Shaping the System
Rounding Out the System, 1973 to 1999
In the final period of this account, expansion of the National Park System outpaced the explosive growth of the preceding period, despite a marked slowdown during most of President Ronald Reagan's administration. One hundred twenty-three new or essentially new parks were created between 1973 and 1999. This number does not tell the full story, for as a result of huge additions in Alaska in 1978 and 1980, the system's total land area more than doubled.
In January 1973 President Nixon replaced George Hartzog with Ronald H. Walker, a former White House assistant. Lacking previous park experience, Walker selected Russell E. Dickenson, a career park ranger and manager who had lately headed the national capital parks, as deputy director. Walker and Dickenson sought to consolidate past gains rather than expand the system at the previous rate, believing that NPS funding and staffing would be insufficient to sustain such continued growth. Departing from recent stands, the NPS and Interior Department, backed by the Advisory Board on National Parks, opposed proposals for two more big urban recreation areas: Cuyahoga Valley between the Ohio cities of Akron and Cleveland, and Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles. Gateway and Golden Gate had been intended as models for state and local recreation areas elsewhere, they contended, not as prototypes for future units of the National Park System serving local populations.
The attempt to apply the brakes had little apparent effect. Congress authorized 14 more parks during Walker's two years as director. Six were small historic sites assembled in an omnibus bill. But they also included a major historical park in Boston, the first two national preserves, the controversial Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, and another national seashore.
Walker's political base evaporated with Nixon's resignation in August 1974, and he left at the beginning of 1975. Secretary of the Interior Rogers C. B. Morton returned to the career ranks of the NPS for his successor, Gary Everhardt, who had joined the bureau as an engineer in 1957 and risen to the superintendency of Grand Teton National Park in 1972. In Everhardt's first year as director the NPS tightened its criteria for national parklands. To be recommended before, an area had to be nationally significant and lend itself to administration, preservation, and public use. Now the bureau would also consider whether the area was assured of adequate protection outside the system and whether it would be available for public appreciation and use under such protection. If so, the NPS would be unlikely to favor its acquisition.
A majority in Congress still favored expansion, however. Section 8 of the General Authorities Act of October 7, 1976, ordered specific measures to that end: "The Secretary of the Interior is directed to investigate, study, and continually monitor the welfare of areas whose resources exhibit qualities of national significance and which may have potential for inclusion in the National Park System. At the beginning of each fiscal year, the Secretary shall transmit to the [Congress] comprehensive reports on each of those areas upon which studies have been completed. On this same date . . . the Secretary shall transmit a listing . . . of not less than twelve such areas which appear to be of national significance and which may have potential for inclusion in the National Park System." A 1980 amendment to Section 8 also required submission of an updated National Park System plan "from which candidate areas can be identified and selected to constitute units of the National Park System."
In July 1977 Cecil D. Andrus, President Jimmy Carter's interior secretary, replaced Everhardt with William J. Whalen, who had worked in the national capital parks and superintended Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Whalen's background and backing by Rep. Phillip Burton of California, the powerful chairman of the House subcommittee on parks, inclined him to favor urban parks and the many other new area proposals advanced by Burton and his colleagues. Burton's expansionism was epitomized by another omnibus enactment, the National Parks and Recreation Act of November 10, 1978. Characterized by critics as "park barrel" legislation, it authorized 15 additions to the system. Among them, despite another opposing resolution by the advisory board, was Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Three weeks later, by different means, came the influx of Alaska parklands.
Friction with park concessioners in 1980 prompted Andrus to return Whalen to Golden Gate that May, and Russell Dickenson, who had directed the Service's Pacific Northwest Region since December 1975, came back to Washington in the top job. His less expansive posture would soon win greater favor: when President Reagan's first interior secretary, James G. Watt, took office in January 1981, he fully supported Dickenson's view that the NPS should improve its stewardship of what it had before seeking more. Consistent with this approach, the 97th Congress (198182) eliminated appropriations for the new area studies dictated by Section 8, acquiesced in Dickenson's decision to shelve the expansionist National Park System plan, and declined to authorize a single new park. Instead, it and the next Congress supported the Service's Park Restoration and Improvement Program, which devoted more that a billion dollars over five years to stabilize and upgrade existing park resources and facilities.
