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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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E. The National Park Service in Alaska, 1964-1971

Mission 66 was a nationwide program. What it did not do in Alaska was stimulate a broad reappraisal of the Service's role there, or bring about significant changes in approach to management of NPS areas. [91] Despite the very real accomplishments of Mission 66, when John Kauffmann traveled to Alaska in 1964 to participate in making of a Park Service film about the Alaskan parks, he was appalled by what he observed of the NPS presence in the state. [92]

map of NPS in Alaska, 1971
The National Parks and Monuments in Alaska, 1971.
(click on map for larger size)

In a stinging rebuke that was circulated widely in the Service's Washington office, Kauffmann wrote eloquently of opportunities lost, of a failure to make adjustments to the Alaska environment, and of failure to develop any well-thought-out concept of what the Service's mission in Alaska should be. The Service had failed, even, to make its presence known in the state. "Indeed," he wrote, "after more than forty years as an organization, the Service is the Cheechako of all federal agencies at work in Alaska." [93]

Kauffmann's call for a reappraisal of the Service's role in Alaska came at a most auspicious time. Changes were taking place in the Service, changes that would have a significant effect on the National Park System in Alaska. George B. Hartzog, Jr., the dynamic, forceful new director who had replaced Conrad L. Wirth on January 8, 1964, was determined to build on Wirth's many achievements, and made protection of the "surviving landmarks of our national heritage" as a primary goal of his administration. [94] Hartzog recognized early on that if any significant growth of the park system were to occur, that growth would have to be in Alaska. [95]

Hartzog chose Theodor R. Swem, a planner with a life-long interest in Alaska as his assistant director for cooperative activities, with responsibility for planning and new area studies. In that position Swem would be able to use his influence to obtain greater funding for the Service's efforts in Alaska than ever before, and to direct a more comprehensive planning program for Alaska than previously envisioned. At the regional level, John Rutter, first as director of the Western Region and later of the Pacific Northwest Region, would make improvement of the NPS operation and facilities in Alaska an important part of his program. [96]

In November 1964 Hartzog appointed a special task force to prepare an analysis of "the best remaining possibilities for the service in Alaska." [97] The group, made up of the most knowledgeable "Alaska hands" available, took the broadest possible view of their assignment, and their report, Operation Great Land, was a broad appraisal of the Service's performance in Alaska, with recommendations for the future. [98]

As had John Kauffmann the year before, the Task Force was most critical of the Service's past actions in Alaska. With full knowledge of the potential of Alaska, they wrote, the Service had done little, "except give lip service to the broad concept." Pointing out that total visitation to the Alaska areas was only a "pitiful" 42,131 in 1964, the Task Force warned that neither Alaskans, nor Americans generally would support the Service's program in Alaska unless major steps were taken to correct past deficiencies. Concluding that "the time has come for action, not words," the group recommended that the Service take a far more active role in Alaska to establish a program of investigation, study, planning, and development and operations. Among the specific recommendations were development of a broad history program; establishment of an Alaska office in Alaska; and cooperative ventures with Canada, state, and other federal agencies in Alaska. Finally, the group made a comprehensive evaluation of potential areas in Alaska, identifying thirty-nine zones and sites across the state which contained recreation, natural, and/or historic values. These zones and sites, which are shown in Illustration 2, included many areas that the Service had long been interested in, and which would be given protection in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. [99]

Many of the Task Force's observations had been made before. Park Service officials had called for creation of an Alaska office since 1946. Theodor Swem and John Kauffmann had reached similar conclusions regarding the NPS presence in Alaska in 1962 and 1964, and had recommended some of the same corrective actions. [100] The following year Roger Allin would issue a similar, if somewhat more conservative, proposal in his "Alaska, A Plan for Action." [101]

Additional support came from the Federal Field Committee for Development Planning in Alaska. The committee saw parks as having a vital role in the development of Alaska's economy, and called upon both state and federal governments to look at Alaskan parks, and to establish an "entire park complex" that would "meet the needs of the American people." The committee recommended establishment of a national park in Arctic Alaska, and identification of other areas for future designation. [102]

Perhaps the general tone of the Operation Great Land struck Director Hartzog as being too aggressive. Whatever the reason, in what was surely an uncharacteristic display of reticence, he decided not to circulate Operation Great Land, explaining:

I believe that if the Park Service proceeds on its own to take leadership, that action may be misconstrued and resented even though no usurpation of the prerogatives and the programs of other agencies would be intended.

