Wilderness by Design: Landscape Architecture and the National Park Service

Wilderness by Design: Landscape Architecture and the National Park Service

Wilderness by Design: Landscape Architecture and the National Park Service

Wilderness by Design: Landscape Architecture and the National Park Service

Synopsis

Tracing the history of landscape park design from British gardens up through the city park designs of Frederick Law Olmsted, Ethan Carr places national park landscape architecture within a larger historical context. Despite the difficulties now confronting the parks, their continued ability to attract millions of visitors suggests that their creators succeeded in presenting a captivating vision of a once-wild America.

Excerpt

In the years between the end of World War I and the American entry into World War ii, the National Park Service modernized and developed the national park system extensively. Park Service landscape architects and engineers designed scenic roads, campgrounds, administrative "villages," and myriad other park facilities in what proved to be the most intensive period of such human alterations in the history of the parks. It was during this era that the "developed areas" in national parks (and in many state and local parks as well) acquired the consistent appearance, character, and level of convenience that most visitors have since come to associate, almost unconsciously, with their experience of park scenery, wildlife, and wilderness.

Park design, or landscape architecture, has figured in the history of national parks since the 19th century. This may seem a paradox since many people intuitively reject the importance of human design in an environment valued primarily for its pristine, natural condition. the natural wonders of national parks obviously brook no comparison to any works of landscape art; but the significance of landscape architecture in such a setting lies in how and where these natural features are appreciated, not in the creation of alternative attractions. Designed landscapes guide the experience of many park visitors and enhance their appreciation of the vast wilderness beyond. Roads and trails, for example, lead visitors to certain areas and through a considered sequence of views. Campgrounds, park villages, scenic overlooks, parking areas—all the designed portions of the park—shape the overall pattern of public activities and frame visual encounters with the awesome (and certainly "undesigned") scenery of the larger park landscape.

The importance of landscape architecture to the history of national parks, in other words, relates to the public's use and appreciation of the parks. For most visitors, even today, the emotional enjoyment achieved through the appreciation of landscape beauty is not an inevitable, accidental, or haphazard affair. the designed landscapes within the park choreograph visitors' movements and define the pace and sequence of much of their experience. the designed landscapes mediate between the individual and the vast terrain of the backcountry. Wilderness and designed landscape together generate the aesthetic appreciation of landscapes and emotional communion with the natural world which, at least historically, the word "park" implied.

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