The Regional Review

Volume V - Nos. 4 & 5

October-November, 1940

map of U.S.
(click on image for an enlargement in a new window)

None Is Perfect, All Have Virtues


To select, acquire, preserve and maintain areas of natural features, scenic beauty, recreational utility and historical and scientific interest, for the health, education, and pleasure of the people -- these and similar objectives have led to the creation of state park departments and the growth of state park systems. The growth has been continuous because park and recreational areas are recognized as indispensable to modern civilization.

Thirty-six of the present primary organizations administering the various state park systems have been established since 1920, and 22 of that total have assumed their present form since 1930. The beginning of the movement, however, goes back to 1865, after Congress had granted to California the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees for state park purposes. In the 1880's, New York, Michigan, Minnesota and Connecticut established their first state parks. Other states, notably Massachusetts, made important contributions to early legislation.

There was little coordination between states during the establishment of the earlier state parks. For this, and perhaps certain other reasons, their administrative structures differ widely. At present there is considerable variety both in the types of administrative authority charged with the responsibility for parks and in the designations of such departments. This is illustrated by the accompanying map with explanatory notes showing the various types of organizations that have been developed. The most characteristic type of unified administration in the eastern section of the country is the conservation department or commission; west of the Mississippi the park board or commission is predominant. A forest department or commission is the primary agency for the administration of state parks in eight states, while a department charged with dual responsibility for parks and other aspects of conservation, such as forestry or game and fish, has jurisdiction in four states. Other types of administrative authority are the historical societies in North Dakota and Ohio, the highway department in Oregon, the Departments of Public Works in Illinois and Idaho, and the land commissioners in Montana. In some states there is no recognized primary administrative authority, a condition which may be illustrated by Ohio where the administration of lands used for park purposes is divided among two or more agencies. Arizona is the only state which has passed no general legislation in the interest of state parks.

In view of the wide variety of park administrative organizations and because, too, the successful administrative system depends for its success as much on the type of men who compose it as on the mechanics of organization, it is difficult to be specific as to the best type of administrative system. As a matter of fact, there is no best administrative set-up for state park systems. Certain advantages and disadvantages may be observed in all of them.

sketch of canyon

For those states having no existing park organization, an independent board or commission of five or six members, appointed by the Governor and having staggered terms, may furnish the best machinery for supervising parks and recreational matters. For states where park work already has been properly recognized, a conservation department or commission may be nearest the ideal. A conservation department, park board, or commission, headed by a nonpartisan board with staggered terms, may coordinate most effectively the work of park and related agencies. The functions of such a board should be (a) to establish policies, (b) to determine budgetary requirements and major fiscal policies, and (c) to select the executive head of the department, but not to participate in administrative matters.

Probably it will not be possible to attain in the near future any great similarity between state administrative organizations, and this is perhaps not necessary; nevertheless, it is certain that there are now too few good state systems of organization. In general, each state should have its park and recreation administration sufficiently well organized to take the lead whenever possible in assisting the county, metropolitan, and other park districts in recreational matters.

While there is considerable variation in the scope of authority granted to park administrators, commissions, or boards, certain powers are found to be common to most. They usually are authorized

(a) to acquire lands by gift, purchase (including condemnation), or otherwise for state park and recreational purposes and to develop such properties for the purpose for which they are established,

(b) to reject lands, whether donated, devised or bequeathed, for inclusion in the state's park system,

(c) to establish lands already in state ownership as parks or recreational preserves,

(d) to construct necessary roads, structures, and other facilities in the parks,

(e) to employ technical and administrative assistance as may be required properly to operate, plan, study, or survey the state's recreational facilities or the need therefor,

(f) to expend such funds as may be available for personnel and other necessary expense of operation,

(g) to make and enforce regulations relating to the care, protection, and use of areas,

(h) to impose such fees as may be considered reasonable and proper for the use of facilities and

(i) to contract with private persons for operation of services.

There can be no doubt that the features (a) to (g) inclusive are necessary and desirable for the proper administration of parks. It may be well, however, to obtain authority by basic legislation for imposing fees for use of facilities because there are strong arguments against any such charges. Some insist that a charge should be made as much for the psychological effect of inducing appreciation on the part of visitors as for aiding in furnishing funds for maintenance. In any case, the question of fees is for the several states to determine. Where the federal government participates in construction the chief interest of the National Park Service, so far as state fiscal affairs are concerned, is to see that funds are forthcoming from some source to provide for operation and maintenance of facilities constructed in state parks with federal funds.

In like manner, the problem of concessions is for the states to solve. Some believe that the licensing of conditional concessions is the practical method of meeting the special accommodation problem if authority be reserved to the state to regulate both accommodations and prices. It has been the general experience in both the federal and state park areas that exclusive concessions with government control of prices is preferable to competition as a means of assuring that services will be provided to the public at reasonable prices. State operation of services has been undertaken in a few states.

Most state-administered properties established primarily for recreation are called state parks. The term may be said to have a slightly different meaning in various states. Certain states have established definite and high standards for their parks while others include park properties which are almost wholly local in appeal. It is therefore important that the park administrator classify his recreational holdings and administer them in accordance with their value and use. It may be well to include here a brief statement regarding the history and classification of holdings.

