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Book Cover
Presenting Nature








Design Ethic Origins

Design Policy & Process

Western Field Office

Park Planning

Decade of Expansion

State Parks

Appendix A

Appendix B


Presenting Nature:
The Historic Landscape Design of the National Park Service, 1916-1942
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VII. A NEW DEAL FOR STATE PARKS, 1933 — 1942 (continued)


Emergency Conservation Work brought major changes to the administrative organization of the National Park Service. Conrad L. Wirth was selected to head the National Park Service's new State Parks Division in Washington, D.C. Wirth had grown up in Minneapolis, where his father, Theodore Wirth, had been head of the Minneapolis parks for many years. He studied landscape architecture at Massachusetts State College under Frank Waugh, who was to have a substantial impact on his work for the National Park Service from the 1930s until 1964, when Wirth retired from the directorship of the National Park Service. Herbert Evison, who had been the executive secretary for the National Conference on State Parks, became the supervisor for state park Emergency Conservation Work.

Sited to offer scenic views of the lake, the cabins at Bastrop State Park in Texas were built of native stonemasonry to give the appearance of having emerged from the natural outcroppings. The CCC planted native yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) and other shrubs on the surrounding slopes to stem erosion and to further the illusion that the natural landscape had never been disturbed. curving paths with stone steps and coping led to each cabin and boulders were embedded along the road to form a naturalistic curb. (National Archives, Record Group 79)

Under the first organization of state park ECW, the nation was divided into four districts, each headed by a district officer. J. M. Hoffman, the former director of Pennsylvania's state parks and later Melvin B. Borgeson, headed District I, which covered the East Coast and the adjacent states of Alabama, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and West Virginia. Paul V. Brown, who had worked closely with Colonel Richard Lieber in the Indiana state parks and directed the Bureau of Parks for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, headed District II, which covered Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Architect Herbert Maier was put in charge of District III, which covered Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Lawrence C. Merriam, a forester and administrator, headed District IV, which covered the western states of Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. In 1934, District I was divided into two districts, with H. Earl Weatherwax heading the new district for the southern states. By 1935, the organization had evolved into eight areas called regions, headquartered in Springfield, Massachusetts; Bronxville, New York; Richmond, Virginia; Atlanta, Georgia; Indianapolis, Indiana; Omaha, Nebraska; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and San Francisco. [1]

So dominant a role did state park work play in National Park Service activities in the 1930s that in 1936, the emergency conservation program in the national parks was transferred from the Branch of Forestry to the Branch of Planning and State Cooperation under Conrad Wirth and administered through the state park ECW districts and the eight ECW regions were consolidated into four. In August 1937, the National Park Service reorganized and decentralized its operations into four regions based on the ECW regions. In addition to staff assigned to CCC camps and a small regional or district staff, the CCC program relied upon inspectors who traveled from park to park and transmitted design ideas from the central office and communicated the essence of park work and provided critiques and constructive ideas for improving and perfecting the work in the state parks. The program also relied upon the architects and landscape architects of the state or county park departments. [2]

State park ECW was organizationally independent of the emergency work in the national parks, but groups working in the two areas communicated and collaborated closely. Both groups shared a philosophical foundation advocating landscape preservation and development that harmonized with nature. State park work was guided by the principles and practices that had been adopted and refined by National Park Service designers from 1918 to 1933, many of which evolved from the mid-nineteenth century English gardening tradition and Downing's ideas about naturalistic gardening, pleasure grounds, wilderness, and rustic architecture.

CCC workers
At Virginia Kendall Park outside Akron, Ohio, clean-up took the form of clearing dead and blighted chestnut trees from hundreds of acres of forest. CCC enrollees used hand-tools and teams of horses for this work. The wood was stockpiled and later used in the construction of comfort stations, picnic shelters, a boathouse, and a lodge. A nursery was established in the park, and by the end of March 1936, the CCC had planted 57,600 native trees and shrubs in the park. (National Archives, Record Group 79)

Before CCC projects for the state parks were approved, the preparation of advance plans was required. Master plans for state parks took varied forms depending on the process already in place in the states and the involvement of National Park Service designers in the actual planning and design. In Virginia, where National Park Service landscape architects were closely involved in the design of parks, the plans were developed on many sheets in a format similar to that of the national parks. In other states, such as Michigan, a single map identifying the name, location, and type of project in relationship to the park's boundaries, roadways, and trails, was sufficient. Plans were prepared before any major construction projects commenced, and they were updated periodically. Once national park designers and officials had roughly agreed on a plan, work was broken down into six-month work projects that the CCC could complete over one or several enrollment periods.

In 1937, with the authority granted by the Park, Parkway, and Recreational Area Study Act, the National Park Service established a formal review process for state park plans. Plans were developed by the state park authorities with the assistance of the inspectors and National Park Service specialists. The master plan was the essential link between the conservation work of the CCC in a state or metropolitan park and the statewide plan for recreation. It simultaneously gave firm direction to the immediate work of park development and fulfilled the broader goal of coordinating recreational areas regionally, statewide, and nationally.