It is for this reason that I do not believe we should circulate this report, since it may be construed as a Service attempt to take over Alaska resource planning.

What I think is called for in Alaska is a type of cooperative and coordinated planning that was represented on a smaller scale in our North Cascades study. [103]

Whatever his reasons for refusing to circulate Operation Great Land, George Hartzog's decision certainly did not reflect any opposition on his part to an increased NPS presence in Alaska. Over the next several years he took steps to reverse a long-standing funding imbalance and, although budget cutbacks were forcing the Service to reduce visitor hours and close campgrounds elsewhere, more money went to Alaska. [104] In 1966, moreover, he considered the possibility of developing a program for the state, based "upon a practical application of the [Collins] report." [105 ]

This suggestion was not, apparently, pursued further. Nevertheless, a number of recommendations in the Task Force's report were implemented in some form over the next several years as the Service moved to expand its role in Alaska. In the summer of 1965, for example, the Secretary's Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments toured Alaska with George Hartzog, Theodor Swem, and others, on a trip that secured important support for the Service's effort to expand and improve its operations in the state. [106]

Later, in 1967, in a meeting with Governor Walter Hickel, Director Hartzog made an effort to initiate a series of cooperative planning ventures with the state of Alaska at Wood-Tikchik, Alatna-Kobuk, and Skagway. Although Hickel appeared to be most receptive to Director Hartzog's suggestions when they met, he followed through only on the Skagway study. [107]

By August 1965, moreover, Director Hartzog had decided to open a NPS office in Anchorage. The Washington office had begun to screen applications for the position of park planner in Anchorage in November of that year, and by April 1966 the Service had established an office in Anchorage in the person of park planner Harry Smith. [108] In December 1966 Bailey Breedlove, a landscape architect from the Service's National Capital Regional Office replaced Smith in the Anchorage Office, and by May 1967, the Alaska Field Office had a permanent staff of three—Breedlove, Dick Prasil, a biologist from the Western Regional Office, and a secretary. [109]

Administratively, the Alaska Field Office functioned as an organizational division of Mount McKinley National Park. As such, the staff in Anchorage was under the direct supervision of the superintendent of Mount McKinley National Park, although it was given unusually wide latitude in carrying out its duties. The superintendent of Mount McKinley reported to the regional director in San Francisco. In 1969 the Service created a northwest district office in Seattle with responsibility for Alaska, and by early 1971 a fully-staffed and operational Pacific Northwest Regional Office, also in Seattle, had assumed responsibility for Alaska. [110]

The superintendent of Mount McKinley was, in addition, the state coordinator for Alaska. In this capacity, he was the Service's representative for all statewide programs and liaison with the state government and other federal agencies. [111]

Personnel assigned to the New Alaska Field Office would play an important role in an intensive planning program initiated in 1967 by Ted Swem's Washington Office of Cooperative Activities. Over the next three years, planning teams, led by Merrill Mattes, a historian in the office of resources planning in the Service's newly created (1966) San Francisco Service Center, prepared master plans for existing areas, and added to the Service's knowledge of Alaska generally, as they studied potential additions to the system. [112]

In August of 1967 a team traveled to Attu Island, where they completed a study of alternatives. [113] In 1968 they prepared a master plan for Mount McKinley National Park that recommended, as had others before them, a two-unit addition of 2,202,238 acres. [114] Later that year he team traveled north, where they conducted the initial NPS study of the south slope of the Brooks Range. In Kobuk-Koyukuk: A Reconnaissance Report, Mattes and his group recommended establishment of a two-unit "Gates of the Arctic National Park," that would protect some 4,119,000 acres of the finest remaining wilderness in America. [115]

Master planning work went on, additionally, at Glacier Bay and Katmai. Planning teams studied a proposed Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park at Skagway, updated a 1965 feasibility study of the Erskine House at Old Kodiak, and in 1969 investigated ways of preserving the heritage of Alaskan Natives through creation of cultural centers. [116]

By the mid-1960s, moreover, the Service began to evaluate a number of Alaska sites under the National Landmark Program. On May 3, 1967, for example, Assistant Director Swem made $20,000 available for studies of potential natural landmarks. [117] Richard Prasil, who coordinated the program in Alaska, announced that the University of Alaska had agreed to conduct evaluations of seven potential areas that included Walker Lake and the Arrigetch Peaks in the Brooks Range. Ellis Taylor contracted to study six volcanic areas, including Aniakchak Crater and Mount Veniaminof, and the Service undertook studies of a number of other areas, one of which was the Imuruk Lava Fields. [118]

