America's National Monuments
The Politics of Preservation
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Chapter 9:
The New Deal and the National Monuments

THE IMPACT OF THE DEPRESSION OF THE 1930s changed the National Park Service and its national monuments in dramatic ways. The strong leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt's secretary of the interior, Harold L. Ickes, the reorganization of the federal bureaucracy in 1933, and the federal emergency relief programs central to the New Deal made the NPS into one of the most formidable of federal agencies. By the end of the 1930s, the number of areas administered by the agency had more than doubled, permanent staff had increased substantially, and the scope of its responsibilities had greatly expanded. Conversely, the 1930s also ended the primacy of the national parks in the park system. As the park system encompassed a broader message, agency leaders recognized the importance of the national monuments and other new categories of park areas.

Changes during the decade accentuated trends toward central control and professional administration, and these shifts exacerbated existing conflicts between Frank Pinkley and his superiors in Washington, D.C.. Pinkley's position was incongruous in an agency that teemed with college-educated specialists. As the monuments became a valuable part of the system, the central administrators of the agency began to exert much more influence over the category than they previously had. Ironically, Pinkley's excellent work in the 1920s forced him into a battle for control of his domain. Pinkley refused to yield his autonomy, and a power struggle ensued between the aging superintendent and the developing Park Service bureaucracy, which was headed by Albright, Cammerer, Demaray, and Dr. Harold C. Bryant, the head of the Division of Education, an Albright-inspired innovation to develop interpretive policy.

Although the trend toward professional administration first surfaced during the 1920s, policies established during Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency became the catalyst for this reshaping of the Park Service. New Deal programs altered the role of the federal government in the economy. In 1933, after four years of unparalleled economic depression, federal agencies assumed many of the responsibilities of the private sector. The government provided credit for destitute farmers, unemployment compensation for workers, insurance on savings in banks, and an array of federally funded job training programs. In addition, federal programs funded the construction of roads, bridges, buildings, and dams across the nation. Large-scale government spending was the means to bring the United States back from the verge of economic ruin.

Nowhere was federal involvement more visible than in Ickes's Department of the Interior. A Bull Moose Republican in 1912, the irascible Ickes had always been an advocate of using government programs to further social goals. Despite differing political affiliations, Ickes and Roosevelt held similar views of the role of government in society, and when Roosevelt sought a Republican for his cabinet, Ickes was the logical choice for secretary of the interior. But his selection shocked many. Ickes lacked what most perceived to be the most elementary qualification for the post: as a resident of Illinois, he was not a westerner. But Roosevelt knew what he wanted when he recruited Ickes. The Department of the Interior managed large chunks of federally held land, and as the top man in Interior, Ickes became the leading advocate of many programs involving development of federal or state land by federal agencies.

Ickes was a staunch believer in the cause of conservation, but his point of view posed problems for the Park Service. To outsiders, the perspectives of the federal agencies responsible for the different facets of conservation, the Forest Service and the Park Service, seemed the same. Only insiders realized how distinct the two stances were. When Ickes arrived in Washington, D.C., early in 1933, the secretary seemed unaware of the subtle distinctions between the two agencies. Coming out of the Theodore Roosevelt-inspired Progressive tradition, Ickes announced that his sympathies lay with Gifford Pinchot, the former chief forester of the United States, and with the utilitarian conservationists, who advocated a policy of wise use of natural resources. Ickes acknowledged that he "learned the principles of conservation at [Pinchot's] feet." This squarely allied him with the primary adversary of the Park Service, and the spectre of Ickes worried the Park Service. [1]

One of Ickes's primary objectives was to rehabilitate the reputation of the Department of the Interior. Dating back to the nineteenth century, the department had an unequalled record of scandal, including the removal of the two commissioners of the GLO most instrumental in initiating federal efforts at preservation, Binger Hermann and W. A. Richards, early in the twentieth century. The Ballinger-Pinchot controversy of 1910 damaged the reputations of both Secretary of the Interior Richard A. Ballinger and Pinchot, and the notorious Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s toppled Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall and further disgraced the department. Ickes thought that the Department of the Interior looked like a refuge of scoundrels and took it upon himself to restore public confidence in the department.

