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NPS Expansion: 1930s







New Deal



NPS 1933-39




Expansion of the National Park Service in the 1930s:
Administrative History

Chapter One: "They have grown up like Topsy"
Administration of American Parks Before 1933
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B. National Park Service Administration, 1916-1933

The decade-long effort to secure passage of a bill creating a parks bureau in the Department of the Interior had become bogged down by congressional indifference and a bitter conflict within the ranks of the conservationists. By the summer of 1916, however, those who championed the creation of a park bureau emerged victorious, and on August 25, President Woodrow Wilson signed "An Act to establish a National Park Service, and for other purposes." [57]

The act provided for the creation of a National Park Service that would

promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter specified by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life 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.

As is so often the case, however, the act did not address a number of questions raised in the debates over it. Of particular importance here, it did not, as many of its supporters hoped it would, bring administration of all federal parks and monuments together in a single agency. That step would not be taken for nearly seventeen years.

The act provided for appointment of a director, whose annual salary would be $4,500, an assistant director, chief clerk, draftsman, messenger, and "such other employees as the Secretary of the Interior shall deem necessary . . . ." Because no money for the new bureau was provided until April 17, 1917, the new organization could not be formed until that time, and the interim organization under Robert Marshall continued to function. [58]

Mather had originally intended that Marshall would be the first director of the new service. He had begun to lose confidence in Marshall's administrative ability, however, and at the end of the year, Marshall returned to his old position at Geologic Survey. [59]

Instead, Secretary Lane appointed Mather as first director and Albright as assistant director. Frank W. Griffith became chief clerk. Others in the office included Arthur E. Demaray and Isabelle Story from Marshall's staff, Nobel J. Wilt, a messenger, and five clerks. [60]

The year 1917 was not the most propitious time for launching a new federal bureau. On April 6 of that year the nation entered World War I, and money and attention were naturally diverted to the war effort. To make matters worse, Stephen Mather suffered a nervous collapse in January, and was hospitalized. It would be more than a year before he could return to work. [61] That the agency took form, and was able to function as well as it did was a tribute to the ability of the twenty-seven-year-old acting director--Horace M. Albright. [62]

A wide range of policy and administrative issues, beyond the immediate organizational and funding questions, faced Albright and Mather when the latter returned to Washington. Relationships between the new central office and parks that traditionally had been independent had to be established. Both men wanted to put park administration on a "business-like" basis, using the expertise found in other governmental agencies to avoid unnecessary growth. [63] Relationships with these organizations had to be worked out. The military still occupied Yellowstone National Park; as long as they were there, the National Park Service would not have full responsibility for the areas in its charge. In a wartime atmosphere, the very existence of parks was threatened. A clear policy regarding development had to be formulated. The national monuments suffered from years of neglect. These units had to be incorporated fully into the park system, and an effective method of administering them was necessary. Finally, it was clear that some additional parks to round out the system were needed. Yet no clear standards for national parks had heretofore been enunciated.

These issues could not be dealt with in a vacuum. What was needed, despite Mark Daniels' efforts to do so in 1915, [64] was the articulation of a general policy that would provide a sound basis for administration of the National Park System. On May 13, 1918, a letter from Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane to Mather did just that:

Washington, May 13, 1918.

Dear Mr. Mather: The National Park Service has been established as a bureau of this department just one year. During this period our efforts have been chiefly directed toward the building of an effective organization while engaged in the performance of duties relating to the administration, protection, and improvement of the national parks and monuments, as required by law. This constructive work is now completed. The new Service is fully organized; its personnel has been carefully chosen; it has been conveniently and comfortably situated in the new Interior Department Building; and it has been splendidly equipped for the quick and effective transaction of its business.

For the information of the public an outline of the administrative policy to which the new Service will adhere may now be announced. This policy is based on three broad principles: "First, that the national parks must be maintained in absolutely unimpaired form for the use of future generations as well as those of our own time; second, that they are set apart for the use, observation, health, and pleasure of the people; and third, that the national interest must dictate all decisions affecting public or private enterprise in the parks."

Every activity of the Service is subordinate to the duties imposed upon it to faithfully preserve the parks for posterity in essentially their natural state. The commercial use of these reservations, except as specially authorized by law, or such as may be incidental to the accommodation and entertainment of visitors, will not be permitted under any circumstances.

