Volume III - No. 1
THE HISTORY AND STATUS OF INTERPRETIVE WORK IN NATIONAL PARKS1
By Carl P. Russell,
When Stephen T. Mather assumed the directorship of the national parks in 1916, he determined at the outset to make the park system known and understood. Publicity and educational endeavors were made a part of his projected program even before a staff had been organized. Surveys of outdoor educational methods and nature teaching as practiced in several European countries had been made in 1915 by C. M. Goethe and his reports of the success of this work had inspired a few Americans to establish similar educational work in the United States. The California Fish and Game Commission in 1918 sent its educational director, Dr. Harold C. Bryant, into the Sierras to reach vacationists with the message of the conservationist. Yosemite National Park and the playground areas about Lake Tahoe witnessed the introduction of "nature guiding" during two summers prior to the inclusion of the work in the field program of the National Park Service.
In 1920 Mr. Mather and some of his friends joined in supporting this nature teaching in Yosemite and Dr. Bryant and Dr. Loye Holmes Miller were employed to lay the foundation of what has continued to be an important part of the program of the Branch of Research and Information. About this same time a Yosemite ranger, Ansel F. Hall, conceived the idea of establishing a Yosemite museum to serve as a public contact center and general headquarters for the interpretive program. Superintendent W.B. Lewis endorsed the plan and the old Chris Jorgenson artists' studio was made into a temporary museum with Mr. Hall in charge as permanent educational officer. The same year found a museum program under way in Yellowstone National Park where Milton P. Skinner was made park naturalist and in Mesa Verde National Park where Superintendent Jesse Nusbaum organized a museum to care for the archeological treasures brought to light among the ruins of prehistoric man's abode. Glacier, Grand Canyon, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, Sequoia and Zion quickly organized their educational programs along the lines established by Yosemite and Yellowstone and in 1923 Ansel F. Hall, with headquarters in Berkeley, California, was designated to coordinate and direct the interpretive work in all parks. Working with Dr. Frank H. Oastler, Mr. Hall in 1924 organized a comprehensive plan of educational activities and defined the objectives of the naturalist group.
In 1924, C. J. Hamlin, was president of the American Association of Museums. The opportunities opened by national park museums were called to his attention by Mr. Hall and the American Association of Museums immediately investigated the possibilities of launching adequate museum programs in the parka. In response to recommendations made by the Association and the National Park Service, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial made funds available with which to construct a fireproof museum in Yosemite National Park. This, one of the first permanent national park museums, became the natural center around which revolves the educational program in Yosemite. Even before the Yosemite museum installations had been opened to the public, demonstration of the effectiveness of the institution as headquarters for the educational staff and visiting scientists convinced leaders in the American Association of Museums that further effort should be made to establish a general program of museum work in national parks. Additional funds were obtained from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial and new museums were built in Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks. Dr. Hermon C. Bumpus, who had guided the museum planning and construction in Yosemite, continued as the administrator representing the Association and Rockefeller interests and Herbert Maier, now Associate Regional Director, Region III, was architect and field superintendent on the construction projects. It was Dr. Bumpus who originated the "focal point museum" idea so well represented by the several small institutions in Yellowstone, each one concerned with a special aspect of the park story, and so located as to tell its story while its visitors were surrounded by and deeply interested in the significant exhibits of the out-of-doors. The trailside exhibits now commonly used in many national parks and first tried at Obsidian Cliff in Yellowstone were an out-growth of the focal point museum idea.
When the museums of Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone had demonstrated their value to visitors and staff alike, they were accepted somewhat as models for future work, and upon the strength of their success, the Service found it possible to obtain regular government appropriations with which to build more museums in national parks and monuments. When PWA funds became available, further impetus was given to the parks museum program and a Museum Division of the Service was established in 1935, embracing historic areas of the East as well as the scenic national parks. Today there are 68 national park and monument museums and two more are planned for the immediate future.
In order to stimulate balanced development of interpretive programs, the Secretary of the Interior appointed a committee of educators under the chairmanship of Dr. John C. Merriam to study the broad educational possibilities in national parks. In 1929, this committee recommended that an educational branch, with headquarters in Washington, be established in the Service. It was further recommended that the committee continue to function on a permanent basis as an advisory body, "whose duty it shall be to advise the Director of National Parks on matters pertinent to educational policy end developments in National Parks."
Dr. Bryant, who since 1920 had served as a summer employee on the Yosemite educational staff and who had been a member of the Committee on Study of Educational Problems in National Parks, was made head of the new branch on July 1, 1930. Two assistants were appointed to work with him in Washington. One assumed charge of work relating to earth sciences; the other directed historical and archeological developments. Mr. Hall, as Chief, Field Division of Education, continued in charge of forestry and educational work in the field. A Division of Public Relations, within the Washington Office, continued in one of the first Service activities (dissemination of information) established by Mr. Mather and be came in 1930, a unit of the educational branch. The Service photographer, previously located in the Berkeley, California, laboratories of the Service, was transferred to Washington to become a part of the central organization.
