The State Park Movement in America
A Critical Review
Publication Year: 2004
Published by: University of Missouri Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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This is not—nor was it intended to be—the definitive history of America’sstate parks. In fact, it might not properly be regarded as a history at all. AlthoughI have attempted to trace the course of the state park movement over the past hun-dred years or so, and to fully acknowledge the many successes it has achieved, acollateral purpose of this “critical review” has been to raise concerns about ques-...
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I am indebted to many people and organizations for assistance in bringing thisproject to fruition—far too many, regrettably, to acknowledge them all individu-ally. Foremost among them, though, are the National Association of State ParkDirectors, which sponsored the project from its inception, and the numerous in-dividuals who served as state park directors during this time and who responded...
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How could anybody, especially members of Congress, expect him to build anational park system of the highest quality if they kept pressuring him to includeproperties 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 fora national park. Interior Secretary Lane had been very specific in laying down...
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America is truly a land of parks. Look anywhere across this vast, sprawlingcontinent—from the city centers to the suburban neighborhoods to the remotesthinterlands—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 areall still affectionately known by the people as their “parks.”...
2. The Nature of Parks
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America’s public park movement was firmly established in the nineteenth cen-tury, but the impressive accomplishments of that time could not even hint at theexplosive growth that would take place in the century that followed. Over thepast five decades, especially, the numbers and forms of spaces that have taken oneither the name or the identity of “parks” have increased dramatically in this...
3. The States Begin to Stir: State Park Initiatives in the Nineteenth Century
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The United States at the middle of the nineteenth century was still a veryyoung nation. Although its territorial limits had essentially been reached (onlyAlaska and Hawaii were missing), still only thirty-one states had been formallyestablished. Most of the vast area west of the Mississippi River was being admin-istered as largely unsettled territories. Back East, much of the nation was preoc-...
4. The Momentum Builds: State Parks Expansion in the Early Twentieth Century
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After a half-century of trial and error, the state park idea at the dawn of thetwentieth century at least had something of a track record. True, a mere handfulof states had actually tested the concept, and several of those efforts had been lessthan impressive—some even outright failures. But the undeniable success of suchhigh-profile projects as Niagara Falls, Itasca, and Valley Forge surely must have...
5. Coalescence: The First National Conference on Parks
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If the state parks by about 1920 seemed to be making real progress, they stillwere being greatly overshadowed by the increasing popularity of the nationalparks. A number of new national park proposals had been put forth soon afterthe establishment of Yellowstone in 1872, but Congress had not yet accepted thenotion that the country really needed a whole bunch of parks, and consequently...
6. “A State Park Every Hundred Miles”: The National Conference on State Parks Goes to Work
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Stephen Mather’s evangelistic zeal had carried the day. Not only had the first-ever National Conference on Parks provided a forum for timely discourse, it alsohad laid the groundwork for its perpetuation as the National Conference on StateParks (hereinafter, also the Conference or NCSP). The question now was how tocapitalize on the momentum and channel the interest that had been generated...
7. Dubious Progress: Assessing the Relevance of the National Conference on State Parks
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Almost from the start, the precise purpose of the National Conference on StateParks had been unclear. In calling the first conference in 1921, Stephen Matherhimself seemed to know exactly what he wanted to accomplish, but others, suchas Iowa’s Edgar Harlan, were not so sure. Reports of that first meeting hint at ap-parent misconceptions, differences of opinion, conflicting motives, and, at times,...
8. An Unexpected Boon: Economic Recovery and a New Deal for State Parks
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America’s state park movement had been at least temporarily energized by thework of the National Conference on State Parks, and the resulting growth hadbeen steady if not phenomenal. But even at the dawn of the fourth decade of thetwentieth century, no more than a handful of states could honestly claim to havea well-established system of parks. Some of the others had made a creditable start...
9. Recovery and Beyond: Depression-Era Initiatives Look to the Future
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Franklin D. Roosevelt, America’s New Deal president, had moved swiftly anddecisively 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 unemployedyouth, and his very first response had taken the form of the hugely successfulCivilian Conservation Corps. More than just a relief agency, though, the CCC...
10. A Major Interruption: Wartime Distraction and Postwar Rebound
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The latter years of the 1930s were indeed heady times for state park advocatesin America. While wishful thinking and good intentions alone had produced fewor no parks in most of the forty-eight states, the sudden availability of direct fed-eral aid in 1933 had worked wonders. Now, less than a decade later, almost everystate in the union was firmly committed to a state parks program. The number of...
11. The Continuing Search for Direction: The Ever-Resilient National Conference on State Parks
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Even without a federal financial aid program, the course of America’s statepark movement during and in the years immediately following the World War II wasstill influenced to a significant degree by its close involvement with the National ParkService. Near at hand on a parallel track, however, trying to keep up with the timesand provide useful service, was the venerable National Conference on State Parks....
12. A New Era of Federal-State Cooperation
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An astute observer once pointed out that the growth pattern of state parks wasnot unlike that of children: “Growth does not usually occur at a consistent rate,but in spurts.” Both children and parks, he acknowledged, were also susceptibleIt is true that state parks experienced a modest growth spurt in the mid-1920sas a result of the promotional efforts of the newly organized National Conference...
13. Signs of Maturity
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An evolutionary process, by definition, does not ordinarily culminate with aneat and precise final product, but goes on indefinitely with never-ending changeand refinement. Such undoubtedly will be the continuing course of America’sstate parks. But sometime during the 1970s, a series of factors converged to sug-gest that the state park movement was at last coming of age. After a century or so...
14. A Look behind the Scenes: Issues and Influences that Shape the State Park System
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There is long-held truth among state park administrators that courteous per-sonnel and clean restrooms make for happy visitors. Although admittedly sim-plistic, this maxim reflects a general assumption that most park users do not reallysee beneath the surface aspects of a park operation—that as long as conditionsappear to be satisfactory, then they are satisfactory. Such a perception may be all...
15. Anything Goes: An Age of Expansion, Experimentation, and Expediency
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For five decades or so following the first unifying influence of the NationalConference 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 hadsucceeded admirably on both counts. The NCSP’s once ambitious slogan of “a...
16. Looking to the Future: The View from One Observer’s Soapbox
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America’s state park movement was essentially a product of the twentieth cen-tury. Although the seeds had been sown long before, the idea really took rootwith the scattered initiatives of the early 1900s. Brought together and given direc-tion by the National Conference on State Parks in the 1920s, the emerging statepark programs were then energized and molded by the federal aid programs of...
Appendix: Selected Data on America’s State Parks
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About the Author
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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 ...
Page Count: 304
Illustrations: table, chart, map, 40
Publication Year: 2004