The Regional Review

Volume VI - Nos. 3 & 4

March-April, 1941

horse riders NEW






Editor's note: This dramatic story of our National Parks is from Mr. Evison's recent address before the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Perhaps it will surprise you, --- but I don't look upon my assignment as one of telling you where in the National Park System you may fish or swim or ski or camp or carry on any of those other activities so frequently grouped under the heading of outdoor recreation. I wish first to get over an idea of what is, I believe, properly meant by recreation in the National parks and monuments, and to indicate some, but by no means all, the means and methods by which it may be enjoyed.

When the Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, the act which set it aside declared that it was "dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people," and the implication was there that the people were those not only of that day but of future generations. When the National Park Service organic act was passed 44 years later, it declared that the purpose with respect to national parks, monuments, and reservations, was "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." I do not believe we are wrong in stating that this constitutes one purpose, not two purposes, and that the object of the act was to provide that these resources be preserved for human enjoyment, now and in the future.

Now certainly the kinds of enjoyment which must be provided must be dominantly those kinds that depend for their fullest realization upon that process of preservation, --whether it be of a great wilderness such as the Olympic area, or an historic house like that in which the terms of surrender of Cornwallis' Army were agreed upon, or a structure left behind by the prehistoric inhabitants of this country of ours, such as the Great Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde. That, I believe, marks the essential distinguishing characteristic of the properties administered by the National Park Service and described generally in the phrase National Park System, - - that their highest use is for those types of recreation and enjoyment which minister to the needs of the human mind and the human spirit, and that other kinds of recreation shall be provided only to the extent that they do not in any material way impair the capacity of these areas to provide that kind of use.

Even within that highly restrictive limit, of course, these magnificent properties possess a capacity for providing a great variety of recreational experience. I think that we would all agree, probably, that if we did nothing for the people but provide means for them to see the scenery of the national parks and monuments, with some of it available to view by automobile, and with much more of it visible only to those who are willing to use shank's mare or the back of a horse, the National Park Service still would be supplying a public service of great importance, and making a large contribution to the enjoyment of the people. The educational program of the Service does not--and it is not intended to--provide an education in natural history, geology, archeology, history or any other specialized field of study, even though the areas themselves may be and are used extensively in connection with university and other educational processes. Its purpose is to quicken the imagination, to enlarge the vision, to augment the inspiration of those who come to the parks so that their experience maybe more deeply satisfying.

We have, too, permitted the introduction of other activities, which like those already discussed, are basically recreational in character. With them the intention has been to permit them only if it can be done without impairing the capacity of the areas to supply those higher kinds of recreational experience that can be supplied nowhere else so satisfactorily.

Thus thousands of our visitors come in to see and to learn, but also to picnic, or to camp, to walk the trails, to climb the peaks, to fish, to paddle a canoe or row a boat along a stream or lake, to ski across the dazzling white snow-covered slopes, to exercise skill as photographers or painters, and to visit the remotenesses that are particularly rare and precious to men and women sensitive to the allure of the wild and unspoiled places which are among the greatest gifts of the supreme creative force. These certainly are physical activities wholly in keeping with the character of these places.

Thousands of Americans go yearly to seek inspiration in remote and picturesque parks.

I have no doubt that, if we were to take a census we should find that about every person has visited some park or monument in the National Park System. There are few who do not find inspiration in our national parks. Have you been to Dinosaur, where the paleontologists have been uncovering priceless remains of ancient life forms, in those fearful canyons of Lodore and the Yampa which come together at Pat's Hole? Have you tested your lungs and your legs and your sureness of foot in order to view the fantastic rock-carving vagaries of wind and running water in the Arches, up in eastern Utah, or at Natural Bridge, farther south; or at Rainbow Bridge, down near the Arizona line? Have you mistreated the good leather sole of your shoes on the lava of Idaho's monument, the Craters of the Moon, or on the Devil's Golf course in Death Valley? Have you, in the midst of your observation of the desert and the bleak ranges which rim this monument, seen the panamint daisy or the paint brush growing at your feet, and got a new concept of the many-sidedness of this area of terrible repute for heat and thirst? Perhaps you have wandered through rooms which still bear the colored decorations placed there a thousand years ago by the early peoples of the Mesa Verde - The "Green Mountain"; but have you dropped into Frijoles Canyon at Bandelier, in New Mexico; to view what is left of an aboriginal apartment house or clambered into one of those chambers carved out of the canyon wall by the little men of long ago; or viewed, from beside Threatening Rock, before it crashed, the circles of Pueblo Bonito; or the cliff dwellings up on the sheer sandstone wall of the Canyon de Chelly; or Montezuma's Castle? Have you stood on the brink of Bryce Canyon when the sun was dropping low in the west and watched its light, reflected from the red westward surfaces of a thousand pinnacles, impart the ruddy glow of incandescence to surfaces unreached by the direct rays of the sun? Have you, on foot, or on a mule which at every switchback thrusts its head out over the appalling abyss with a fearful and exasperating bravado, dropped down the Bright Angel Trail from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to where Roaring Spring gushes forth from the canyon wall, and down beyond it to the Colorado and the suspension bridge that offers the only crossing of the river within the park. These are recreational experiences that call for exercise of one's physical powers, but that provide also a mental and emotional stimulus of which the memory is likely to be a lasting one.

Many of the mysteries of creation will doubtless remain mysteries for all of us, since we are still but gropers in the dark. Yet the lively mind and the spirit attuned to nature is constantly inquiring or may be stimulated into inquiry. We want to know what happened, and why and how and where. The answer does not always lie in what we see or hear or feel or smell or taste, but is the result of patient study and re search. Gradually, over the past two decades, our own forces and agencies from outside the Service have been doing this research. Within the Service, by museums such as that at Norris Geyser Basin or the one now being built at Ocmulgee National Monument in Georgia, to explain those long-disappeared people who built their great mounds through the Southeast; by signs along the roads and trails; by guided trips in automobiles, or on horseback or on foot, or even by boat, as is so pleasantly done in Acadia; by publications, by lectures and motion pictures, -- by all these means, there has been constant effort and, we believe, constantly improving effort, to get across the story these areas of ours and yours so magnificently illustrate. Our museums are adjuncts of the areas themselves; they limit themselves to as simple and lucid methods as possible to add to understanding and appreciation of the areas in which they are situated; they are intended to be taken with the park and to heighten the visitor's enjoyment of it.

There was a day when, with the first heavy snow, the great national parks of the west closed their gates except to a venturesome few. Today Rainier and Yosemite and Crater Lake and many others are open twelve months a year, and snow is merely a welcome sight to those for whom winter is the happiest and liveliest outdoors time of the whole year. There and then blooms a spirit of fellowship, of camarderie that is one of the finest things the areas produce, as men and women ski over the snowfields, skate on frozen lakes, or gather round the cheerful fires of an evening. Never are the forests more serene, never the parks more glittering and brilliant.

I have tried to picture for you some of the kinds of enjoyment -- whether it be by the sight of the high peaks, the virgin forest of the Pacific Northwest, the desert of the Joshua Tree or Organ Pipe Cactus, or the winter snows; by active play or by the quiet drinking-in of beauty--some of the thrills that are apart of the recreational experience in these matchless possessions. Use of the parks should stimulate us physically, they should---at least they can--make us wiser in our day and generation, and in this time of stress and trouble and worry, they can bring to the sensitive spirit a repose and a depth of satisfaction beyond all price.

archers and beach-goers

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Date: 04-Jul-2002