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The State Park Movement in America

A Critical Review

Ney C. Landrum

Publication Year: 2004

Essentially a phenomenon of the twentieth century, America’s pioneering state park movement has grown rapidly and innovatively to become one of the most important forces in the preservation of open spaces and the provision of public outdoor recreation in the country. During this time, the movement has been influenced and shaped by many factors—social, cultural, and economic—resulting in a wide variety of expressions. While everyone agrees that the state park movement has been a positive and beneficial force on the whole, there seems to be an increasing divergence of thought as to exactly what direction the movement should take in the future.
In The State Park Movement in America, Ney Landrum, recipient of almost two dozen honors and awards for his service to state and national parks, places the movement for state parks in the context of the movements for urban and local parks on one side and for national parks on the other. He traces the evolution of the state park movement from its imprecise and largely unconnected origins to its present status as an essential and firmly established state government responsibility, nationwide in scope. Because the movement has taken a number of separate, but roughly parallel, paths and produced differing schools of thought concerning its purpose and direction, Landrum also analyzes the circumstances and events that have contributed to these disparate results and offers critical commentary based on his long tenure in the system.
As the first study of its kind, The State Park Movement in America will fill a tremendous void in the literature on parks. Given that there are more than five thousand state parks in the United States, compared with fewer than five hundred national parks and historic sites, this history is long overdue. It will be of great interest to anyone concerned with federal, state, or local parks, as well as to land resource managers generally.

Published by: University of Missouri Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. xi-xiv

This is not—nor was it intended to be—the definitive history of America’s state parks. In fact, it might not properly be regarded as a history at all. Although I have attempted to trace the course of the state park movement over the past hundred years or so, and to fully acknowledge the many successes it has achieved, a collateral purpose of this “critical review” ...

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pp. xv-xvi

I am indebted to many people and organizations for assistance in bringing this project to fruition—far too many, regrettably, to acknowledge them all individually. Foremost among them, though, are the National Association of State Park Directors, which sponsored the project from its inception, and the numerous individuals who served as state park directors ...

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pp. 1-2

How could anybody, especially members of Congress, expect him to build a national park system of the highest quality if they kept pressuring him to include properties of such questionable suitability? After all, just any old piece of land, even of modest scenic or historic interest, would not meet the lofty standards for a national park. ...

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1.“Parks Americana”

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pp. 3-13

America is truly a land of parks. Look anywhere across this vast, sprawling continent—from the city centers to the suburban neighborhoods to the remotest hinterlands—and you will find those special places where Americans like to roam, romp, or relax. As different as these sundry properties may otherwise be, they are all still affectionately known by the people as their “parks.” ...

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2. The Nature of Parks

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pp. 14-26

America’s public park movement was firmly established in the nineteenth century, but the impressive accomplishments of that time could not even hint at the explosive growth that would take place in the century that followed. Over the past five decades, especially, the numbers and forms of spaces that have taken on either the name or the identity of “parks” have increased dramatically in this country, at every level of government. ...

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3. The States Begin to Stir: State Park Initiatives in the Nineteenth Century

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pp. 27-47

The United States at the middle of the nineteenth century was still a very young nation. Although its territorial limits had essentially been reached (only Alaska and Hawaii were missing), still only thirty-one states had been formally established.Most of the vast area west of the Mississippi River was being administered as largely unsettled territories. ...

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4. The Momentum Builds: State Parks Expansion in the Early Twentieth Century

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pp. 48-73

After a half-century of trial and error, the state park idea at the dawn of the twentieth century at least had something of a track record. True, a mere handful of states had actually tested the concept, and several of those efforts had been less than impressive—some even outright failures. ...

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5. Coalescence: The First National Conference on Parks

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pp. 74-89

If the state parks by about 1920 seemed to be making real progress, they still were being greatly overshadowed by the increasing popularity of the national parks. A number of new national park proposals had been put forth soon after the establishment of Yellowstone in 1872, but Congress had not yet accepted the notion that the country really needed a whole bunch of parks, ...