In all of the national parks except Yellowstone you may permit the grazing of cattle in isolated regions not frequented by visitors, and where no injury to the natural features of the parks may result from such use. The grazing of sheep, however, must not be permitted in any national park.

In leasing lands for the operation of hotels, camps, transportation facilities, or other public service under strict Government control, concessioners should be confined to tracts no larger than absolutely necessary for the purposes of their business enterprises.

You should not permit the leasing of park lands for summer homes. It is conceivable, and even exceedingly probable, that within a few years under a policy of permitting the establishment of summer homes in national parks, these reservations might become so generally settled as to exclude the public from convenient access to their streams, lakes, and other natural features, and thus destroy the very basis upon which this national playground system is being constructed.

You should not permit the cutting of trees except where timber is needed in the construction of buildings or other improvements within the park and can be removed without injury to the forests or disfigurement of the landscape, where the thinning of forests or cutting of vistas will improve the scenic features of the parks, or where their destruction is necessary to eliminate insect infestations or diseases common to forests and shrubs.

In the construction of roads, trails, buildings, and other improvements, particular attention must be devoted always to the harmonizing of these improvements with the landscape. This is a most important item in our program of development and requires the employment of trained engineers who either possess a knowledge of landscape architecture or have a proper appreciation of the esthetic value of park lands. All improvements will be carried out in accordance with a preconceived plan developed with special reference to the preservation of the landscape, and comprehensive plans for future development of the national parks on an adequate scale will be prepared as funds are available for this purpose.

Wherever the Federal Government has exclusive jurisdiction over national parks it is clear that more effective measures for the protection of the parks can be taken. The Federal Government has exclusive jurisdiction over the national parks in the States of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, and Oregon, and also in the Territories of Hawaii and Alaska. We should urge the cession of exclusive jurisdiction over the parks in the other States, and particularly in California and Colorado.

There are many private holdings in the national parks, and many of these seriously hamper the administration of these reservations. All of them should be eliminated as far as it is practicable to accomplish this purpose in the course of time, either through congressional appropriation or by acceptance of donations of these lands. Isolated tracts in important scenic areas should be given first consideration, of course, in the purchase of private property.

Every opportunity should be afforded the public, wherever possible, to enjoy the national parks in the manner that best satisfies the individual taste. Automobiles and motorcycles will be permitted in all of the national parks; in fact, the parks will be kept accessible by any means practicable.

All outdoor sports which may be maintained consistently with the observation of the safeguards thrown around the national parks by law will be heartily indorsed and aided wherever possible. Mountain climbing, horseback riding, walking, motoring, swimming, boating, and fishing will ever be the favorite sports. Winter sports will be developed in the parks that are accessible throughout the year. Hunting will not be permitted in any national park.

The educational, as well as the recreational, use of the national parks should be encouraged in every practicable way. University and high-school classes in science will find special facilities for their vacation-period studies. Museums containing specimens of wild flowers, shrubs, and trees, and mounted animals, birds, and fish native to the parks and other exhibits of this character will be established as authorized.

Low-priced camps operated by concessioners should be maintained, as well as comfortable and even luxurious hotels wherever the volume of travel warrants the establishment of these classes of accommodations. In each reservation, as funds are available, a system of free camp sites will be cleared, and these grounds will be equipped with adequate water and sanitation facilities.

As concessions in the national parks represent in most instances a large investment, and as the obligation to render service satisfactory to the department at carefully regulated rates is imposed, these enterprises must be given a large measure of protection, and generally speaking, competitive business should not be authorized where a concession is meeting our requirements, which, of course, will as nearly as possible coincide with the needs of the traveling public.

All concessions should yield revenue to the Federal Government, but the development of the revenues of the parks should not impose a burden upon the visitor.

Automobile fees in the parks should be reduced as the volume of motor travel increases.

For assistance in the solution of administrative problems in the parks relating both to their protection and use the scientific bureaus of the Government offer facilities of the highest worth and authority. In the protection of the public health, for instance, the destruction of insect pests in the forests, the care of wild animals, and the propagation and distribution of fish, you should utilize their hearty cooperation to the utmost.