Antedating the establishment of the branch by one year was the wildlife survey instituted in national parks by George M. Wright who began his career in the National Park Service as a park ranger in Yosemite in 1927. Mr. Wright, trained under Dr. J. Grinnell in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, recognized the necessity of defining wildlife policies for the Service. His approach to an understanding of the status and needs of the fauna and flora of the parks was entirely practical in that he and his associates went directly to the field for first hand information. Upon the basic data assembled by Mr. Wright was shaped the wildlife policy of the Service which now has good definition and reflects the highest conservation thought. So that the Service may adhere to the policies and objectives defined after the Wright surveys were made, a Wildlife Division has been established. In 1933 Mr. Wright was made the first chief of this division. The unit now consists of a group of ecologists who coordinate the wildlife program from Washington; regional technicians who maintain close contact with all field projects affecting wildlife values; a fish specialist with headquarters at Salt Lake City; a field naturalist-at-large who works out of the Region IV headquarters, San Francisco, and a score or more of park employees from among the rangers and park naturalists who serve their park superintendents in making continuous observations and reports on ecological matters in their respective areas.
In the field of geology, the Service conducts important programs of interpretation and preservation of scenic and scientific values in each of the major national parks and in those many national monuments where the earth sciences find exceptional representation. A number of the park naturalists are geologists of recognized professional standing and each regional director benefits by the presence of a geologist on his staff. In Washington, two geologists under the direction of the Chief of the Naturalist Division, who is a geologist, coordinate the geological activities of the Service. Collaboration with Service engineers on bridge construction, dams, and water supply has become a recognized part of the geologist's work. Investigation of physiographic features and paleontological values in proposed new Federal parks and monuments is a growing responsibility of the geologist group. Not all geological research necessary in national parks and monuments can be done by the small staff of technicians now employed, but so far as possible they meet the requests from superintendents and park naturalists who require original studies upon which to base their interpretive programs. The Carnegie Institution of Washington, the National Academy of Sciences, the United States Geological Survey, and many museums and universities conduct geological investigations in national parks and monuments. These research activities of cooperating agencies are coordinated by the Service geologists.
The Naturalist Division, the pioneer unit known first (1917) as the Educational Division under Robert Sterling Yard, has at one time or an other mothered the other division of the branch. Photography, forestry, museums, geology, wildlife, and the park naturalist program all have grown out of this original educational organization. At present 34 park naturalists and their assistants are employed on a permanent basis. This summer their forces will be increased by the employment of 106 ranger naturalists. The work of this widely scattered staff which served 4,603,910 park visitors last year with lectures, guided trips, and museum offerings is coordinated by the Naturalist Division, the Washington staff of which consists of a chief, two assistants (the geologists mentioned above), and two stenographers. No regional representatives of the division, other than regional geologists, have been employed, which means that there has been no decentralization of the interpretive program in the natural sciences. The flow of paper work from the field continues to pour into the Washington Office funnel neck without preliminary filtration in the regional machines. Interpretive programs both in national and state parks receive but little attention in the regional offices. Regional educational officers should be added to the staff.
Park naturalists are appointed to permanent positions through usual Civil Service channels; ranger naturalists are recruited from the ranks of naturalists and teachers throughout the country. The Yosemite School of Field Natural History, founded by Dr. Bryant in 1925, makes important contribution to the training of new employees in the naturalist field. Five permanent appointees now on the Service staff received this Yosemite training. This year (1939) 24 ranger naturalists will be employed who have graduated from the Yosemite school. Experience with this unique training program encourages the idea of additional schools. The great benefits which have resulted from the Yosemite work can, with careful planning, be duplicated in a Yellowstone school.
In 1931, the chief photographer was brought from Berkeley, California, to Washington to work with the Chief of the Naturalist Division. Photographic laboratories and staff wore transferred again in 1935, this time to the Office of the Secretary of the Interior. George Grant, who pioneered in the photography of the National Park Service, is now Chief Photographer for the Department of the Interior. Most of the parks and the regional offices employ photographers and operate photo laboratories. The program of work in this important field will soon reach a stage that will require coordination and guidance from within the Service.
By 1933 the forest protection program had attained such proportions and loomed so importantly in the general administrative scheme of the Service that a Branch of Forestry was established and the Chief Forester, formerly associated with the Field Division of Education, was transferred to Washington.
