The Pacific Coast Expositions of 1915 marked the beginning of the nation’s acquaintance with its national parks. In fact, they were the occasion, if not the cause, of the movement for national parks development which found so quickly a country-wide response, and which is destined to results of large importance to individual and nation alike. Because thousands of those whom the expositions were expected to draw westward would avail of the opportunity to visit national parks, Secretary Lane, to whom the national parks suggested neglected opportunity requiring business experience to develop, induced Stephen T. Mather, a Chicago business man with mountain-top enthusiasms, to undertake their preparation for the unaccustomed throngs. Mr. Mather’s vision embraced a correlated system of superlative scenic areas which should become the familiar play-grounds of the whole American people, a system which, if organized and administered with the efficiency of a great business, should even become, in time, the rendezvous of the sightseers of the world. He foresaw in the national parks a new and great national economic asset.
The educational and other propaganda by which this movement was presented to the people, which the writer had the honor to plan and execute, won rapidly the wide support of the public. To me the national parks appealed powerfully as the potential museums and classrooms for the popular study of the natural forces which made, and still are making, America, and of American fauna and flora. Here were set forth, in fascinating picture and lines so plain that none could fail to read and understand, the essentials of sciences whose real charm our rapid educational methods impart to few. This book is the logical outgrowth of a close study of the national parks, beginning with the inception of the new movement, from this point of view.
How free from the partisan considerations common in governmental organization was the birth of the movement is shown by an incident of Mr. Mather’s inauguration into his assistant secretaryship. Secretary Lane had seen him at his desk and had started back to his own room. But he returned, looked in at the door, and asked :
“Oh, by the way, Steve, what are your politics?”
This book considers our national parks as they line up ten years after the beginning of this movement. It shows them well started upon the long road to realization, with Congress, Government, and the people united toward a common end, with the schools and the universities interested, and, for the first time, with the railroads, the concessioners, the motoring interests, and many of the public-spirited educational and outdoor associations all pulling together under the inspiration of a recognized common motive.
To get the situation at the beginning of our book into full perspective, it must be recognized that, previous to the beginning of our propaganda in 1915, the national parks, as such, scarcely existed in the public consciousness. Few Americans could name more than two or three of the fourteen existing parks. The Yosemite Valley and the Yellowstone alone were generally known, but scarcely as national parks; most of the school geographies which mentioned them at all ignored their national character. The advertising folders of competing railroads were the principal sources of public knowledge, for few indeed asked for the compilation of rates and charges which the Government then sent in response to inquiries for information. The parks had practically no administration. The business necessarily connected with their upkeep and development was done by clerks as minor and troublesome details which distracted attention from more important duties; there was no one clerk whose entire concern was with the national parks. The American public still looked confidently upon the Alps as the supreme scenic area in the world, and hoped some day to see the Canadian Rockies.
Originally the motive in park-making had been unalloyed conservation. It is as if Congress had said: “Let us lock this up where no one can run away with it; we don’t need it now, but some day it may be valuable.” That was the instinct that led to the reservation of the Hot Springs of Arkansas in 1832, afterward a national park. Forty years later, when official investigation proved the truth of the amazing tales of Yellowstone’s natural wonders, it was the instinct which led to the reservation of that largely unexplored area as the first national park. Seventeen years after Yellowstone, when newspapers and scientific magazines recounted the ethnological importance of the Casa Grande Ruin in Arizona, it resulted in the creation of the second national park, notwithstanding that the area so conserved enclosed less than a square mile, which contained nothing of the kind and quality which to-day we recognize as essential to parkhood. This closed what may be regarded as the initial period of national parks conservation. It was wholly instinctive; distinctions, objectives, and policies were undreamed of.
Less than two years after Casa Grande, which, by the way, has recently been reclassed a national monument, what may be called the middle period began brilliantly with the creation, in 1890, of the Yosemite, the Sequoia, and the General Grant National Parks, all parks in the true sense of the word, and all of the first order of scenic magnificence. Nine years later Mount Rainier was added, and two years after that wonderful Crater Lake, both meeting fully the new standard.
What followed was human and natural. The term national park had begun to mean something in the neighborhoods of the parks. Yellowstone and Yosemite had long been household words, and the introduction of other areas to their distinguished company fired local pride in neighboring states. ” Why should we not have national parks, too?” people asked. Congress, always the reflection of the popular will, and therefore not always abreast of the moment, was unprepared with reasons. Thus, during 1903 and 1904, there were added to the list areas in North Dakota, South Dakota, and TOklahoma, which were better fitted for State parks than for association with the distinguished company of the nation’s noblest.
A reaction followed and resulted in what we may call the modern period. Far-sighted men in and out of Congress began to compare and look ahead. No hint yet of the splendid destiny of our national parks, now so clearly defined, entered the minds of these men at this time, but ideas of selection, of development and utilization undoubtedly began to take form. At least, conservation, as such, ceased to become a sole motive. Insensibly Congress, or at least a few men of vision in Congress, began to take account of stock and figure on realization.
From that time on Congress has made no mistakes in selecting national parks. Mesa Verde became a park in 1905, Glacier in 1910, Rocky Mountain in 1915, Hawaii and Lassen Volcanic in 1916, Mount McKinley in 1917, and Lafayette, Zion, and the Grand Canyon in 1919. From that time on Congress, most conservatively, it is true, has backed its judgment with increasing appropriations. And in 1916 it created the National Park Service, a bureau of the Department of the Interior, to administer them in accordance with a definite policy.