Ickes was prepared to be very tough, and the methods he used to upgrade his department terrorized the staff. He wanted the reputation of the Department of the Interior to rival that of any other federal agency. As a first step, Ickes selected Harry Slattery, a long-time associate of Pinchot's, as his personal assistant. Slattery had many endearing qualities to the reform-minded Ickes; the Teapot Dome scandal came to light largely through his efforts, and newspapers hailed the appointment as evidence of Ickes's sincerity. But in search of dishonesty and laziness in his department, Ickes condoned a variety of objectionable practices, including "intramural spying, telephone monitoring, eavesdropping, and the use of professional investigators." To uncover malingerers, Ickes himself patrolled the halls of the Department of the Interior. When they saw him coming, staffers from most agencies in the department quaked.

But the Park Service proved largely immune to Ickes's legendary wrath, and Horace Albright's personality provided most of the reason. Early in Ickes's reign, the competent and charming Albright made friends with his demanding superior. Ickes became convinced of Albright's reliability and respectability, and he probably admired the director's willingness to stand up to a man reputed to eat "half a dozen ten penny nails and few dozen buttered brick bats" for breakfast. [2] Ickes came to trust Albright above anyone else in the department, and consequently, Albright played an important role in shaping policy at the Department of the Interior.

As a result of this relationship, Ickes became noticeably more sympathetic to the goals of the Park Service. The Forest Service was located in the Department of Agriculture and was beyond Ickes's control. He had vast influence over the Park Service, and as he learned to distinguish among the many perspectives that made up federal conservation, Ickes's allegiance to the Pinchot clique diminished, and he began to espouse a Park Service-like doctrine of preservation. He complained about road projects in the national parks, much to the delight of those within the NPS who opposed accommodating visitors under every circumstance. The secretary also thwarted conservationist projects that threatened the national parks, including a proposal by Idaho farmers and the Bureau of Reclamation to dam Lake Yellowstone for irrigation.

Ickes's approach to conservation and preservation emphasized federal initiative as a remedy for economic ills. He implemented programs in every agency under his control, and thanks to Albright, the Department of the Interior focused upon the Park Service. There was plenty to do in the park system; the 1920s had been a period of great growth unaccompanied by comparable expenditures for upkeep. Under the auspices of the Emergency Conservation Work (ECW) plan, the National Park Service became a vehicle for the employment of conservation workers. Five federal programs—the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Public Works Administration (PWA), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the Civil Works Administration (CWA), also contributed heavily to the development of Park Service areas.

Policies that dictated massive federal expenditures upon federal and state property across the nation gave the Park Service a kind of leeway it had never enjoyed previously. The federal programs were so extensive that although the regular appropriation of the agency increased by approximately twenty-five percent between 1933 and 1940, the emergency appropriations nearly doubled the regular budget for each year from 1933 through 1940. [3] By 1940 the Park Service received more than $218 million in emergency funding, compared to a total of $132 million in regular appropriations.

The Park Service received so much money during the 1930s that it was able to spread its resources throughout the system. Frank Pinkley's complaints were muted by the extra money the agency received. The funding programs of the agency were no longer aimed almost exclusively at the national park category. The agency could initiate projects that had previously had low priority, could satisfy a much broader range of constituents, and could take on a more comprehensive vision of development. Many monuments, new and old, received their first attention from the Park Service during the 1930s, and the new programs filled a multitude of heretofore unmet needs.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was the most important of the programs that operated in Park Service areas. Modeled after a Forest Service program that put the unemployed to work in national forests in 1931, the CCC represented the kind of federal intervention that Roosevelt had promised the nation. It received the enthusiastic support of Park Service officials, who recognized it as a "potential bonanza." CCC camps in park areas proliferated rapidly, reaching a total of 118. National parks, monuments, and new designations like national historical parks all benefited from CCC programs. Camp workers did everything from refuse collection to technical conservation work such as planning and building fire roads. In twenty-three cases, the agency implemented programs focusing upon restoration, reconstruction, and new construction at places ranging from the Colonial National Monument to the Bandelier National Monument. [4]

Conceived out of social chaos, CCC camps attempted to embody order. In theory, successful enrollees were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, unemployed, unmarried, citizens of the United States, with no communicable disease or physical handicap, but often restrictions upon enrollment were waived or ignored. In practice, many who entered the camps were products of the depression who had grown up hungry, tough, and sometimes homeless. The discrepancy between ideal and actual enrollment contributed to the disciplinary atmosphere of many of the camps. Camp workers lived in a fashion styled after the military: officers commanded each camp and the men lived in barracks, dressed in government-issue military surplus clothing, and ate in the equivalent of mess halls. The bugling of reveille woke them each morning. They worked full forty-hour weeks, and were required to send home a substantial portion of their pay. [5]

