Volume II - No. 5
LOOKING BACKWARD TO SEE AHEAD
A Plea for An Adequate Public Domain
By C. R. Vinten,
If our national, state, county and city fathers would pause a moment for serious reflection and review the growth of their respective bailiwicks during the last generation they would be confronted immediately with the following picture in a majority of cases:
Frontiers have given way to civilization. Wilderness lands are now improved, forests are now farms, rural scenes are now urban, country is now city, and cheap land is now costly.
Growth merely happened. Little survived in the path of expansion. Urban and rural slums developed. Juvenile and adult delinquency increased and the public conscience became warped.
Open areas for public use were considered secondary to commercial exploitation. Certain agencies salvaged later what private enterprise had overlooked. Others continued to drift. Lands for parks and play grounds were purchased as current demands dictated. They cost a great deal. In too many cases they could not be found. In some cases there were wise planners who looked into the future. Where lands were set aside for public use, prior to a specific demand for them, it was noted that this demand later announced itself in no uncertain terms. Often the original area had to be enlarged because early estimates were too conservative; it was found to be inadequate because of public support far beyond the ambitions of the planners.
This is not a discussion of park development, construction or operation. That would be mere routine, full of technical expositions, calculations and programs. We are simply talking about land, something that can be acquired in a dozen different ways, but which is the only single element in a sound park program which cannot be ignored. With it, you can go the limit, intensive or extensive, as conditions dictate. Without it, there is no place to start. In other words, any park program is predicated upon the possession of land, and we contend that no national, state or local park agency can have too much of it. Such a policy is good business, good economy and good politics.
Good Business: Suppose we consider a unit as being the United States, one state, one county, one city or one community. The problem is the same in all cases. Look ahead 10, 20, 50, 100 years, it makes little difference. We shall make mistakes if we try to be too definite. Then look back and see what the old-timers did. They usually did nothing. Let us determine then what would happen if we got too much land and become really reckless.
A certain area of several thousand acres was acquired a few years ago as a state forest park. It cost nothing save the expense of the tax foreclosures, recording fees and legal charges. It is being sold now for $10,000 and the revenue applied to the operation of an area that has greater public support. It cost nothing to hold this land. Nothing was spent in development. It was a good business stroke.
Good Economy: The fact that the old-timers did not dedicate park areas when they drove out the Indians and cleared the forests is no reason for continuing the same code of ethics or policies. They did set aside Section 16 in every township as school lands. If they had known what we know today they would have created a Recreational Study and would have decicated, with the utmost permanency, a public domain adequate for the needs of coming generations. If this had been done we would not be buying back this land today. Those old-timers were certainly short sighted in that respect. They were concerned primarily in shooting Indians and chopping down trees.
We have shown some progress in recent years which indicates we are giving more study to park and recreation problems. There is, however, a definite undertow in the present tide which is apt to carry us back to a point where our perspective will be that of the old-timer. He was a wasteful cuss with the resources available to him. Much of our national debt has resulted from paying for what he did and did not do. Looking ahead from where we sit right now, with an understanding of what the old-timer did, we can see no reason why there should be any fear of having too much land in the public domain. The odds are against the exponent of conservative acquisition when the factor of time is considered.
Good Politics: The current tendency of our statesmen to view with pride or alarm indicates the common desire of the political fraternity to take no small amount of satisfaction in the accomplishment of acts for the benefit of the rank and file. In most cases a political campaign based on land would involve serious risks if nothing beyond the acquisition of land was concerned.
There is no doubt, however, regarding the success of those who have included in their political philosophy the promise of benefits which result from efforts to improve the health and increase the happiness of their constituents. We have witnessed in recent years the rise of men who are concerned sincerely with the park problems of their communities and who realize the importance of providing facilities for future as well as present generations.
Our population continues to increase. It likewise becomes more and more concentrated and the demand for open public areas, rural or urban, becomes more audible. Since the old-timers failed to recognize the demand, would it not be wise for us to take this problem of land seriously? It is a dry subject, void of any of the inspiring satisfaction of planning and development, but one upon which the whole structure is built If you doubt it, just look at what the old-timer has done to us!
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