It has been nearly 75 years since the first state park was established in California. Later this park was turned over to the federal government and is now our world-famous Yosemite National Park. One of our greatest natural wonders, Niagara Falls, inspired state officials in 1885 to dedicate the Niagara State Reservation as New York's first state park. During that same year Mackinac Island and Fort Michilimackinac, originally military reservations, were transferred to the state of Michigan by the federal government for park purposes. Itasca State Park, Minnesota, containing beautiful lakes and valuable forests, was created in 1891. The Israel Putnam Memorial Camp Grounds, Connecticut, of historical interest, was established in 1887. The first state park areas, therefore, contained superlative scenery or were of historical interest.

sketch of rock formations

As the states recognized their responsibility for providing for recreational needs many more areas were acquired and it was difficult to formulate a definition of a state park. There was once a popular belief that there should be "a state park every 100 miles." During the last 20 years many areas have been acquired primarily to satisfy the need for healthful and educational recreation. Some parks therefore were established which appeared to be of questionable quality. Yet, to criticize states which recognized the need of facilities for recreation as a legitimate function of state government with no one measuring rod for selecting, acquiring, and preserving state areas, would be folly. Those states which pioneered in the state park movement deserve the utmost credit. As automobiles became numerous and sufficient good roads were built to permit ready access to areas some distance from centers of population the need for more areas and adequate recreational facilities became more apparent. Acquisition of large holdings was not always practicable or possible. Lack of funds, availability of suitable areas, cost of land, public support, the need for recreational areas near centers of population not otherwise provided, and other factors frequently dictated the policy of selecting park areas.

As a means of assuring good administrative practice with respect to each classification or type, and in order that the using public may have a reasonably definite concept of the character of the various types, it would appear desirable for the several agencies entrusted with administration of recreational areas to give serious consideration to a common classification based on a standardized terminology. Proper classification would aid materially in planning and development of policy, obtaining funds for development, encouraging local and federal participation or assistance, and simplifying the directing of interstate travel.

The actual form that the organization for administration may take depends upon the degree of centralization desired and upon whether the park system is new or firmly established within the state. The number of persons needed in the organization depends on the size of the system, its previous ability to obtain results, public support, available information, and the amount of assistance obtainable from other departments or agencies. A well established state park organization perhaps will include:

1. A park administrator or executive.

2. A division of planning which would function frequently in advance of land purchase to determine need and priority of areas and facilities to be developed, to prepare necessary landscape, architectural, and engineering plans, and to assist in the problems of maintenance.

3. A division of recreation, headed by a recreational supervisor, to advise and plan for the recreational use of all areas of the system.

4. A division of operations performing the functions of budgeting, accounting, and procurement.

5. A public relations division to acquaint the public with the services available, and to train personnel.

Regardless of the number of persons employed or of how their functions are combined, those functions may be expected to be present and, while they are of unequal importance, the neglect of any of them will have a profound effect on the service rendered to the public. Too often the function omitted is that of the recreational planner. He can be all-important in promoting the wisest use of areas by utilization of the most effective educational methods, by creating enthusiasm in communities, and by enlisting volunteer leadership which may assure public support.

Notwithstanding the importance of the central administrative agency, the success of a state park and recreational organization will depend on the success of its individual areas. In those areas the greatest stress must be placed on the selection and training of personnel, for the park superintendent or manager is the key to success. The park that he administers is a recreational resource, and how successfully this resource fulfills its function will depend on his ability to understand and interpret intelligently its latent possibilities to the people. The successful superintendent will capitalize on opportunities to carry out the broad program of his park and at the same time to enlist that public support which is needed for a public function.

Increasing appreciation of scientific planning is one of the most encouraging trends of our time. Initiation, planning, design, and construction invariably should originate with and be carried on under the direction of a competent division of planning or a planning consultant. The technician has a scientific reason for what he designs, builds, or wants done, and if he is a good technician his reason is usually a sound one compatible with the purpose and proper use of the area. The park administrator has the job of correlating these ideas and efforts into a workable general scheme. That must be done with a sympathetic understanding of the problems and the public needs. It is easy, of course, to be led far afield in planning; and there also is danger in considering minor technical problems too seriously, just as there is danger in yielding too rapidly to the constant demands of the general public. Good "horse sense" is still necessary for planning and administration even in these horseless buggy days. When considering just how much and what type of use the individual area will permit and the number of facilities to be provided for, it is well to recall the statement made by Harold S. Wagner, president of the National Conference on State Parks:

The fact is that any given park areas has a given capacity for people before a stone is turned. Upon completion of development, too, each area has a limited ability to provide for human use.

Structures and facilities must be sturdy and fool-proof if maintenance costs are to be kept within reason. Visitors are inclined to trample, disfigure, and destroy things which are ugly and inadequate. Well designed structures and good materials adapted to their use should be subordinated properly to their surroundings by location and planting. One of the factors materially affecting the costs of upkeep and operation is the building of "perception" in the minds of the general public. It may be built or stimulated by signs, arrests, exhibits, trails, publicity, and in many other ways.

Those who have observed the trend of recreational development during the last several years have not failed to note the numerous opportunities for better planning, development, and administration of state parks. Altogether, in the big program which lies ahead, a two-fold ambition will remain the goal of planner, developer, and administrator: that of assuring a maximum of human use and benefit, and a minimum of impairment of park resources.

<<< Previous
> Contents <
Next >>>
Date: 04-Jul-2002