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Research and Education
in the National Parks




Part I

Part II


National Park Service
Research and Education in the National Parks
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While plans were being formulated in Washington to advance educational work in the parks, far away on the Pacific coast nature-guide work was finding its way into Yosemite. The concept of nature guiding in reality was a product of the world survey which brought the idea from Europe and planted it in America. In 1918 the California Fish and Game Commission sent its educational director to Yosemite National Park to deliver a number of lectures. As a stimulus to further interest in natural sciences, field trips were offered. This service met with immediate popularity and the following year saw a more extensive program developed at other places in California.

Yosemite NP
FIGURE 35.—A naturalist telling the story of Yosemite Valley to a small group gathered at Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park.

Mr. Mather and certain friends having become keenly interested in the educational possibilities of the parks, were greatly attracted by this work, and, in 1920 they supported the movement with private funds. In that year Dr. Harold C. Bryant and Dr. Loye Holmes Miller conducted trips afield and gave lectures in Yosemite and laid the foundation for later work. The same year Milton P. Skinner was appointed park naturalist in Yellowstone National Park and a program of Government guiding and lecture service began. In 1921 two rangers were assigned to educational work, and the following year this number was increased to five. Thereafter the work in this park expanded rapidly.

In the spring of 1921, through a cooperative arrangement with the California Fish and Game Commission, the National Park Service instituted a "free nature guide service" in Yosemite. The aim of this service was to furnish useful information regarding trees, wild flowers, birds, and mammals, and their conservation, and to stimulate interest in the scientific interpretation of natural phenomena. The means used to attain this aim were: Trips afield; formal lectures, illustrated with lantern slides or motion pictures; 10-minute camp fire talks given alternately an the main resorts of the park; a stated office hour when questions regarding the natural history of the park could be answered; a library of dependable reference works, and a flower show where the commoner wild flowers, properly labeled, were displayed. Occasionally, visiting scientists helped by giving lectures.

Mesa Verde NP
FIGURE 36.—A group of visitors at Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park. Specially selected and instructed ranger guides conduct all visitors to and through the ruins. At special gatherings through the day, and around the camp fire in the evening, the superintendent and rangers tell the story of the cliff dwellers and of the prehistoric cultures in the Southwest.

Coincident with the above development, the National Park Service began the interpretation of park phenomena by means of museum exhibits. Ansel F. Hall, previously in charge of information for Yosemite National Park, was made park naturalist for that park in 1921 and developed a museum which was installed in a temporary building opened to the public in that year.

Enlarged programs marked the year 1922, and by 1923 Glacier National Park, with the aid of Montana State University, had inaugurated nature-guide service, thus becoming the third park to establish the work. Here also emphasis was placed on a lecture program. In that year Director Mather, realizing the importance of the rapidly expanding educational program at Yosemite, designated Ansel F. Hall as chief naturalist to extend the field of educational development to other parks. The years 1923 and 1924 saw beginnings made at Grand Canyon, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and Sequoia National Parks. A year later Zion was added to the list of parks undertaking educational work. In 1923 Carl P. Russell was appointed park naturalist in Yosemite National Park and Mr. Hall thereafter devoted himself to developments in all the parks.

Mesa Verde NP
FIGURE 37.—A corner inn the museum reading room at Mesa Verde National Park. An excellent collection of books on the archeology of southwestern United States is available for use by park visitors.

In order to develop a plan of operation, Director Mather appointed Dr. Frank R. Oastler to investigate the educational work being carried on, and, in collaboration with Chief Naturalist Hall, to draw up a general policy. Doctor Oastler spent four and a half months in the field during the summer of 1924. An organization plan was prepared. This outline of the various educational activities defined the duties of the chief naturalist and of the park naturalists, and advocated the development of an "educational working plan" for each park which would contain a statement regarding the qualifications and training of the staff, an outline of each educational activity, plans of necessary buildings, necessary equipment, and required budget. This report also recommended that "each park should feature its own individual phenomena rather than try to cover the entire field of education."

In 1924 the American Association of Museums made a careful study of the educational opportunities in the national parks and developed certain concrete plans looking toward the establishment of natural history museums in a number of the larger parks. As a result of this study the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial be came interested in the museum program and donated funds through that association for the construction of an adequate fireproof museum building, including equipment and other important accessories, in Yosemite. Later, additional donations made further museum construction possible in this and other parks.

Lassen NP
FIGURE 38.—Lassen Peak, one of the few active volcanoes in North America. On the slopes of this mountain the student of geology may study many interesting features of volcanic activity.

In the spring of 1925, on the occasion of an inspection of the new Yosemite Museum, the Secretary of the Interior approved a plan submitted by Director Mather providing for the establishment of the headquarters of the Educational Division at Berkeley, Calif., under the direction of Chief Naturalist Ansel F. Hall. Administration of the division was handled from these headquarters from July 1, 1925, until the establishment of the Branch of Research and Education in Washington on July 1, 1930. During this period administrative plans were developed for the educational activities of each individual park in cooperation with the park superintendents and the park naturalists. At the same time a plan of administration for the division as a whole was drafted. This was approved by the director on June 4, 1929, and has formed the basis of operation and administration in the field.

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