The Early Years,
Defining The System,
The New Deal Years,
The Poverty Years,
The Ecological Revolution,
A System Threatened,
AUTO USE IN THE NATIONAL PARKS, 1912
AUTO USE IN THE NATIONAL PARKS
WALTER L. FISHER [Secretary of the Interior]: Once more, are we ready for the automobile question? If we are, perhaps before starting it might be well to make a brief reference to a little discussion we had last night, which, of course, is known to the selected representatives of the automobile people who are here present, but should be fully known to all the others. It may be desirable to clear ay the fog on this question as far as we can. There is said to be tendency toward fog on certain portions of the Pacific coast, and Iant to make sure none has gotten into the automobile issue. It will not be necessary to argue with the present Secretary of the Interior that the automobile is an improved means of transportation which 5 come to stay; it will not be necessary to argue with him that if it can be introduced into the Yellowstone Park or to the Yosemite Park or any other park, under conditions which are otherwise prop-it ought to be done. The interesting and important question is ether the conditions are proper, and upon that what I wish is constructive suggestion. It will not be necessary for any representative of any automobile concern or of any automobile organization argue with me upon the proposition that the machines should be admitted if we can find a proper way; but they should not pass up to me the question of what that proper way is. If I knew a proper way admit the automobiles into the Yosemite Park it would not be necessary to discuss that question at all to-day or at any other time. The difficulty is that with all the consideration and attention we have en the subject, including the examination and report of engineers, do not know of such a way, and we want to hear the question cussed from that point of view.
Now, there are several classes of automobile, as you know, and a greater variety of automobilists. If all the automobiles were of tain types and if automobilists operated that type of machine in way that some operate their automobiles, it would be a tame animal and we could introduce it into the parks with impunity. fortunately, in the process of evolution we have not got that far. It is not necessary to argue with the automobilists, if we are going to be frank with each other and talk man fashion, that there are still a great many gentlemen who buy automobiles who have not yet ceased to be peripatetic nuisances. We do know that some automobiles make a great deal of noise; that they emit very obnoxious odors; that they drop their oil and gasoline all over the face of the earth wherever they go; that those automobiles are sold by people who regard it as a hardship to be excluded from any particular road. We know much more clearly that even machines which, as machines, have reached a high degree of perfection, are operated by gentlemen who don't know how to operate them, and are operated by other gentlemen who may know how, but don't take the necessary pains to operate them properly, and by still a third class of gentlemen who are perfectly fearless themselves and, liking adventure, operate them in such a way as to create the impression on passers-by on foot or in a horse-drawn vehicle that it is very dangerous to be on the road at the same time.
The daily papers are full of reports of the results of these things, and it does very little good to demonstrate even if it could be demonstrated to the satisfaction of a court, that after all, if the driver of a horse-drawn vehicle had handled his team with proper circumspection the accident would not have occurred. It does occur every day and therefore it is very important that we do not bring about a situation where it is more likely to occur, under conditions where the Government is inviting people into a national park on the theory that it is a playground and that they can largely relax the habits they may have in crowded centers of civilization of being everlastingly on the watch unless they be run into. There are several phases of the situation as it relates to the Yosemite.
There are a number of suggestions that have reached me, and I am going to try to get rid of a few of the questions right at the start. I am in receipt, as I said yesterday, of a considerable number of telegrams brought about by the very laudable and active influence of the automobile organizations and, I should judge, of the automobile manufacturers and agents, who want to see that the machines are admitted into this park; and in this connection permit me to say that I have not the slightest objection to the automobile business as a business. It is a very excellent business, and I would like to see it succeed, and I am willing to assume that a man in that business will be very earnest in trying to extend it. I have no objection to that. I think it is his right as an American citizen to do that and he is entitled to careful consideration. Now these telegrams have reached me; but among them there is apparently not an entire unanimity. Some of the telegrams object most strenuously to the introduction of automobiles in the parks, apparently on any basis, even to the rim of the park, so there is that difference to start with among automobile people. I have received other letters and communications with regard to the admission of automobiles on the floor of the valley, from men who have said they would be in favor of the admission of machines to the rim if it could be worked out, but would be radically opposed to the introduction of those machines on the floor of the valley, and I may say, without violating any confidences, you have among you here in attendance, gentlemen who most heartily concur in that view.