In 1978 the Carter administration had reassigned the Service's programs of recognizing and assisting natural and cultural properties outside the system to the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service, an administrative reconstitution of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation. The new Interior bureau, combining such activities as the National Register of Historic Places, the natural and historic landmarks programs, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, did not function smoothly. Secretary Watt, a previous director of BOR, promptly abolished HCRS and returned all its functions to the NPS in 1981.
Dickenson's nearly five-year tenure restored stability to the NPS after its frequent turnover in leadership during the 1970s. The moratorium on new parks also helped the bureau catch its breath. There was only one concrete addition from the beginning of 1981 to Dickenson's retirement in March 1985 and for more than a year thereafter: Harry S Truman National Historic Site. Two national scenic trails were authorized but advanced little beyond the planning stage.
Dickenson's successor in May 1985 was William Penn Mott, Jr., an NPS landscape architect and planner in the 1930s and head of the California state park system under Gov. Ronald Reagan from 1967 to 1975. Deeply interested in interpretation, Mott sought a greater NPS role in educating the public about American history and environmental values. He also returned the NPS to a more expansionist posture, supporting the addition of Steamtown National Historic Site and Great Basin National Park in 1986, Jimmy Carter National Historic Site and El Malpais National Monument in 1987, and a dozen more areas in 1988.
Mott remained for nearly four years to April 1989, when James M. Ridenour became director under President George Bush. Ridenour had overseen Indiana's state park system as head of that state's Department of Natural Resources. As NPS director he took a more conservative attitude toward expansion than his predecessor, declaring that additions of less-than-national significance were "thinning the blood" of the National Park System. He urged alternatives to full federal acquisition of proposed parklands and stressed the importance of working with public and private partners to protect valuable lands in and outside the system. In 1990 Ridenour collaborated with Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan, Jr., on a historic battlefield protection initiative and witnessed the largest single park donation ever: $10.5 million from the Richard King Mellon Foundation for needed lands at Antietam, Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, and Petersburg battlefields, Pecos National Historical Park, and Shenandoah National Park.
Ridenour departed with the Bush administration in January 1993, and Roger G. Kennedy came aboard under President Bill Clinton that June. Formerly director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, Kennedy had spoken and written extensively on historical topics. He reemphasized the need for partnerships to further NPS objectives and sought a greater educational role for the bureau beyond the parks, through such media as the World Wide Web.
Kennedy resigned in March 1997, and Robert G. Stanton became the fifteenth director of the National Park Service that August. The first NPS careerist in the post since Dickenson, he had been a park superintendent, an assistant director, and regional director of the Service's National Capital Region. Under legislation enacted in 1996, he was the first appointee to the position required to undergo Senate confirmationnot a problem given the good relations he had long maintained with Congress. He was also the Service's first African American director.
Republicans took control of Congress midway through President Clinton's first term, and with support from the Democratic former chairman of the House parks subcommittee they advanced legislation directing a reassessment of the criteria and procedures for adding areas to the park system and a reevaluation of existing parks. Although the "National Park System Reform Act" would have led at most to recommendations for removing some areas from the system, requiring further congressional action for actual divestiture, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, the National Parks and Conservation Association, and other opponents characterized it as a park closure bill aimed at dismantling the system. Sensitive to such charges, the House decisively defeated the bill in September 1995.
There was general agreement, however, that the procedures for identifying, studying, and recommending potential system additions needed reform. In November 1998 Congress again amended Section 8 of the General Authorities Act to require the secretary to submit annually a list of areas recommended for study, based on established criteria of national significance, suitability, and feasibility. A new area study could not be made without specific congressional authorization. The secretary was also directed to submit annual lists of primarily natural and primarily historical areas that had already been studied, in priority order for addition to the system. These requirements, it was hoped, would inhibit the promotion of unqualified park candidates.
The official categorization of each park system unit as natural, historical, or recreational beginning in 1964 was causing problems by the mid-1970s. This practice inadequately recognized the diversity of many if not most parks. Nearly all contained historic or cultural resources of at least local significance. The labeling of predominantly natural areas as recreational just because they permitted hunting or other uses disallowed by NPS policies for natural areas posed the greatest difficulty. Recreational area classification implied that natural preservation would be secondary to development for heavy public usedevelopment and use that might be ecologically harmful. Environmentalists were especially disturbed about the recreational classification of such outstanding areas as Cape Cod National Seashore and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
The NPS responded in 1975 by replacing its separate natural, historical, and recreational area policy manuals with a single management policy compilation addressing the range of characteristics each park possessed. A mostly natural area, for example, might also have important cultural features and portions suitable for recreational development. It would be zoned accordingly in its general management plan, and the various zones would be managed under policies tailored to each.