Despite the rigor, CCC camps often integrated young men back into the mainstream of American life. Many of those unable to find work during the Depression of the 1930s felt alienated, and their experience with the CCC reintroduced values that they had long for gotten or never learned. The camp at Dinosaur National Monument had such an impact on some of its workers. In 1937 the project impressed A. H. Dahm, a visitor from Denver, "because the men in [the] camp have been taught to take an interest in life, and actually seemed very pleased, and had no desire to leave there." He complimented "the splendid way in which [the Park Service] taught these transient boys the finer things of life and how to make the most of their talents." [6] The Dinosaur camp seemed a fulfillment of everything Franklin D. Roosevelt dreamed of when he initiated the broadly based work relief recovery programs. Not only was the camp doing important work, but its leaders were teaching important values to people who might not otherwise be exposed to them.

Social accomplishments aside, the national monuments benefited from the development that CCC labor offered. The monuments were so diverse that the value of a CCC camp or side camp varied according to the three different kinds of areas in the category. Each of the three types of monuments—archaeological, natural, and historical—had a range of needs and newly found wealth allowed the agency to develop flexible programs that fit the peculiarities of individual areas. This presented a dramatic contrast from the 1920s, when the Park Service had little money and so few titular distinctions that Pinkley's archaeological assistants were labeled park naturalists. The increased significance astounded Pinkley and his associates. They resolved to take advantage of the new opportunities.

Prior to the New Deal, archaeological national monuments suffered most from lack of protection and inadequate funds for interpretation. As Pinkley watched the development of national parks throughout the nation, he became angry when he thought of the conditions at the monuments. Federal emergency relief programs offered a solution. Even the Southwest shared in the largesse of the decade. Pinkley had less to complain about as CCC workers implemented programs that he could have only dreamed about earlier.

Bandelier National Monument became one of the model CCC projects carried out at an archaeological national monument because of Pinkley's interest. CCC workers created a physical plant worthy of Pinkley's conception of the significance of the monument. Within a month of their arrival in 1933, CCC workers built the first automobile road to Frijoles Canyon. Initially the road was a twelve-foot-wide truck trail, but a CWA appropriation in 1934 widened it to twenty-two feet. Many tourists, to whom the previously existing foot trail was an actual barrier, now had a closer look at the mysteries of the canyon. Federal emergency relief programs also constructed a visitor center, an administrative building, and when Pinkley decided the existing lodge in the canyon interfered with his administration, a new hotel adjacent to the Park Service facilities. A trained archaeologist, Paul Reiter, supervised the stabilization by CCC camp workers of the Tyuonyi ruins, a primary feature at the monument. Later, when the road brought more travelers than the agency could handle, custodians at the monument trained CCC workers as summer tour guides. When the Park Service had acquired the area in 1932, there were two dilapidated forest ranger cabins in Frijoles Canyon, and the first park ranger drank his water from Frijoles Creek. By 1940 an extensive physical plant existed, complete with electricity, pumped water, five homes for Park Service people, and a paved road to the bottom of the canyon. [7]

The CCC also worked to conserve natural resources. Although it was primarily an archaeological national monument, Bandelier encompassed more than 26,000 acres, including steep canyons and open mesas. The CCC camp implemented wildlife conservation, forest maintenance, fire protection, and trail construction programs. Chaco Canyon also benefited from its CCC camp, where in addition to assisting archaeological investigation, the workers performed an array of development work to protect natural resources. Many other archaeological and natural monuments, ranging from Pinnacles in California to such new creations as the Capitol Reef National Monument in Utah, also benefited from CCC-sponsored development programs. [8]

The first candidates for CCC work were national monuments that contained natural features. They offered innumerable opportunities for conservation work. Many were large areas, consisting of tracts of rugged country and visual formations. Most had few roads, trails, or other facilities and lacked even rudimentary maintenance programs. Throughout the 1920s, the agency had never had the funds to manage places like the Glacier Bay National Monument in Alaska, which included more than 2 million acres. Remote and inaccessible, it received few visitors, and the little agency money for monuments was put to use in areas that attracted tourists. The Park Service also ignored places in the lower forty-eight states. The agency did not allocate funds for Lava Beds National Monument, a 45,000-acre tract of lava flows, natural bridges, and other volcanic phenomena in northern California where the Modoc Indians hid from federal troops in the 1860s, until the CCC camp there opened. Nearly all the natural-area national monuments that existed prior to 1933 received CCC assistance. CCC enrollees fought fires, battled insects and fungus, built roads and truck trails, and accomplished an array of other conservation work. [9]

