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current topic NPS in Alaska Before 1972


Response to ANCSA, 1971-1973


NPS in Alaska, 1973-1980





The National Park Service and the
Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980: Administrative History

Chapter One:
The National Park Service in Alaska Before 1972
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D. A New Beginning: The NPS in Alaska, 1950-1960

Although little concrete came from the survey of Alaska's roads, it did serve to whet the appetites of some within the Service. George Collins and others in the Service began to argue that under the Park, Parkway and Recreation Act of 1936 the Service had an obligation to learn as much as possible about the territory and the recreational resources there. Accordingly, in 1950 the Service initiated the Alaska Recreation Survey, a project that would not be completed until 1954, the purpose of which was to develop long-range plans that would provide guidance for the Service, as well as others, in

  1. The protection of Alaska's scenic, scientific, historic, and other recreational resources.

  2. The development of park and recreational facilities and services for the people of Alaska, and

  3. the development of tourist facilities in Alaska. [78]

Funded for $10,000 in 1950, with additional monies coming in succeeding years, the Alaska Recreational Survey team, headed by George Collins, chief, state & territorial division, Region 4, spent the next several summers in Alaska, learning as much about the territory as possible and inventorying the resources there. In 1950, for example, one group conducted a survey of Southeast Alaska, then moved on to study Kodiak Island and Katmai National Monument, while a team of historians traveled up the Alaska Highway, checking into museums and libraries in Canada and Alaska. [79]

The survey team quickly discovered that not only was the Park Service's knowledge of Alaska superficial, but that any detailed knowledge about the land was surprisingly scanty. The Alaska Recreational Survey, as a result, contributed not only to the Service's understanding, but made major contributions to a more general body of knowledge about Alaska. Over the next several years the Alaska Recreation Survey sponsored, among other things, a comprehensive study of the economic aspects of tourism in Alaska, the first comprehensive geological survey of the territory, a thorough biological study of Katmai, a preliminary geographical study of the Kongakut-Firth River area in Northeast Alaska, and developed a broad-scale recreation plan for Alaska. [80] In 1952, moreover, the team studied and first proposed establishment of an Arctic Wilderness International Park on the northeastern Alaska-Yukon border, an area that became the Arctic Wildlife Range on December 6, 1960. [81]

Elsewhere within the Service, evidence of a growing interest in Alaska was evident in the early 1950s. In 1953 Grant Pearson, superintendent of Mount McKinley National Park, published his study of the history of that park, and in 1954 John Kauffmann, a NPS planner with a special interest in Alaska, produced boundary histories of Katmai, Glacier Bay, and Mount Mckinley. In 1952 Arthur A. Woodward completed "A Preliminary Survey of Alaska's Archeology, Ethnology, and History," a study supplemented in 1961 when NPS historian Charles Snell visited some forty-five historic sites across Alaska on behalf of the Historic Sites Survey. [82]

The survey of historic sites in Alaska was part of a more general, nationwide survey that had been initiated in 1937 and suspended during World War II . Funding for the program after 1956, including the studies done in Alaska, came from Mission 66—a broad program initiated by NPS Director Conrad L. Wirth that was designed to upgrade all facilities and services in the National Park System. [83]

map of potential parklands in Alaska, 1965
Zones and Sites Containing Examples of Recreation, Natural and Historic Resources, 1965.
(from USDI, NPS, Operation Great Land, Washington, D.C.: NPS, 1965)
(click on map for larger size)

Money from Mission 66 provided, in some cases, the first development money in the existence of the Alaska areas. In three years, from 1957, when the program got underway, until 1960 some $12,942,400 went to the four Alaskan areas [84]. Mission 66 provided funds for vastly-needed improvement of the park road at Mt. McKinley. Work began on a headquarters, residential, and operational facilities at Katmai, and two projects long urged by Alaska's newly-elected Senator Ernest Gruening—a tourist facility at Glacier Bay's Bartlett Cove, and a controversial jeep trail into Katmai's Valley of the Ten Thousand Smokes—were completed. [85]

Mission 66 was not, however, merely a construction and development program as many believe. Among other things, it provided funds for preparation of boundary revision studies; a nation-wide plan for parks, parkways, and recreation areas that included an inventory of existing areas and proposals for new areas, and planning for the "orderly achievement of a well-rounded system." [86]

In 1960, again as part of a broader, nationwide effort, George Collins hired Roger Allin, a long-time Fish and Wildlife Service employee in Alaska, to develop a general recreation plan for Alaska that would identify areas that should be protected by the federal, state, or local governments. The material Allin developed, along with similar recreation plans and proposals for additions to the National Park System prepared by staffs of all regional offices, was compiled in the 1964 NPS publication, Parks for America. [87] In terms of future national parks in Alaska, Parks for America proved a conservative document that listed only two areas as potential national parks—Saint Elias-Wrangell Mountains (800,000 acres) and Lake Clark Pass (330,000). [88]

Additionally, Allin, along with Theodor Swem, a NPS planner then attached to the Washington office, participated in a joint federal-state survey of the Wood-Tikchik area in southwestern Alaska in 1962. While in Alaska they also made an initial reconnaissance of Round Island, looked at Lake George and Lake Clark, and conducted a brief boundary survey of Katmai. [89] The next year Swem returned to Alaska, accompanied by Sigurd F. Olson, to inspect potential areas that included Wood-Tikchik, Lake Clark, Skagway, and proposed boundary extensions at Mount McKinley. [90]

Mission 66 was unquestionably a major step forward for the National Park Service in Alaska. For the first time money had been made available for tourist facilities that would begin to make Katmai and Glacier Bay national monuments more accessible. Roger Allin had been able to collect much of the available information to develop a plan for protecting a number of critical areas across the state. Under Mission 66 the Service had begun to take the necessary first steps to correct past inaction, and lay the foundation for a much broader effort to follow.

Chapter One continues with...
The National Park Service in Alaska, 1964-1971


Last Modified: Tues, Jan 9 2001 10:08 am PDT

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