National Park Service: The First 75 Years
Biographical Vignettes
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Congressman Phillip Burton
1926-1983


                                          by Gerry Tays

Phillip Burton


Phillip Burton was born in 1936, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was elected the youngest member of the California State Assembly, 1956. Descriptions of Phil Burton reveal that he was a "good-doer" who had no patience for "do-gooders" who settled for glorious defeats. He loved to win, knew how to win, and expected to win. Phil was a liberal in the truest sense of the word. He fought for workers' rights, the underprivileged, farmers and coal miners, the aged, and the "little guy." He knew how to forge coalitions of idealists and pragmatists, conservatives and liberals, amateurs and professionals. He was the consummate vote counter who always knew exactly where he stood and what it took to win.

Phil was the old-fashioned boss prowling the aisle, buttonholing colleagues in the cloakroom, hustling votes for his next worthy cause. He rarely took time to savor victories. As the chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks in both the 95th and 96th Congresses, he spent little time enjoying the parks for which he cared so much, with the notable exception of Golden Gate NRA in San Francisco. On a visit to Yellowstone, Superintendent John Townsley arranged a meeting at Old Faithful Inn with seating that afforded a magnificent view of the Geyser Basin and Old Faithful. When John invited Phil to select a chair, Phil took one that faced away from the window. Townsley was crestfallen. Phil had more important matters on his mind than enjoying nature's handiwork.

Phillip Burton, at the age of 37, was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1964. As chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Phil Burton set an unprecedented record for establishing and protecting parks, wilderness areas, trails, and wild and scenic rivers. His now famous National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 has been called the most sweeping piece of environmental legislation ever to pass the Congress. The national trails system was tripled with the addition of five new trails, including a new category of historic trails; the national wild and scenic rivers system was nearly doubled with eight new river designations and the addition of 17 new study rivers; wilderness acreage in the national park system more than doubled with the addition of nearly 2 million acres of wilderness. The measure also added 14 new units to the system; established a $725 million program to renovate urban recreational facilities; and authorized the purchase of concession interests of the Yellowstone Park Company, the largest single buyout of its kind.

Phil died of heart failure in San Francisco on April 10, 1983. His ashes were interred in the National Cemetery of the Presidio of San Francisco, soon to become a part of Golden Gate NRA as Phil had directed. The park was dedicated in his honor by Congress on May 10, 1983.


From National Park Service: The First 75 Years




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