Natural national monuments that the Park Service believed had tourist potential were prime candidates for federal emergency relief development programs. The Capitol Reef National Monument, established in August 1937, was this type of monument. For nearly a decade before proclamation of the monument, the NPS had pursued acquisition of the area. Located in southern Utah, the area which Steve Mather wanted so badly to develop for the park system, Capitol Reef encompassed 37,060 acres, approximately fifty-eight square miles. Because it had the potential for entering the southwestern network of agency areas and lacked facilities for visitors, it became a likely candidate for the ECW/CCC programs. A CCC side camp opened there in April 1938, staffed with twenty-five men and a foreman from the main camp at Bryce Canyon National Park. The workers embarked on a typical development program: construction of a camp for the workers, road improvement and the construction of a ranger station, fences, a stock driveway, and horse trails. The attractions of the new monument were natural features; CCC labor and government money built an infrastructure to facilitate its administration. [10]

Cedar Breaks National Monument, created in 1933, also provided the Park Service with a way to use the CCC to its advantage. The Forest Service had administered the tract prior to 1933, but the Park Service sought it, and Cedar Breaks became the center of one more interagency dispute. As at Bandelier, Forest Service officials felt that NPS management would restrict other uses of land in the region. Unlike Bandelier, there were no archaeological ruins in the Cedar Breaks vicinity, and the Park Service had a more difficult time making its claim. Cedar Breaks was simply a series of vistas, which Forest Service officials did not believe required NPS interpretation. Albright insisted otherwise in a series of letters to Chief Forester Maj. Robert Y. Stuart, who suffered a nervous breakdown during the period. The weakened Stuart eventually acquiesced to his counterpart. The monument was established shortly after Albright left the agency in August 1933.

True to the Albright legacy, the NPS found a different way to present the monument. Park Service interpretation presented Cedar Breaks as the antecedent of the cliff formations at Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks and emphasized its place in the evolution of geology of southern Utah. Because the area was essentially visual, the CCC camp at Cedar Breaks built roadside stations that explained the scenic vistas in that context, and from an interpretive standpoint, Cedar Breaks became a valuable addition to the system. [11]

More important, development programs blurred the distinctions between the national monuments and the national parks. After 1933 monument custodians no longer had to maintain their monuments single-handedly. Development brought the cutting edge of agency planning to the formerly second-class monument category. The New Deal gave the Park Service the means and opportunity to fulfill its dual mandate to preserve and develop in a comprehensive fashion, and the agency responded to the challenge. No longer were the categories of nomenclature distinct. With federal emergency assistance from the CCC, WPA, PWA, CWA, and FERA, the monuments became as integral a part of the system as the national parks.

But not all national monuments required the kind of development that New Deal money provided, and CCC programs also created new distinctions within the monument category. Some monuments established during the 1930s, such as Organ Pipe Cactus, Channel Islands, and Joshua Tree, were not suited for the development programs of the New Deal. The Department of Commerce initially pushed the Channel Islands National Monument, five inaccessible islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, on the reluctant NPS. Because of lack of access and questions about its suitability as a park area, the agency chose not to implement development programs there. During the 1930s, scientific use became the primary value of the Channel Islands. [12]

As a result of the growing scientific orientation developing in national park planning, Organ Pipe Cactus and Joshua Tree were "representative-area" national monuments, established to preserve representative portions of land containing unique desert flora. In the view of the agency, Organ Pipe Cactus and Joshua Tree were also "primarily of scientific rather than popular value," and capital development seemed pointless. [13] Consequently, the 330,690 acres of Organ Pipe Cactus and the 838,253.30 acres of Joshua Tree remained outside mainstream planning during the 1930s.