The natural landmark studies in Alaska were conducted in a haphazard manner. Rather than following the established procedures of conducting a state or regional survey of themes, followed by site evaluations, the Alaska studies were conducted on an area by area basis. [119] No broad survey was attempted, in fact, until the early 1970s, when the Service published a study of potential natural landmarks in the Arctic Lowlands. [120]

Nevertheless, by 1968 fifteen sites in Alaska, including the Arrigetch Peaks, Walker Lake, Lake George, and Aniakchak Crater had been recognized as registered National Natural Landmarks. Evaluations of sites all across Alaska conducted under the program would give NPS planners, as well as those from other agencies, valuable information regarding significance of resources needed in making withdrawals mandated by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. [121]

The Service's studies and surveys of potential park areas in Alaska had been piecemeal. It was only in the 1965 report of George Collins's task force that any attempt to make a comprehensive analysis of potential national parks in Alaska was undertaken. By the end of the 1960s, however, and into the 1970s, a number of efforts to make a comprehensive survey of potential national parklands in Alaska were underway. One such effort was undertaken by Richard Stenmark, a NPS employee, in his capacity as executive secretary of Secretary of the Interior Walter Hickel's fourteen-member Alaska Park and Monuments Advisory Committee, established in 1969 to give advice on development and potential parks in Alaska. [122] In addition, the Federal Field Committee for Development Planning in Alaska worked on a plan of action anticipated to launch a "full scale comprehensive joint Federal-State Land Use and Classification Plan for Alaska." [123]

At the same time, following publication of the Park System Plan in 1970, the Park Service began an inventory of the National Park System to determine how adequately the existing areas illustrated the human and natural history of the nation, and to identify areas that would fill in any gaps in the system. By November 17, 1971, the Alaska Office had completed a proposed "National Park System Alaska Plan" that listed historical, natural, and recreation areas in the state for further study for possible inclusion in the National Park System. The list, which was essentially that prepared independently by Richard Stenmark for the use of the Alaska Parks and Monuments Advisory Committee, included most areas that would be withdrawn by Secretary of the Interior Rogers C. B. Morton pursuant to terms of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971:

Historical Areas:

  1. Sitka National Monument additions and redesignation as a National Historical Park. (Legislation introduced)
  2. Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
  3. Old Kodiak National Historic Site (Legislation introduced)
  4. Alaska Cultural Complex featuring:
      a. Cultural Centers for each of the four ethnic groups of Alaska Natives.
      b. Outlying villages
      c. Archeological sites (*National Historic Landmarks)
    Study Sites:
     1. Birnirk Site*
     2. Ipiutak Site*
     3. Wales Site*
     4. Iyatayet Site*
     5. Gambell Sites* (St Lawrence Island)
     6. Kukulik Site (St Lawrence Island)
     7. Chaluka Site*
     8. Yukon Island Main Site*
     9. Palugvik Site*
    10. Onion Portage Site
    11. Amchitka Sites
    12. Anaktuvuk Pass
    13. Cape Krusenstern
    14. North Side Howard Pass Region
    15. Healy Lake Site
    16. Port Moller Site
    17. Tangle Lakes Site
  5. Attu Island National Monument - World War II battlefield site
  6. Alaska Highway National Historic Road
  7. Pribilof Islands National Historic Site
    (Convention of July 7, 1911, for the protection of the fur seals of the North Pacific)

Natural Areas:

  1. Mount McKinley National Park additions (Legislation introduced)
  2. Gates of the Arctic National Park/Recreation Area Complex (Legislation introduced for a park)
  3. Arctic Slope National Monument
  4. Lake Clark Pass National Monument
  5. Great Kobuk Sand Dunes National Monument in conjunction with Onion Portage archeological site . Alternate—Nogabahara Sand Dunes National Monument
  6. Imuruk Lava Beds National Monument
  7. Tanana Hills National Monument
  8. Wrangell Mountains - St. Elias Mountains - Malaspina Glacier National Park/Recreation Area Complex
  9. Katmai National Monument north addition
  10. Attu Island National Monument

Recreational Areas:

  1. Yukon National Scenic/Historic/Wild/Recreational River
  2. Kuskokwim National Scenic/Historic/Wild/Recreational River
  3. Iditarod National Scenic and Historic Trail
  4. Wood River - Tikchik Lake National Recreation Area [124]