There are men who say that the machines should not be admitted to the floor of the valley. Some think they should be admitted to the rim, and they disagree among themselves as to whether that should be upon a road which is also used by horse-drawn vehicles or whether it should be on a separate road, and some of them have suggestions with regard to a separate road and others have suggestions with regard to the use of a road jointly with horse-drawn vehicles, but at different hours and under regulations that would protect the two kinds of traffic, as they think. Those are the things about which I would like to hear from you, and if the representatives will address themselves to those questions right at the outset, I think we will make more progress than in any other way. . . .
Col. FORSYTH [Acting Superintendent of Yosemite National Park]:
I still think, Mr. Secretary, that there are features even that I am not prepared to deal with—to give an opinion on. It is a question of engineering. I think that if the roads are made safe, and the question as to what is safe brings out such diversity of opinion, it must be settled by the engineers. My only opposition to the automobile in this park is the safety to human life. . . .
Now, in connection with all the national parks, the bill setting aside that park either says so explicitly or by implication that the park shall be a place of resort and recreation for the people, a place of benefit and enjoyment for the people for all time. Now, when the Government sets aside a park for that purpose, it takes on itself the obligation of making that park accessible for all the people; that is, possible for all time. Now, that obligation goes with the very establishment of parks, but that obligation is limited. It is overshadowed by this other obligation on the Government to throw around the people every reasonable safeguard to life and limb. Now, that obligation is of greater importance than the other. It overshadows it. It is fundamental. That very same obligation in a different aspect compels our Government to send our Army and Navy to distant lands to protect our lives and people. That is the same obligation resting on us right here, on the Secretary and on myself, in the protection of life and limb here in the park.
Now, in the way of mountain roads, this park is much more dangerous than the Yellowstone Park in the main. The roads here are pretty narrow. This Big Oak Flat Road is only 8 feet wide in perhaps a hundred places in 4 miles, where a rocky cliff rises abruptly on one side and sinks down abruptly on the other. Now, no teams and motor cars can pass each other there, nor are the turnouts sufficiently numerous, so that my position on the automobile question is I want a reasonable safeguard to life and limb, and if that is provided, why nobody will welcome the automobile more than I.
The SECRETARY: You represent the Sierra Club, and I see Mr. [John] Muir is here. You have personally been over this valley a great many times. You are familiar with these roads. You say that the position of the Sierra Club is that the automobile ought to be admitted when the proper time comes. Do you think the time has come?
Mr. [William] COLBY [Sierra Club]: I think it is very close at hand. I feel, as far as the Glacier Point proposition is concerned, that automobiles should be allowed to go as far as Glacier Point with perhaps that thousand dollar expenditure, and as far as coming down into the valley is concerned, that we should rely upon engineering reports, because naturally when it comes to turnouts and the erection of barriers and so on to prevent the machines from going over, you should exercise every precaution, but with the construction of these turnouts and the construction of these walls in the most dangerous places automobiles could be safely allowed to come to this valley at the present time.
The SECRETARY: Another fundamental question is also involved. What do you think of the joint use of the roads by automobiles and horses as compared with the countersuggestions as to a separate road?
Mr. COLBY: I believe in joint use. The cost of construction of a separate road is too great, and it is an obstacle which we can not overcome. I think the testimony given here by Mr. Marshall and Mr. Curtis and by yourself regarding these difficult mountain roads over which you have ridden, and also the Kings River Road, over which an automobile stage climbs daily, illustrates it. If we take parallel conditions we don't find accidents. We must take parallel conditions. We find the same conditions on Market Street if a driver gets drunk or his machine gets wrecked as we do anywhere in the mountains. It doesn't matter where he is. I think I have about covered what I have to say—maybe a word or two more.
Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1913, 58-61, 129, 130, 139-140.