The Act for the Preservation of Historic American Sites, 1935, established a Branch of Historic Sites and Buildings within the Service and removed the program of historic conservation and interpretation from the Branch of Research and Information. The Branch of Historic Sites approaches historic sites and historic objects as source materials for the study and teaching of history. Pre-history, too, is embraced in its program. Nearly all of the national parks and monuments possess some historic or archeological values and more than half of the Federal areas are primarily historic in interest and value. This general distribution of activities in history and archeology makes for overlap of the programs of the Branch of Research and Information and the Branch of Historic Sites and Buildings, especially in the interpretive program of the Museum Division. The dual responsibility of the Museum Division is met by a cooperative arrangement which integrates the museum activities of the two branches.
The name of the branch was changed in 1938 from "Research and Education" to "Research and Information". Perhaps "Research and Interpretation" would be a more appropriate appellation.
The Field Division of Education, which until 1937 embraced the broader aspects of parks educational work, became in that year the Western Museum Laboratories directed by the Assistant Chief of the Museum Division. The coordination of park naturalist activities in western parks became the responsibility of the Naturalist Division. Library developments, bibliographical projects and an extensive program of exhibit planning and preparation emanate from the Western Museum Laboratories. A notable innovation in the Berkeley work is the miscellaneous services program through which the parks and regional offices are supplied with a variety of educational equipment such as laboratory tables, desks, specimen storage cases, posters, markers, signs, and lantern slide filing cabinets. Mimeographing, repair of books, and photo finishing add greatly to the service rendered to park superintendents and naturalists. About 250 WPA appointees are employed in these laboratories.
CCC, WPA, and PWA have made it possible for the Branch of Research and Information to keep fairly abreast of the fast moving programs of development within the Service, which since 1933 have heaped responsibilities upon all units concerned with preservation of natural values within the parks. The state park programs and the recreational demonstration projects also have increased the load carried by the branch.
Six geologists, eleven wildlife technicians and nearly 300 museum workers are now employed with emergency funds. The regional staffs and the museum laboratories in Washington and Berkeley, California, are quite dependent upon the allotments made from these sources. Plans have been made to stabilize research programs through establishment of permanent positions in the Naturalist and Wildlife Divisions and a permanent nucleus of museum curators and preparators will, as soon as possible, be established to maintain the heavy museum program always demanding attention.
The rapid expansion of Service activities supported by the emergency programs has hurried the establishment of two divisions within the branch and yielded a crop of technical reports on research projects which, in the ordinary course of events, would not have matured for many years to come. Advances have been made in park concepts and methods which give great satisfaction to all conservationists.
It is heartening to all workers within the branch to review these endorsements and recommendations made by the park superintendents at their 1939 conference:
The Branch of Research and Information, originally designed to develop and direct public contact work within the national parks and to crystallize Service plans for research in earth sciences, life sciences, and appreciation of nature has added to its functions the special tasks of wildlife management, geological conservation, exhibit planning, and centralized museum laboratory work both for Federal areas and state parks. This new program will grow just as did the original program projected for the Branch. To guarantee its continuity and permanency, the staff will be established on a regular service basis. Cooperation on special problems will be needed always from the National Museum, the Biological Survey, the Geological Survey, the Bureau of Fisheries, and other Government organizations, but a staff of national park specialists, employed by the National Park Service, will be required to coordinate all work bearing upon the preservation of natural values and their interpretation.
A library program will be developed to coordinate the existing library work in the parks and to promote adequate library planning both in the field and the Washington Office. Publications of the results of technical studies and of the much needed popular material on scientific aspects of park stories will be advanced. A science editor should be added to the staff. Photography, which now forms an important part of the scientific and interpretive functions of the branch, should be coordinated throughout the field, and to accomplish this a chief photographer should be employed. Most pressing among the needs of the Branch is regional administrative representation. Regional supervisors should be appointed to coordinate the activities in wildlife work, geology, museum development, and general interpretive endeavors both in federal areas and state parks.
If, during the next decade, the Branch of Research and Information can progress as it did during its first ten years of existence, it will indeed have served the cause of American conservation.
1Abstracted from a talk given as part of the In-Service Training program of the National Park Service. The following may be consulted as sources of information concerning the philosophy and standards which have prevailed in shaping interpretive activities: Harold C. Bryant and W. W. Atwood, Jr., Research and Education in the National Parks (Government Printing Office, Washington, 1932), pp. 1-66; Ansel F. Hall, "Educational Activities in the National Parks." First Pan-Pacific Conference on Education (Government Printing Office, Washington, 1927), pp. 397-410; C. J. Hamlin, "Studying Nature in Place." First Pan-Pacific Conference on Education (Government Printing Office, Washington, 1927), pp. 435-438; George M. Wright, Joseph S. Dixon and Ben H. Thompson, Fauna of the National Parks of the United States. A Preliminary Survey of Faunal Relations in National Parks (Government Printing Office, Washington, 1933).
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