With this advance in planning and management sophistication, the assignment of each park to a single management category was no longer appropriate, and in 1977 Director Whalen officially abolished the area categories. For convenience, of course, most areas may still be identified informally as natural, historical, or recreational based on their primary attributes, as is done here.
Thirty-four predominantly natural areas in the present system were added, in whole or large part, during the 27 years from 1973 through 1999. Half of them were in Alaska. Five new national parks outside Alaska incorporated previous national monuments: Biscayne, Florida; Channel Islands, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree, California; and Great Basin, Nevada. (Several other preexisting units were redesignated national parks without sufficient expansion to count them as additions.) The other 12 areas outside Alaska were entirely new.
The first two of these, both authorized October 11, 1974, formed a new subcategory as well: Congress designated Big Cypress, Florida, and Big Thicket, Texas, national preserves. The NPS explained national preserves as "primarily for the protection of certain resources. Activities such as hunting and fishing or the extraction of minerals and fuels may be permitted if they do not jeopardize the natural values." Although such uses had rendered other areas ineligible for natural classification and had caused them to be labeled recreational, Big Cypress and Big Thicket were even less suited for the latter category. The two preserves intensified the awkwardness of the management categories and became another argument for their abandonment in 1977.
Big Cypress National Preserve, encompassing 716,000 acres adjoining Everglades National Park on the northwest, was established primarily to protect the freshwater supply essential to the Everglades ecosystem. Containing abundant tropical plant and animal life, it continues to serve the Miccosukee and Seminole Indian tribes for subsistence hunting, fishing, and trapping and traditional ceremonies. Big Thicket National Preserve includes a significant portion of the Big Thicket area of East Texas. Its 96,680 acres protect dense growths of diverse plant species of great botanical interest at the crossroads of several North American plant and animal habitats.
John Day Fossil Beds, Oregon, and Hagerman Fossil Beds, Idaho, became national monuments by acts of Congress in 1974 and 1988. They joined Agate Fossil Beds, Florissant Fossil Beds, and Fossil Butte national monuments among the system's important paleontological areas.
Congaree Swamp National Monument, South Carolina, authorized in 1976, contains the last significant tract of virgin bottomland hardwoods in the Southeast. El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico, established in 1987, includes volcanic spatter cones, a 17-mile-long lava tube system, and ice caves. Among other 1988 additions were Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, a diverse tidelands area in northeastern Florida; National Park of American Samoa, containing tropical rain forests, beaches, and coral reefs; and City of Rocks National Reserve, a landscape of historical as well as geological interest in southern Idaho. Following the 1978 prototype of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve in Washington, City of Rocks's designation denoted an arrangement whereby the administration of acquired lands would be transferred to state or local governments once they had established zoning or other land protection measures in accord with a comprehensive plan.
The 1990s saw the addition of the last three all-new natural areas, although a good case could be made for assigning each to another category. Little River Canyon National Preserve, Alabama, containing a variety of rock formations, accommodates such recreational pursuits as kayaking, rock climbing, hunting, fishing, and trapping. Mojave National Preserve, California, covers 1,450,000 acres of the Mojave Desert also subject to diverse recreational activities. And Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas, mostly owned by the National Park Trust, includes a historic ranch complex along with a prime remnant of the once vast tallgrass prairie ecosystem.
Sixty-nine additions from 1973 through 1999, more than half the period's total, deal primarily with American history. Seventeen of these are military and presidential sites. The great majority address themes that formerly received less attention in the system.
The bicentennial of the American Revolution was a major focus of NPS activity in the mid-1970s, and three of the new parks contributed to that observance. Boston National Historical Park, a mosaic of properties in public and private ownership, includes the Bunker Hill Monument, Dorchester Heights, Faneuil Hall, Old North Church, Old South Meeting House, and the Charlestown Navy Yardberth for USS Constitution. Valley Forge, long a Pennsylvania state park, became a national historical park on the bicentennial date of July 4, 1976. Ninety Six National Historic Site, South Carolina, authorized the next month, was the scene of military action in 1781.
