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  • Forging a National Park Service:“The Necessity for Cooperation”
  • Dietmar Schneider-Hector (bio)

The first step in the consideration of a general policy for the administration of the national parks is the determination of just what functions they perform. Clearly they are not designated solely for the purpose of supplying recreation grounds.

—General Superintendent of National Parks Mark Daniels, 1915

The national parks … have in the past been greatly neglected. Our scenic domain can and will be made as readily accessible to all of our citizens … and much has recently been done to effect this.

—Superintendent of National Parks Robert B. Marshall, 1916

I feel that the national parks have fully qualified for an important place among the agencies which have kept this Nation fit for war, and I look forward with confidence to their realization, after the coming of peace, of a broad and important destiny.

—Director of the National Park Service Stephen T. Mather, 1918

On 25 August 2016, the National Park Service (NPS) will celebrate its centennial as a federal conservation agency within the Department of the Interior. National parks, national monuments, reservations (Casa Grande Ruin and Hot Springs), and bird reserves existed years prior to the establishment of the NPS; however, no administrative system coordinated the diverse federal sites. Today’s NPS bureaucracy easily dwarfs the original NPS’s responsibilities; it administers at least 60 [End Page 643] national parks and more than 100 national monuments plus 26 other designated lands. In contrast, the NPS initiated its operation in 1917 with 16 national parks (Casa Grande Ruin Reservation and Hot Spring Reservation are included) and 21 national monuments.

While the NPS gave impetus to creating a national park system it was not the first attempt to provide administrative oversight of America’s national parks. The important national park conferences in 1911, 1912, and 1915 and the 1916 NPS Organic Act led to the appointment of the NPS’s first director, Stephen T. Mather. Generally ignored or unknown by historians is the fact that Mather had predecessors who attempted to guide America’s national parks, namely Mark Roy Daniels, a California architect, and Robert Bradford Marshall, chief geographer of the U.S. Geological Survey. These two relatively unknown Superintendents of National Parks, under the auspices of the Secretary of the Interior, worked to provide a semblance of administrative guidance and cohesion to the independently operated national parks, national monuments, and reservations, with an undermanned and underfunded staff. Their voices would be drowned by Mather as he strove to leave his mark on the NPS, yet Daniels’s and Marshall’s legacies would be echoed by Mather in his initial NPS-related reports and speeches. The common theme that bound these three men was the belief that a national organization should be established to develop an administrative system to protect all of the parklands. Daniels, Marshall, and Mather concurred with Interior Secretary Walter L. Fisher’s assessment in 1911 that “the Parks have not received the attention they deserve.”1

Equally significant is the role of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in the early NPS debates. It contributed its expertise in forest issues as well as its administrative influence to support the creation of a federal bureau to manage scenic national parks and a host of national monuments. The consensus view by historians has been that the USFS vehemently opposed the NPS’s establishment; however, the historical record proves that this was not the case. This is a brief history of the administrative twists and turns to forge the National Park Service.

A Bureau of National Parks Begins

The NPS evolved through a lengthy and tedious process to become the formal federal agency to oversee America’s increasing number of national parks, diverse national monuments, and two reservations. The [End Page 644] impetus to establish a national park organization did not emerge as a “people” issue or as a democratic outcry for the creation of such an organization. The majority of Americans, whether native or foreign born, had little time, education, money, or resources to concern themselves with matters other than enduring lengthy workweeks and tiresome, mundane, and frequently dangerous jobs. Consequently, the...


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