These two areas were important evidence of the growing preoccupation with ecological communities in the Park Service. The national parks established during the first thirty years of the twentieth century were largely confined to mountaintops; Mount Rainier, established in 1898, and Grand Teton, in 1929, were the beginning and end of the period in which this kind of national park dominated. When college-educated biologists and their scientific peers began to shape Park Service policy, they came to believe that the system contained too many mountaintops and not enough ecosystems. The specialists sought a more comprehensive approach to the natural world than the preservation of scenery. This suited the objectives of Mather and Albright, who sought ways to broaden the national park category. The tenets of modern ecology formed a minority current within the agency, but this discipline offered a way to broaden the domain of the agency. As a result, during the 1920s the Park Service began to pursue the Everglades area of southern Florida.

Again the Antiquities Act offered the means to circumvent the congressional sanction that the establishment of a national park required. Scientific goals became important to the Park Service, and when hamstrung by Congress, agency officials resorted to the Antiquities Act as the most effective means to acquire areas that they believed the system needed. Saguaro National Monument, established by executive fiat in 1933, was the first "representative area" included in the park system. Prior to the creation of Joshua Tree and Organ Pipe Cactus, the Park Service finally succeeded in preserving the ecosystem of the Everglades. Yet the Everglades National Park was an anomaly among national parks. Congress remained more cognizant of the "visual experience" that Steve Mather promoted and did not yet recognize ecological communities as valid park units. [14]

The preservation of representative areas was important to more than specialists within the agency. Even during the greatest period of development of the Park Service the Antiquities Act provided officials with an avenue to shape alternative futures for the park system. Along with the Everglades, monuments like Saguaro, Organ Pipe Cactus, Joshua Tree, and in the 1940s, Jackson Hole became precursors of the later expansion by the agency into the preservation of biotas and other less visually spectacular phenomena.

By the 1930s, most of the visually exciting natural areas in the nation were already reserved. Scenic places in the West not included in the park system generally belonged to the Forest Service. Two new national parks, Olympic and Kings Canyon, established in 1938 and 1940 respectively, offered exquisite scenic vistas, but each resulted in extensive battles with the Forest Service, which grudgingly provided much of the additional land. The price for scenic views became too high for the Park Service, and its revived scientific interest offered a different strategy. The continued expansion of its domain required the agency to redefine the values for new areas.

The monuments became central to the future of the agency, and Pinkley found himself further outside the mainstream than ever before. During the 1920s, the agency acknowledged his efforts but ignored his areas. During the 1930s, New Deal funding programs served as a backdrop while the agency supported his areas but ignored his efforts. In many ways, the New Deal gave Pinkley what he wanted most: the money to implement programs at his national monuments. But changes in the agency and the conditions that the central administration attached to funding minimized Pinkley's role. College-educated specialists and consultants dominated planning and policy-making in the Park Service, Pinkley's autonomy in the Southwest diminished, and he chafed at control from above.

The New Deal accelerated the trends that frustrated Pinkley. During the 1920s, the agency began to move toward professionalization and central oversight as Mather and Albright began to consolidate their power. Albright particularly envisioned an institutional future for the agency, and Pinkley's role at Bandelier did little to endear him to the upper echelon of the agency. When Albright became director in 1929, he implemented a rigid agenda, centered on rounding out the park system, and he was less inclined than his predecessor to tolerate challenges from within the agency.

By 1930, the NPS hierarchy knew that it had to restrict Pinkley's role in the Southwest. He ran his park areas so well that the southwestern national monument group attracted considerable attention. Pinkley's position contradicted the realities of administering the Park Service. From Albright's national park-oriented perspective, the superintendent was an obstacle to the process of arranging the national park system to the advantage of the agency.

By the end of the 1920s, the Park Service had secured its position in the federal bureaucracy, and the process of professionalizing the agency began in earnest. The authorization of the three eastern national parks—Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains, and Mammoth Cave—during the 1920s ensured that the Park Service had a role that other federal agencies did not. From these roots, NPS officials sought to broaden their focus. Agency administrators wanted to provide visitors with more than an inspirational visual experience when they came to the national parks. Scenic national parks left an imprint on the visiting public, but the emotional response of the public often overlooked the agency that kept the parks. The Park Service needed to find a way to make the public appreciate its personnel and their efforts as well as its holdings.


America's National Monuments: The Politics of Preservation
©1989, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
©1994, University Press of Kansas
All rights reserved by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

rothman/chap9.htm — 04-Feb-2005

Copyright © 1989 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Material from this edition published by the University Press of Kansas by arrangement with the University of Illinois Press and may not be reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the author and the University of Illinois Press.