Five other American wars achieved representation in the system. Congress authorized Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site, Texas, to recognize the first important Mexican War battle on American soil. The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and War in the Pacific National Historical Park on Guam commemorate important military events of World War II, while Manzanar National Historic Site, California, interprets the wartime internment of Japanese-Americans there. The Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., honors those who fought and died in that war. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also in Washington, bears the names of more than 58,000 dead and missing in Vietnam. The last addition of the period, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, preserves remnants of a Cold War ICBM installation in South Dakota.
The presidential sites include a landscaped memorial to Lyndon B. Johnson in Washington, D.C., and residences of Martin Van Buren in Kinderhook, New York; Ulysses S. Grant in St. Louis County, Missouri; James A. Garfield in Mentor, Ohio; Harry S Truman in Independence, Missouri; and Jimmy Carter in Plains, Georgia. Although Congress had authorized the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 1959, it was not completed and dedicated until 1997.
The arts and literature made significant progress in the system with the addition of parks for playwright Eugene O'Neill near Danville, California; author and critic Edgar Allan Poe in Philadelphia; landscape architect and author Frederick Law Olmsted in Brookline, Massachusetts; impressionist painter J. Alden Weir in Ridgefield, Connecticut; and pioneer conservationist George Perkins Marsh (author of Man and Nature) in Woodstock, Vermont. Congress authorized Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, Ohio, to further commemorate the Wright Brothers but also to recognize the black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar at his Dayton house. New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park was intended to interpret the evolution of jazz in that city.
Among new parks treating social and humanitarian movements, four focus on women: Clara Barton National Historic Site, containing the Glen Echo, Maryland, house of the founder of the American Red Cross; Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, preserving Mrs. Roosevelt's retreat at Hyde Park New York; Women's Rights National Historical Park, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton's house and other sites related to the early women's rights movement in Seneca Falls, New York; and Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site in Washington, D.C., former headquarters of an organization Bethune established to improve the lives of black women.
The system paid African American history more attention at eight additions beyond the Dayton, New Orleans Jazz, and Bethune areas. Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, Alabama, includes portions of the pioneering industrial education school established by Booker T. Washington in 1881. The nearby Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site was a training ground for black Army Air Corps pilots in World War II. Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site contains the house of a leading figure in Richmond's black community during the early 20th century. Boston African American National Historic Site comprises an antebellum meetinghouse and more than a dozen other historic structures. Martin Luther King, Junior, National Historic Site includes the Atlanta birthplace, church, and grave of the civil rights leader. Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site contains the segregated school in Topeka, Kansas, attended by Linda Brown, a plaintiff in the case leading to the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing legal racial segregation in public schools. Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, Arkansas, commemorates that school's significant role in implementing the desegregation decision. Nicodemus National Historic Site includes remnants of a western Kansas town established by black emigrants from the South in the 1870s.
There were two additions in the nation's capital beyond those already mentioned. Constitution Gardens covers a part of Potomac Park occupied until 1970 by "temporary" World War I military office buildings; its centerpiece is a memorial to the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site had been designated by Secretary Udall in 1965 to support the avenue's redevelopment, a tactic recalling the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial designation in St. Louis 30 years before. In the case of Pennsylvania Avenue, however, the plans were revised in the 1970s to provide for much historic preservation. The NPS assumed increasing management responsibilities along the avenue as it was redeveloped, justifying the site's listing as a system unit in 1987.
Five additions other than Dayton Aviation Heritage deal with America's industrial, commercial, and transportation history. Springfield Armory, Massachusetts, made a national historic site in 1974, was a center for the manufacture of military small arms and the scene of many technological advances from 1794 to 1968. Lowell National Historical Park, also in Massachusetts, includes 19th-century factories, a power canal system, and other elements of the nation's first planned industrial community. Established in 1978, the park helped revitalize Lowell's depressed economy and inspired several other communities to seek similar assistance during the next decades. One was Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Congress authorized Steamtown National Historic Site in 1986. Steamtown was among the most controversial additions of the period: its primary resource was not a site but an eclectic collection of railroad locomotives and cars whose national significance was questioned by railroad historians, it was created through an appropriations act rather than by traditional legislative means, and the high cost of needed restoration promised to make it among the most expensive historical areas in the system. Keweenaw National Historical Park in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, established in 1992, preserves features associated with the first significant copper mining in the United States. New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, Massachusetts, authorized in 1996, includes the New Bedford Whaling Museum and other properties illustrating the city's preeminent role in the whaling industry.