You should utilize to the fullest extent the opportunity afforded by the Railroad Administration in appointing a committee of western railroads to inform the traveling public how to comfortably reach the national parks; you should diligently extend and use the splendid cooperation developed during the last three years among chambers of commerce, tourist bureaus, and automobile highway associations for the purpose of spreading information about our national parks and facilitating their use and enjoyment; you should keep informed of park movements and park progress, municipal, county, and State, both at home and abroad, for the purpose of adapting whenever practicable, the world's best thought to the needs of the national parks. You should encourage all movements looking to outdoor living. In particular, you should maintain close working relationship with the Dominion parks branch of the Canadian department of the interior and assist in the solution of park problems of an international character.

The department is often required for reports on pending legislation proposing the establishment of new national parks or the addition of lands to existing parks. Complete data on such park projects should be obtained by the National Park Service and submitted to the department in tentative form of report to Congress.

In studying new park projects you should seek to find ''scenery of supreme and distinctive quality or some natural feature so extraordinary or unique as to be of national interest and importance." You should seek "distinguished examples of typical forms of world architecture," such, for instance, as the Grand Canyon, as exemplifying the highest accomplishment of stream erosion, and the high, rugged portion of Mount Desert Island as exemplifying the oldest rock forms in America and the luxuriance of deciduous forests.

The national park system as now constituted should not be lowered in standard, dignity, and prestige by the inclusion of areas which express in less than the highest terms the particular class or kind of exhibit which they represent.

It is not necessary that a national park should have a large area. The element of size is of no importance as long as the park is susceptible of effective administration and control.

You should study existing national parks with the idea of improving them by the addition of adjacent areas which will complete their scenic purposes or facilitate administration. The addition of the Teton Mountains to the Yellowstone National Park, for instance, will supply Yellowstone's greatest need, which is an uplift of glacier-bearing peaks; and the addition to the Sequoia National Park of the Sierra summits and slopes to the north and east, as contemplated by pending legislation, will create a reservation unique in the world, because of its combination of gigantic trees, extraordinary canyons, and mountain masses.

In considering projects involving the establishment of new national parks or the extension of existing park areas by delimination of national forests, you should observe what effect such delimination would have on the administration of adjacent forest lands, and wherever practicable, you should engage in an investigation of such park projects jointly with officers of the Forest Service, in order that questions of national park and national forest policy as they affect the lands involved may be thoroughly understood.

Cordially, yours,

    Director, National Park Service.

The principles enunciated were substantially reaffirmed by Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work seven years later, [66] and again in 1932. [67] They remain the foundation of National Park Service administration today.

Stephen Mather served as director of the National Park Service for twelve years, retiring January 12, 1929. [68] His replacement as director was Horace Albright, who for the previous ten years, had served as both superintendent of Yellowstone National Park and Assistant Director of the National Park Service (field). [69]

Few people have left a greater imprint on any organization than Stephen Mather left on the National Park Service. The record of his administration was remarkable. When he became director, the system consisted of fourteen national parks and twenty national monuments, with a total of 10,850 square miles. [70] When he resigned, the system encompassed twenty national parks and thirty-two national monuments with a total area of 15,696 square miles. [71] Just as important, Mather had managed to stave off a series of efforts to establish national parks that he believed to be inferior, and he defeated repeated efforts to exploit those that existed. [72]

He carried on the publicity campaign he had begun as Assistant Secretary of Interior, and in the process stamped the national parks indelibly into the American consciousness. Recognizing that "scenery is a hollow enjoyment to a tourist who sets out in the morning after an indigestible breakfast and fitful sleep on an impossible bed," Mather had made development of park facilities a high priority, and had developed a coherent concessions policy to insure visitor comfort. [73] In 1918, after no little difficulty, Mather managed to secure removal of the troops from Yellowstone. After that date, the National Park Service was solely responsible for the areas under its charge. [74]

The impact of Mather's administration of the National Park Service is greater than the sum total of these accomplishments. With the help of Horace Albright, he built a small, overworked organization into one that came to enjoy a reputation for efficiency, responsiveness, and devotion to its charge unparalleled in the federal government. The men who guided the service until the end of the 1930s, moreover, had served under Stephen Mather. They did not deviate far from the course he had set. Even today, some fifty-three years after he left the service, the ideals and policies enunciated by Stephen Mather serve as a guide for the National Park Service.

