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A Study of the Park and Recreation Problem of the United States





Supplemental Foreword


Recreational Habits and Needs

Aspects of Recreational Planning

Present Public Outdoor Recreational Facilities




A Park and Recreational Land Plan

A Study of the Park and Recreation Problem of the United States
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A Park and Recreational Land Plan for the United States (continued)


This chapter, thus far, represents an endeavor to indicate what is needed, if the recreational requirements of our people are to be met. Such a plan possesses little significance unless it is possible at the same time to indicate, on a logical basis, the part which the various types of agencies, Federal, State, and local, should play in providing and administering lands and facilities.

At the two ends of the scale the Federal Government and the municipality there appears to be general agreement as to certain responsibilities. That the Federal Government should own and administer areas which qualify as national parks and monuments, few will dispute. It is wholly logical that, within the limits of needs that may be met at reasonable cost, and subject to proper coordination the recreational opportunities offered by national forests, national wildlife refuges, and other Federal properties should be developed and utilized. Nor is there any important difference of opinion as to the responsibility and obligation of the municipality to provide needed parks, parkways, and play areas within its boundaries. It is within the vast field between these two extremes that we enter the realm of dispute and uncertainty. It may be indicated by such questions as these:

1. Should the Federal Government assume, in addition to its task of development and administration of national parks and monuments, the cost of acquiring such areas?

2. Should the Federal Government undertake to acquire, develop, and administer those areas for which, because they are of recreational importance to a fairly large region comprising more than one State or parts of several States, the individual State cannot be expected to assume responsibility?

3. Should the State assume responsibility for acquisition, development, and administration of only those areas which may be said to possess Statewide significance, and, if so, how are the respective responsibilities of, for example, Texas and Rhode Island, to be determined?

4. Is an area of outstanding quality which happens to lie close to a large city and which is certain to be used mostly by those who live within that city, to be considered wholly the city's responsibility?

5. What is the place of the county and metropolitan park district in the recreation-land scheme of things?

6. To what extent, if any, should responsibility of acquisition, or development, or administration be shared by Federal and State government or by State and local government?

Let us seek to supply an answer to these questions, on which successful accomplishment of a national recreational area program so largely depends, realizing that because of the federal character of this country and the large degree of sovereignty still reserved to the States, there are certain to be always sharp differences in law and practice among State and local units of government, and considerable variations in their concepts of responsibility.

For a long period the practice of the Federal Government in connection with acquisition of national parks and monuments from private ownership was to require that the necessary lands be furnished to it without cost a practice based largely on the conviction that such a requirement would be effective in preventing the creation of second-rate parks. In addition to the doubtfulness of its logic, it may be claimed justly that this method by no means assures inclusion of genuinely worthy areas in the system—as witness the period of time which has passed since the Everglades National Park was authorized, without the State of Florida having taken any effective step either to acquire the land or to provide proper protection to its resources. It would seem that if the Nation, rather than just the State of Florida, has a concern for the preservation of this unique area, its concern may quite logically be indicated by provision of purchase funds, particularly if the State is to turn the lands it owns over to the Federal Government. Funds used to purchase Isle Royale National Park lands have come principally from the Federal Treasury, while the Great Smokies has reached the required acreage only because the Federal Government has supplied funds to supplement those furnished by the States of North Carolina and Tennessee and by private contributors. Standards of admission to the federal park system are safeguarded by better means than insistence on acquisition of lands by funds from other sources than the Federal Government.

For what might be called Federal or national recreational areas—a poor term since "recreational area" is generic and applies properly to any type of holding administered for recreation by the Federal Government—the answer is less easily given. It may be said, however, that for any area needed to meet the recreational requirements of the Nation as a whole and which, because of its regional importance, would place on the individual State a burden of initial cost greater than it could logically be expected to bear, there is justification for participation by the Federal Government in meeting that cost. The degree of participation would probably vary with respect to each individual area, perhaps on the basis of such calculations as might be made as to the relative benefits likely to be obtained. This type of calculation is in many ways analogous to that practiced with respect to local improvement district assessments or, specifically in the case of parks, by assessments levied on benefited communities for support of the Boston Metropolitan Park System. Normally it would be expected that, because of contingent benefits accruing from an influx of out-of-State travel, such as gasoline taxes, local purchases, and payment for use of special facilities in the park itself the State would provide administration and such funds as were needed to support it, though Federal participation in the cost of adequate development might properly be provided on the same basis and with the same justification—as participation in land purchase.