Most of the cultural properties assigned to the NPS upon its creation in 1916 dealt with aboriginal peoples, and such properties continued as a major component of the park system throughout its evolution. Outside Alaska, there were four entirely new parks in this category from 1973 through 1999. Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, North Dakota, contains important Hidatsa village remnants. Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park includes three large fishponds, house sites, and other archeological evidences of Hawaiian native culture. Poverty Point National Monument in northeastern Louisiana preserves traces of a culture that flourished during the first and second millennia B.C. Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico, displays rock inscriptions of both prehistoric and recent origin and has contemporary cultural significance.
Four previous national monuments treating Indians and Spanish missions in the Southwest and one in Ohio dealing with an earlier civilization were incorporated in expanded parks. Chaco Culture National Historical Park superseded Chaco Canyon National Monument and added 33 outlying "Chaco Culture Archeological Protection Sites" for which Congress authorized special protective measures. Pueblo Missions National Monument incorporated the old Gran Quivira National Monument and two state monuments containing Pueblo Indian and Spanish mission ruins. Tumacacori National Historical Park encompassed the mission at the former Tumacacori National Monument and two nearby mission sites. Pecos National Historical Park combined the pueblo and mission at its predecessor monument with sites of the Civil War battle of Glorieta Pass, where Union troops blocked a Confederate attempt to take the Southwest in 1862. In Ohio, Mound City Group National Monument was supplanted by Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, containing additional earthworks left by those living here between 200 B.C. and A.D. 500.
Twenty areas that would have once been categorized as recreational joined the system in the 1973-1999 period. One was a national seashore, one was a reservoir-based area, four were urban recreation areas, two were national scenic trails, and the remainder were river areas of various designations.
Canaveral National Seashore, authorized in 1975, is the most recent national seashore. It occupies 25 miles of an undeveloped barrier island on Florida's Atlantic coast supporting many species of birds and other wildlife. The lands and waters administered by the NPS adjoin the Kennedy Space Center and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Emphasizing natural preservation, Canaveral's legislation prohibits new development beyond that necessary for public safety and proper administration.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Oklahoma, the reservoir addition, supplanted Arbuckle National Recreation Area and Platt National Park in 1976. Because Platt had never measured up to its prestigious designation, incorporation of the small mineral spring park in the national recreation area was a welcome solution to an old problem.
Congress established Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, to preserve "the historic, scenic, natural, and recreational values of the Cuyahoga River and the adjacent lands of the Cuyahoga Valley" and to maintain "needed recreational open space necessary to the urban environment." Its 32,525 acres include part of the Ohio and Erie Canal previously designated a national historic landmark. Although considerably smaller, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area outside Atlanta was designed to serve similar purposes for that metropolitan area. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area was authorized on 150,000 acres of rugged chapparal-covered landscape fronting on the beaches northwest of Los Angeles. Congress prescribed its management "in a manner which will preserve and enhance its scenic, natural, and historical setting and its public health value as an airshed for the Southern California metropolitan area while providing for the recreational and educational needs of the visiting public." Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, comprising 30 islands, was to be managed in a partnership with state and local governments and other organizations; all but five of its 1,482 acres would remain in nonfederal ownership.
Congress authorized Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail, paralleling the Natchez Trace Parkway, and Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, from the mouth of the Potomac to its Pennsylvania headwaters, together in 1983. The NPS selected four segments of the former totaling 110 miles near Natchez and Jackson, Mississippi, and Nashville, Tennessee, for development as hiking and horseback trails. Of the latter's projected 704 miles, 271 miles comprising the existing Mount Vernon bicycle path, C&O Canal towpath, and Laurel Highlands Trail in Pennsylvania had been designated by 1999.
The first national river of the period added to the park system was Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, centered on the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and its tributaries in Tennessee and Kentucky. The area's scenic gorges and valleys encompass numerous natural and historic features. Next came Obed Wild and Scenic River in East Tennessee, where the Obed and its principal tributaries cut through the Cumberland Plateau. The National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 authorized five river additions: Middle Delaware National Scenic River, the portion of the Delaware within Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area; Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, including most of the Delaware between Pennsylvania and New York; Missouri National Recreational River, one of the last free-flowing stretches of the Missouri between Nebraska and South Dakota; New River Gorge National River, West Virginia, encompassing a rugged section of one of the oldest rivers on the continent; and Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River, including 191 miles of the American bank of the Rio Grande downstream from Big Bend National Park, Texas.