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6. “A State Park Every Hundred Miles”: The National Conference on State Parks Goes to Work

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pp. 90-110

Stephen Mather’s evangelistic zeal had carried the day. Not only had the firstever National Conference on Parks provided a forum for timely discourse, it also had laid the groundwork for its perpetuation as the National Conference on State Parks (hereinafter, also the Conference or NCSP). ...

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7. Dubious Progress: Assessing the Relevance of the National Conference on State Parks

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pp. 111-123

Almost from the start, the precise purpose of the National Conference on State Parks had been unclear. In calling the first conference in 1921, Stephen Mather himself seemed to know exactly what he wanted to accomplish, but others, such as Iowa’s Edgar Harlan, were not so sure. ...

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8. An Unexpected Boon: Economic Recovery and a New Deal for State Parks

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pp. 124-140

America’s state park movement had been at least temporarily energized by the work of the National Conference on State Parks, and the resulting growth had been steady if not phenomenal. But even at the dawn of the fourth decade of the twentieth century, no more than a handful of states could honestly claim to have a well-established system of parks. ...

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9. Recovery and Beyond: Depression-Era Initiatives Look to the Future

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pp. 141-154

Franklin D. Roosevelt, America’s New Deal president, had moved swiftly and decisively to make good on his promises of relief. One of his immediate concerns, of course, was to create meaningful work for the vast numbers of unemployed youth, and his very first response had taken the form of the hugely successful Civilian Conservation Corps. ...

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10. A Major Interruption: Wartime Distraction and Postwar Rebound

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pp. 155-168

The latter years of the 1930s were indeed heady times for state park advocates in America.While wishful thinking and good intentions alone had produced few or no parks in most of the forty-eight states, the sudden availability of direct federal aid in 1933 had worked wonders. ...

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11. The Continuing Search for Direction: The Ever-Resilient National Conference on State Parks

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pp. 169-181

Even without a federal financial aid program, the course of America’s state park movement during and in the years immediately following the World War II was still influenced to a significant degree by its close involvement with the National Park Service. Near at hand on a parallel track, however, trying to keep up with the times and provide useful service, ...

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12. A New Era of Federal-State Cooperation

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pp. 182-200

An astute observer once pointed out that the growth pattern of state parks was not unlike that of children: “Growth does not usually occur at a consistent rate, but in spurts.” Both children and parks, he acknowledged, were also susceptible to “growing pains.” ...

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13. Signs of Maturity

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pp. 201-219

An evolutionary process, by definition, does not ordinarily culminate with a neat and precise final product, but goes on indefinitely with never-ending change and refinement. Such undoubtedly will be the continuing course of America’s state parks. But sometime during the 1970s, a series of factors converged to suggest that the state park movement was at last coming of age. ...

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14. A Look behind the Scenes: Issues and Influences that Shape the State Park System

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pp. 220-232

There is long-held truth among state park administrators that courteous personnel and clean restrooms make for happy visitors. Although admittedly simplistic, this maxim reflects a general assumption that most park users do not really see beneath the surface aspects of a park operation—that as long as conditions appear to be satisfactory, then they are satisfactory. ...

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15. Anything Goes: An Age of Expansion, Experimentation, and Expediency

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pp. 233-252

For five decades or so following the first unifying influence of the National Conference on State Parks, America’s state park programs forged steadily ahead, generally pursuing a common goal: to get bigger and more popular. The multi-fold increases in acreage and visitors during that time would suggest that they had succeeded admirably on both counts. ...

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16. Looking to the Future: The View from One Observer’s Soapbox

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pp. 253-261

America’s state park movement was essentially a product of the twentieth century. Although the seeds had been sown long before, the idea really took root with the scattered initiatives of the early 1900s. Brought together and given direction by the National Conference on State Parks in the 1920s, ...

Appendix: Selected Data on America’s State Parks

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pp. 262-266

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 267-272


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pp. 273-288

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About the Author

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pp. 289-308

Ney C. Landrum is Director Emeritus of Florida State Parks, where he developed one of the largest and most respected park systems in the country. He is the editor of Histories of the Southeastern State Park Systems. Now retired, he lives in Tallahassee, Florida.

E-ISBN-13: 9780826264442
E-ISBN-10: 0826264441
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826220189
Print-ISBN-10: 0826215009

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: table, chart, map, 40
Publication Year: 2004

Edition: 1