The Service significantly increased the scope of its activities in Alaska during the 1960s, and undertook a comprehensive effort to identify, by theme, potential additions to the National Park System. Efforts to bring additional areas into the system in the decade met with almost universal failure, however, save for a small, 94,000-acre addition to Katmai National Monument in 1969. In 1965, for example, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall recommended legislation to convert Glacier Bay National Monument into a national park. Although seconded by Senator Ernest Gruening, who expressed interest in introducing such a bill, no action would be taken. In 1969-70, Senator Ted Stevens indicated an interest in gaining park status for a portion of Misty Fjords and the Rudyard Bay-Walker Cove area. In 1969 Senator Mike Gravel spoke of establishing a Kodiak National Historical Site, and Representative John Saylor introduced the first of several bills to extend the boundaries of Mt. McKinley and to establish Gates of the Arctic National Park. [125]

map of Mt. McKinley NP,
Proposed additions to Mount McKinley National Park, 1969.
(from USDI, NPS, "A Master Plan for Mount McKinley National Park", San Francisco: NPS, 1969 [draft])

map of proposed Gates of the Arctic NP, 1969
Suggested Gates of the Arctic National Park, 1969.
(from Special Report on a Reconnaissance of the Upper Kobuk-Koyukuk Region Brooks Range, Northern Alaska, San Francisco: NPS [San Francisco Planning and Service Center], 1969)
(click on map for larger size)

In 1968, taking advantage of an entree arranged by Dr. Carl McMurray of Governor Hickel's staff, the Service undertook negotiations with the city of Skagway and Canadian officials for creation of an international Klondike Gold Rush Historical Park, an effort that would include a widely publicized joint Canadian-American hike over the Chilikoot Trail in September 1969. [126] In 1969, moreover, the Service initiated a three-year-long dialogue with Canadian officials regarding an international park in the Wrangells-Saint Elias region. Successful conclusion to these discussions seemed to be within reach in 1972 when the Service completed a conceptual master plan, an environmental impact statement for the proposed Alaska National Park, and prepared the draft legislation necessary. However, just as the park that some had dreamed of for years seemed to be on the verge of reality, the effort foundered. [127]

No failure could have been more disappointing to Park Service officials, however, than the aborted effort to establish more than 7,000,000 acres of new monuments in Alaska and elsewhere during the closing months of President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration. [128] The project—named "Project 'P'"—was conceived of by Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall in the fall of 1968 as President Lyndon Johnson's "parting gift for future generations." [129] For Park Service officials it offered an unprecedented opportunity to add areas to the system.

By early December fifteen original areas—six of them in Alaska—had been narrowed to seven. [130] Proclamations, as well as support data, had been prepared for Mount McKinley (2,202,328 acres adjacent to the park), a two-unit, 4,119,013-acre Gates of the Arctic, Katmai (a 94,547-acre western addition), Arches (49,943 acres), Capital Reef (215,056 acres), Marble Canyon (26,080 acres), and Sonoran Desert (911,697 acres). [131]

Despite some four months of concentrated effort on the part of a number of people in the Park Service, other agencies, and Interior Department staff, President Johnson balked at the very last moment and refused to sign all the proclamations prepared for his signature. [132] The reasons for his refusal remain the subject of controversy. Among the reasons advanced are a sensitivity on the part of President Johnson to the prerogatives of Congress in the matter of setting aside public lands, his petulance over the premature release of information by Secretary Udall, Lyndon Johnson's ego, a concern that last-minute activity not bind successors, and presidential anger over Secretary Udall's failure to brief Representative Wayne Aspinall, the powerful chairman of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, as he indicated he had. [133]

Whatever the case, and the merits of the arguments are too complex to be examined here, President Johnson finally signed proclamations for Arches, Capital Reef, and Marble Canyon. The only Alaska area included was the 94,547-acre western addition to Katmai, an area that included the western end of Naknek Lake. [134]

By the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s, the National Park Service had made substantial progress in its effort to reverse the long-standing neglect of Alaska parks. The existence of an Alaska office in Anchorage gave the Service a presence in the state that had been missing. Building on studies that went back to the 1930s, the Service had compiled an impressive body of knowledge about Alaska and the park resources there, and had identified a considerable number of areas that met criteria for inclusion in the National Park System. For a variety of reasons, however, NPS officials had been unsuccessful in their efforts to bring additional areas into the system, save the small, 94,000-acre tract added to Katmai National Monument. Coincidentally, however, a bill was working its way through Congress, one that on the face of it had little to do with national parklands. Yet, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of December 18, 1971, would be the vehicle that would provide for parks in Alaska almost beyond the wildest dreams of anyone in the National Park Service.

End of Chapter One


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

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