Congress authorized the next three river areas a decade later, in 1988. Mississippi National River and Recreation Area encompasses 69 miles of the Mississippi between Dayton and Hastings, Minnesota. Bluestone National Scenic River in southwestern West Virginia offers fishing, boating, and hiking as well as scenery; Gauley River National Recreation Area, also in West Virginia, presents one of the most exciting whitewater boating opportunities in the East. The most recent river additions followed in 1991 and 1992: Niobrara National Scenic River, Nebraska, and Great Egg Harbor Scenic and Recreational River, New Jersey.
Climaxing one of the 20th century's great conservation campaigns, vast additions to the National Park System in Alaska in 197880 remain so significant as to warrant separate discussion.
Thanks to George Hartzog and others, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of December 18, 1971, contained a provision of great consequence for land conservation. It directed the secretary of the interior to withdraw from selection by the state or native groups, or from disposition under the public land laws, up to 80 million acres that he deemed "suitable for addition to or creation as units of the National Park, Forest, Wildlife Refuge, and Wild and Scenic Rivers Systems." He had two years to make specific recommendations for additions to the four systems from the withdrawn lands. The recommended additions would remain withdrawn until Congress acted or for five years, whichever came first.
On the second anniversary deadline, Secretary Rogers Morton transmitted his recommendations. They included 32.3 million acres for parks, at a time when the existing park system comprised some 31 million acres. The recommendations were controversial, especially in Alaska, where there was great opposition to so much land being removed from uses incompatible with park status. Bills introduced by supporters and opponents made little headway until the 95th Congress in 1977-78, the last years for legislative action before the withdrawals expired. A strong conservation bill then introduced by Rep. Morris K. Udall of Arizona incorporated the national preserve concept to allow for sport hunting in areas bearing that designation rather than in certain national parks, as Morton had proposed.
The House passed a modified version of Udall's bill in May 1978, but Alaska's senators blocked action on a comparable Senate bill, and the 95th Congress adjourned that October without an Alaska lands act. The land withdrawals would expire December 18. Faced with this prospect, President Jimmy Carter on December 1 took the extraordinary step of proclaiming 15 new national monuments and two major monument additions on the withdrawn lands. Two of the new monuments were under Forest Service jurisdiction and two under the Fish and Wildlife Service; the other 11 were additions to the park system. (The Fish and Wildlife monuments were subsequently incorporated in national wildlife refuges; the Forest Service monuments, Admiralty Island and Misty Fjords, retain their identities under that bureau.) The monuments were stopgaps, intended to withhold the areas from other disposition until Congress could reconsider and act on protective legislation.
Bills were reintroduced in the 96th Congress, and a revised bill sponsored by Udall and Rep. John Anderson of Illinois passed the House in May 1979. Alaska's senators, backed by a range of commercial interests and sportsmen's groups, again fought to limit additions to the restrictive national park and wildlife refuge systems. A somewhat weaker conservation bill finally cleared the Senate in August 1980. After President Carter's loss to Ronald Reagan that November, supporters of the House bill decided to accept the Senate's version rather than risk an impasse before adjournment and a less acceptable outcome in the next Congress. The House approved the Senate bill, and on December 2, 1980, Carter signed into law the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).
ANILCA gave the National Park System more than 47 million acres. exceeding the nearly 45 million acres assigned it by the provisional national monument proclamations and surpassing by nearly 50 percent the 32.3 million acres proposed seven years before. The act converted most of the national monuments to national parks and national preserves, the latter permitting sport hunting and trapping. As the 1950 act settling the Jackson Hole National Monument controversy had done in Wyoming, it also curtailed further expansion of the park system in Alaska by presidential proclamation.
Before December 1978 Alaska had contained one national park, two national monuments, and two national historical parks. After December 1980 the park system there comprised eight national parks, two national monuments, ten national preserves, two national historical parks, and a wild river.
