands in the Appalachian region such as Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains and Mammoth Cave were in private hands. If the National Park System was to benefit more people, these lands would either have to be acquired or donated. With the assistance of the state governments and local philanthropists these lands were gradually acquired and incorporated in to the system over the next decade. This was probably one of the few times that America expanded from west to east.

No history of the National Park Service would be complete without recognizing the contributions made by the Civilian Conservation Corps. With the advent of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt started the New Deal and the Park Service played a vital role by employing thousands of people in the Civilian Conservation Corp. They were charged with construction, maintenance and rehabilitation projects within the state and national park systems. Many of the people hired under the CCC went on to be career employees of the National Park System.

By the time 1999 rolled around, the national park system was comprised of 379 areas in nearly every state and U.S possession.

Here’s a listing of the Directors of the National Park Service along with a one liner denoting their accomplishments

Stephen T. Mather - May 16, 1917 – January 8, 1929
He got the ball rolling. Promoted park access and use. Spent much of his personal fortune on the development of the parks.

Horace M. Albright – January 12, 1929 – August 9, 1933
Encompassed national historic sites and memorials into the National Park System.

Arno B. Cammerer – August 10, 1933 – August 9, 1940
Supervised the CCC and recreational area planning and management of the parks

Newton B. Drury – August 20, 1940 – March 31, 1951
Director during WWII, was able to resist most demand for consumptive use of the parks resources.

Arthur E. Demaray – April 1, 1951 – December 8, 1951
Brief tenure, maintained good working relations with Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior.

Conrad L. Wirth – December 8, 1951 – January 7, 1964
Initiated Mission 66 – a ten year billion dollar program that aimed to upgrade the parks facilities and services in conjunction with the National Park Service’s 50th anniversary.

George B. Hartog – January 9, 1964 – December 31, 1972
Introduced 70 new areas to the park system as well as expanding the park’s urban recreation, historic preservation, and environmental education efforts.

Ronald H. Walker – January 7, 1973 – January 3, 1975
Appointed by Richard M. Nixon, was first appointee that did not have experience in the park system. Advocated “stabilizing” of park system due to lack of funding. Nonetheless, 14 areas incorporated during his time.

Gary Everhardt – January 13, 1975 – May 27, 1977
Oversaw increase in park development and interpretations to coincide with the bicentennial of the American Revolution

William J. Whalen – July 5, 1977 – May 13 – 1980
Appointed by President Jimmy Carter – saw the acreage under the park system double with the proclamation of much of the Alaska wilderness as national monuments.

Russell E. Dickenson – May 15, 1980 – March 3, 1985
Obtained support for the Park Restoration and Improvement Program which provided over 5 billion dollars earmarked for park resources and facilities

William Penn Mott – May 17, 1985 – April 16, 1989
Issued 12 point plan to protect the parks and resources and how to better serve the public. Wanted to bring back the “expansionist” way of thinking that was lacking during Ronald Reagans first term.

James M. Ridenour – April 17, 1989 – January 20, 1993
Stressed importance of cooperation with other government bodies and private entities. Appointed by George Bush, sought to achieve greater financial return from the system from park concessions.

Roger G. Kennedy –June 1, 1993 – March 29, 1997
Appointed by President Bill Clinton, expanded the parks educational role via the development of Internet sites

Robert Stanton – August 4, 1997 – January 2001
First African American to hold position – stressed increasing diversity of staff and public programs in order to better serve minorities.

Fran P. Mainella – July 18, 2001 -present
First woman to hold position – the jury is still out.


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