No person was better qualified to succeed Mather as director than Horace Albright. He had been deeply involved in the administration of the park system at all levels since 1913, and had, it will be recalled, served as acting director of the service in the first, difficult months after passage of the NPS enabling act. His four years as director during the early days of the Great Depression would confirm his stature as a skillful and far-seeing administrator.

In December 1928, after it had become clear that he would be the new director, Albright wrote to Robert Sterling Yard, stating his conception of his role as director:

My job as I see it, will be to consolidate our gains, finish up the rounding out of the Park system, go rather heavily into the historical park field, and get such legislation as is necessary to guarantee the future of the system on a sound permanent basis where the power and the personality of the Director may no longer have to be the controlling factors in operating the Service. [75]

Albright's administration did not, as he indicated, represent a break with Mather's but was, rather, an extension of it. He fought to maintain the high standards for parks established by Mather, managing to bring in Carlsbad Caverns (May 14, 1930), Isle Royale (March 31, 1931), and Morristown (March 1, 1933), as well as eleven national monuments. [76] As had Mather, Albright successfully opposed inclusion of substandard areas and went a step further when he secured elimination of Sullys Hill, a clearly inferior park. [77]

Mather previously had obtained civil service coverage for park rangers; Albright continued the drive for professionalization of the Service by securing the same for superintendents and national monument custodians in 1931. [78] In the early 1920s, Mather had instituted an education (interpretation) program with offices in Berkeley, California. [79] Albright reorganized and coordinated the work by creating a Branch of Education in the Washington office, headed by Dr. Harold C. Bryant, whose title was Assistant Director in charge of Branch of Education. [80]

Mather was a brilliant, but sometimes erratic administrator, whose administrative style was a highly personal one. Albright took steps, as he said he would, to create a more orderly administration that depended less on personal relationships. Of particular importance in the 1930 reorganization of the service was the delegation of authority among staff officers, something Mather had been unable, or unwilling to do. [81]

None of this is to say that Albright was a mere shadow of his former boss. He was too forceful a man for that. Moreover, if anything, his view of the mission of the National Park Service was broader than Mather's. This was most vividly expressed in Albright's approach to historical areas.

Mather increased appropriations for the national monuments while he was director. [82] In 1923, moreover, he attempted to create a more effective administration of the national monuments in the Southwest by appointing Frank "Boss" Pinkley as Superintendent of the Southwest Monuments. [83]

Yet, his overriding concern was with the scenic areas of the system--he paid scant attention to the historical and prehistorical areas. Albright was a long-time history buff who believed that the National Park Service had a responsibility to preserve significant aspects of the nation s past along with the great scenic areas. [84] With the able help of U.S. Representative Louis Cramton of Michigan, Albright brought the National Park Service much more deeply into the field of historic preservation. [85]

In 1930 Albright proudly reported that the establishment of George Washington Birthplace National Monument marked "the entrance of this service into the field of preservation on a more comprehensive scale." [86] Establishment of George Washington Birthplace National Monument was followed closely by Colonial National Monument on July 3, 1930, and passage of a bill on March 2, 1933, establishing the first national historical park--Morristown. [87] In 1931 Albright gave institutional status to a history program in the Park Service when he hired Dr. Verne E. Chatelain as chief of the division of history in Dr. Harold Bryant's branch of research and education. [88]

Perhaps Albright's greatest contribution to historic preservation in the National Park Service was in his efforts to secure administrative responsibility of the battlefields and other historical areas administered until 1933 by the War Department. Even before the Park Service existed, Albright believed they should be administered as part of the national park system. [89] Beginning in 1917 he attempted to secure passage of a bill that would transfer administration of the areas to the Park Service. [90] Effective August 10, 1933, just one day after Albright retired, Executive Order 6166 transferred all the historical battlefields and monuments administered by the War Department, sixteen national monuments under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Department, and the parks of the national capital to the Department of the Interior.

Chapter One continues with...
Department of Agriculture Monuments, 1906-1933


Last Modified: Tues, Mar 14 2000 07:08:48 am PDT

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