Mount McKinley National Park was renamed Denali National Park after the Indian name for the mountain, which remained Mount McKinley, and was joined by a Denali National Preserve. The park and preserve together are more than four million acres larger than the old park. The old Glacier Bay and Katmai monuments became national parks, with adjoining national preserves. The Glacier Bay park and preserve gained some 478,000 acres over the old monument, while the two Katmai areas exceed the old Katmai monument by more than 1,300,000 acres.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park contains 8,323,618 acres. Adjacent Wrangell-St. Elias National Preserve encompasses 4,852,773 acres. Together they are larger than the combined area of Vermont and New Hampshire and contain the continent's greatest array of glaciers and peaks above 16,000 feetamong them Mount St. Elias, rising second only to Mount McKinley in the United States. With Canada's adjacent Kluane National Park, this is one of the greatest parkland regions in the world.
Gates of the Arctic National Park, all of whose 7,523,898 acres lie north of the Arctic Circle, and the 948,629-acre national preserve of the same name include part of the Central Brooks Range, the northernmost extension of the Rockies. Gentle valleys, wild rivers, and numerous lakes complement the jagged mountain peaks. Adjoining Gates of the Arctic on the west is Noatak National Preserve. Its 6,570,000 acres, drained by the Noatak River running through the 65-mile-long Grand Canyon of the Noatak, contain a striking array of plant and animal life and hundreds of archeological sites in what is the largest undeveloped river basin in the United States.
Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, with 2,698,000 acres on the Seward Peninsula, covers a remnant of the isthmus that connected North America and Asia more than 13,000 years ago. Modern Eskimos manage their reindeer herds in and around the preserve, which features rich paleontological and archeological resources, large migratory bird populations, ash explosion craters, and lava flows.
The 2,619,859-acre Lake Clark National Park and the 1,410,641-acre Lake Clark National Preserve are set in the heart of the Chigmit Mountains on the western shore of Cook Inlet, southwest of Anchorage. The 50-mile-long Lake Clark, largest of more than 20 glacial lakes, is fed by hundreds of waterfalls tumbling from the surrounding mountains and is headwaters for an important red salmon spawning ground. Jagged peaks and granite spires have caused the region to be called the Alaskan Alps.
Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve protects 115 miles of the Yukon and the entire 88-mile Charley River basin within its 2,526,509 acres. Abandoned cabins and other cultural remnants recall the Yukon's role during the 1898 Alaska gold rush. The Charley, running swift and clear, is renowned for whitewater recreation. Grizzly bears, Dall sheep, and moose are among the abundant wildlife.
Kobuk Valley National Park, another Arctic area of 1,750,737 acres, adjoins the south border of Noatak National Preserve. Its diverse terrain includes the northernmost extent of the boreal forest and the 25-square-mile Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, the largest active dune field in arctic latitudes. Archeological remains are especially rich, revealing more than 10,000 years of human activity.
Kenai Fjords National Park contains 670,643 acres. On the Gulf of Alaska near Seward, it is named for the scenic glacier-carved fjords along its coast. Above is the Harding Icefield, one of four major ice caps in the United States, from which radiate 34 major glacier arms. Sea lions and other marine mammals abound in the coastal waters.
Cape Krusenstern National Monument, north of Kotzebue on the Chukchi Sea, was the single 197880 Alaska addition of predominantly cultural rather than natural significance. Embracing 650,000 acres, it is by far the largest such area in the park system. One hundred fourteen lateral beach ridges formed by changing sea levels and wave action display chronological evidence of 5,000 years of marine mammal hunting by Eskimo peoples. Older archeological sites are found inland.
The smallest of the new Alaska parks, preserves, and monuments is Aniakchak National Monument, whose 137,176 acres lie on the harsh Aleutian Peninsula south of Katmai. It is adjoined by the 465,603-acre Aniakchak National Preserve. Their central feature is the great Aniakchak Caldera, a 30-square-mile crater of a collapsed volcano. Within the caldera are a cone from later volcanic activity, lava flows, explosion pits, and Surprise Lake, which is heated by hot springs and cascades through a rift in the crater wall.
ANILCA also designated 13 wild rivers for NPS administration. Twelve are entirely within parks, monuments, and preserves and are not listed as discrete park system units. Part of the remaining one, Alagnak Wild River, lies outside and westward of Katmai, so it is counted separately. It offers salmon sport fishing and whitewater floating.
Overall, the Alaska park additions are as superlative in quality as they are in quantitative terms. Although political and economic arguments were raised against them, there was little argument about the inherent natural and cultural merits that made the lands so clearly eligible for the National Park System. They have enriched it immeasurably.
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