The objective of park planning for state parks was similar to that of national parks. The National Park Service designers preparing and reviewing these plans were responsible for ensuring that the entire park area was used to its fullest extent without impairment of natural features and that natural phenomena and historical sites were protected. As a 1937 National Park Service pamphlet stated, "The object is first to conserve and protect the entire area . . . then to develop necessary facilities for the enjoyment of each park feature without interfering with the use of other features. The cardinal principle governing all . . . is that the park areas are to be kept in as natural a state as possible." [3]

picnic area
At Gooseberry Falls State Park in Minnesota, the CCC constructed a swimming beach and a terraced picnic area on the shores of Lake Superior at the confluence of the Gooseberry River. (National Archives, Record Group 79)

Like the national park plans, state park plans were to outline the "existing and ultimate desirable development of the area." They consisted of general development plans laid out graphically on large topographic sheets and a development outline in narrative form explaining the program of proposed work. Layout plans were then drawn up for each area of the park. These plans indicated roads, trails, buildings, and other features and were the basis for determining individual items of construction work to be carried out by the CCC during each enrollment period. Wirth's office offered the following advice:

All plans should be prepared by someone having first-hand knowledge of ground conditions and therefore the responsibility of their preparation wisely lies with the park authority. All problems should be approached from broad viewpoints, particularly as to how they influence and are influenced by the State and regional park and recreation system. Every possible assistance and cooperation are offered by National Park Service technicians and inspectors in these matters. [4]

Although CCC work in state parks followed the general approach to landscape preservation and harmonization set by the national park designers, less stringent standards were applied to the recreational development of state parks. More freedom existed for creative landscape gardening. Since many state parks were being created out of submarginal land, natural features needed enhancement or creation. Although certain practices that had occurred in the urban parks of the nineteenth century, such as moving earth to form beaches or dams and creating forests, lakes, waterfalls, and streams, conflicted with the mission of national parks, they were commonplace in the development of state parks.

In many parks, the construction of recreational dams was considered the foremost work. In others, the cleanup of dead wood, including blighted chestnut timber in much of the Northeast was most important. Selective forestry, tree and plant disease control, removal of fire hazards, and other such work predominated in forested parks. In areas not previously mapped, topographic maps were prepared before plans for "orderly development" were drawn up. The construction and improvement of roads and trails were the first building projects begun in many parks. This work sometimes entailed improving sections of old roads, building new roads, and eliminating traces of roads no longer needed. Other common activities included the development of picnic areas and campgrounds, stream improvement, the construction of picnic shelters and comfort stations, and the development of a water supply. In all of these projects, the keys to conveying National Park Service principles and practices were the landscape inspectors, who traveled from park to park in their assigned region, and the camp foremen and technicians, including architects, landscape architects, and engineers, who had day-to-day supervision of conservation work. [5]

Although state park work was similar to work in other types of parks, there were notable differences. While landscape inspector for the parks in New Jersey and eastern New York in 1933, Norman Newton described the tasks to members of the landscape profession as "rough work." Among this work, he listed:

The clearing of park roads, trails, and bridle paths, in which fire protection is automatically coupled with improved appearance; the rough construction and alignment of new fire-lines and roadways for access, thus opening up new areas not only for more efficient fighting of fires but also for the use of campers, picnickers and hikers; the selective thinning and cutting of overgrown wooded areas; the clearing of swampy areas and their rehabilitation as lakes for both recreation and water sup ply; the regrading and planting of slopes as a measure of erosion control, an operation in which the practical and esthetic go hand in hand; the construction of park buildings of simple character for both present and future use; and many other types of work normally associated with the development and maintenance of State Parks and Reservations. [6]

CCC workers
Through a great deal of rockwork and planting of native materials, the CCC at Palmetto State Park in Texas turned this spring into an attractive water garden that blended with the surrounding parkland. Other "landscape naturalization" work in one of the park's swamps included the construction of a new creek channel by forming a series of rock falls and lining the bank with weathered stone "in such a manner as to give the appearance of having been there for years." (National Archives, Record Group 79)

As for the social value of the program, Newton wrote,

For the enrolled men, many of whom had never before seen Nature at close hand, the experience is one not only of personal reconstruction and training in the manual arts, but also of contact with those basic properties inherent in nature that we, as landscape architects, recognize as the very reason for the existence of these great State Parks. In the process of educating the public to a true appreciation and a proper use of facilities offered by State and National parks, the experience of these thousands of young men will be a factor of compelling importance. [7]

Emergency Conservation Work attracted large numbers of educated and experienced landscape architects to fill positions of inspectors, camp technicians, and landscape foremen. The hiring of locally employed men or LEMs also added knowledge and experience pertinent to the camp's locality. These workers provided a valuable understanding of the local climate and weather conditions, the forestry and woodsmanship of the surrounding woodlands, the use of local building materials for construction, and the planting and transplanting of native vegetation.

Continued >>>

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