Creation Of The National Park Bill

The bill creating the Grand Canyon National Park passed Congress early in 1919, and was signed by President Wilson on February 26. This closed an intermittent campaign of thirty-three years, begun by President Harrison, then senator from Indiana, in January, 1886, to make a national park of the most stupendous natural spectacle in the world. Politics, private interests, and the deliberation of governmental procedure were the causes of delay. A self-evident proposition from the beginning, it illustrates the enormous difficulties which confront those who labor to develop our national-parks system. The story is worth the telling.

Senator Harrison’s bill of 1886 met an instant response from the whole nation. It called for a national park fifty-six miles long and sixty-nine miles wide. There was opposition from Arizona and the bill failed. In 1893 the Grand Canyon National Forest was created. In 1898, depredations and unlawful seizures of land having been reported, the Secretary of the Interior directed the Land-Office to prepare a new national-park bill. In 1899 the Land-Office reported that the bill could not be drawn until the region was surveyed. It took the Geological Survey five years to make the survey. The bill was not prepared because meantime it was discovered that the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, now the Santa Fe, owned rights which first must be eliminated.

Failing to become a national park, President Roosevelt proclaimed the Grand Canyon a national monument in 1908. In 1909 a bill was introduced entitling Ralph H. Cameron to build a scenic railway along the canyon rim, which created much adverse criticism and failed. In 1910 the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society proposed a bill to create the Grand Canyon a national park of large size. The Geological Survey, to which it was referred, recommended a much smaller area. By the direction of President Taft, Senator Flint introduced a national-park bill which differed from both suggestions. The opposition of grazing interests threw it into the hands of conferees. In 1911 Senator Flint introduced the conferees’ bill, but it was opposed by private interests and failed.

Meantime the country became aroused. Patriotic societies petitioned for a national park, and the National Federation of Women’s Clubs began an agitation. The Department of the Interior prepared a map upon which to base a bill, and for several years negotiated with the Forest Service, which administered the Grand Canyon as a national monument, concerning boundaries. Finally the boundaries were reduced to little more than the actual rim of the canyon, and a bill was prepared which Senator Ashurst introduced in February, 1917. It failed in committee in the House owing to opposition from Arizona. It was the same bill, again introduced by Senator Ashurst in the new Congress two months later, which finally passed the House and became a law in 1919; but it required a favoring resolution by the Arizona legislature to pave the way.

Meantime many schemes were launched to utilize the Grand Canyon for private gain. It was plastered thickly with mining claims, though the Geological Survey showed that it contained no minerals worth mining; mining claims helped delay. Schemers sought capital to utilize its waters for power. Railroads were projected. Plans were drawn to run sightseeing cars across it on wire cables. These were the interests, and many others, which opposed the national park.