By analogy it would appear that the State's concern with provision of recreational areas and facilities extends beyond the State equivalents of national parks—the areas of genuinely Statewide significance; and every State system in existence has recognized that fact in actual practice. There seems to have developed a special State park type of undertaking which is based on such area qualities as topography or other natural features of considerably more than average interest, sufficient extent to provide satisfactory extensive recreation, and provision for those kinds of recreation—such as picnicking, camping, hiking, climbing, boating, fishing, and use of nature trails—which result in greatest enjoyment if carried on in a natural environment. Swimming facilities, valuable as they are both from the participants' standpoint and as an attraction to build up or retain attendance at a volume that makes the operation cost per visitor economically low, are not of the essence of it. Essentially it is the kind of place worth going a considerable distance to enjoy, if one is able to do it; but that fact does not preclude the location of parks of such character close to heavy populations. That is just so much the better; but the difficulty usually is to find qualified areas sufficient in extent to meet the heavy use such proximity to heavy population usually entails.

It is with respect to areas so located, which, in the natural course of events, are called upon to meet such day-by-day use as is usually provided by city park systems, that States would appear to be justified in expecting some degree of local participation in the costs of acquisition, development, and even of operation, since any such area provides a greater or less degree of relief for the pressure on the city to provide parks and playgrounds. The city is thus a special beneficiary and should pay something for the special benefit it receives.

Closely analogous, within the State-local field of action, to those regional areas previously discussed as a joint Federal-State responsibility, are those holdings, characterized by rather exceptional usefulness for physical recreation, serviceable to nearby populations of two or more counties and possibly several cities, for which no single local agency can be expected to assume full responsibility. They do not possess "such distinction as does, or is certain to, attract users from considerable distances and in fair numbers,"3 yet they are an essential part of the necessary all-around provision for recreational needs. Most States have included in their systems at least some properties such as these. Again, because of the heavy proportion of purely local use to which they are normally subjected, it is believed that some equitable contribution by local governmental agencies may properly be expected by the State, or even that the process may be reversed and the State contribute to the cost of acquisition, development, and maintenance in cases where a local government is disposed to take the initiative in these matters. While the practices are by no means general, at least one State, Mississippi, has approved legislation authorizing local units of government to contribute to the cost of developing and administering State parks, and several States have turned over to local governments the task of administering areas acquired and developed by them or with Federal assistance.

3Vide chapter. Page 125, Col 2.

In certain situations, the county and the metropolitan park district have an important and legitimate place in the park and recreational picture. In the largely rural county, the county appears to be the logical agency to establish and manage systems of parks and recreational areas which will provide, reasonably near at hand, some of those means of recreation that are socially valuable but which otherwise the country dweller is likely to lack—areas that will appeal to or stimulate his feeling for beauty, that will preserve some typical sections of the native landscape, that will cater specifically to his gregarious instincts or provide him with the means of indulgence in group games and sports. That suggestion is made with full consciousness of the possibility that, because of the shockingly uneconomic multiplicity of counties, it may be impractical for many of them to undertake a park and recreational program and provide competent planning, development, and administration. This situation points to the vital necessity of State park and recreational agencies equipping themselves to supply State aid in the form of advisory service on both the technical and administrative phases of such county undertakings.

In complete contrast is the typical metropolitan park system, serving a city, or even two or more cities whose zones of influence overlap, and the nearby satellite communities with their varying degrees of urbanization. These are not infrequently established on county boundary bases, as in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, and the Cook County Forest Preserve District in Illinois. They provide a reasonable and workable means of affording day-by-day recreation to those whom they are designed to serve, and which would be unlikely to be adequately provided by the cities which form the core of the metropolitan community.

It will be seen that provision of adequate recreational facilities for the Nation as a whole is in very large degree dependent on joint agreement and action on the part of agencies at the several levels of government, and that this must be based upon understanding of and agreement on the logical degree of responsibility each bears toward situations in which there is a legitimate joint interest. As a means of bringing this about the application of the Federal aid principle to the relationship between the Federal Government and the States, and of the State aid principle to the relationship between State and local units of government is coming more and more to the fore as a possible solution. Its effectiveness is proved in a number of fields of governmental activity and, specifically, in other branches of conservation such as forestry and wildlife. In these it has served mightily to spur activity and accomplishment for purposes of genuine national or State significance, and it has tended to equalize the burden of that accomplishment on the public as a whole.

Few persons today are likely to discount seriously the value of a truly national highway system or to deny that, without Federal aid, there would be many States which would still be far back of the procession in supplying roads that are essential components of that national system. Every reason, of human need and of equalization of burden, which can be adduced in support of such aid for highways, education, forestry, wildlife, etc., applies also to the preservation of our scenic, historic, scientific, and outdoor recreational resources and their development for human use. It seems probable that such aid could be extended by such methods as would protect the national interest without involving any undesirable encroachment on the independence of action of State and local government. National, State and local interest and responsibility are inextricably intermingled in this as in almost every other field of human endeavor, but there appears to be no good reason why that community of interest and responsibility cannot be placed ultimately on a coordinated and sound basis.

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Last Modified: Mon, Aug 9 2004 10:00:00 pm PDT

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