The State Park Movement in America: A Crictical Review

The State Park Movement in America: A Crictical Review

The State Park Movement in America: A Crictical Review

The State Park Movement in America: A Crictical Review


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.


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” has been to raise concerns about questionable developments of the recent past and the influence they might have on the movement’s future direction. These are my personal views, of course, based on forty years of direct participation and observation in state parks work. I certainly do not expect everyone to agree with my assessment, but I hope they will at least do me the favor of hearing me out.

My primary object in undertaking this study was simply to take a critical look at the central idea of the state park “movement” in the United States; to track its evolution, examine its causes, note its many divergent paths, and perhaps assess what might be called its successes and failures. In doing so, I was not concerned directly with individual state parks—of which there are thousands—or even with discrete state park systems. I have sought to keep my focus on the movement itself, involving all fifty of the state park systems, as a major social and environmental phenomenon primarily of the twentieth century.

State parks occupy a central position in the overall gamut of public outdoor recreation, bridging the critical gap—often a yawning chasm—between the largely playground types of recreation provided by America’s cities and towns and the contrasting backcountry recreational experiences available in the vast national parks. Because the national parks are still relatively few and generally remote, the types of recreation they provide would likely never be accessible to much of the population except through the similar offerings of the more numerous and closerto-home state parks. Providing this vital link is, or should be, the essential purpose of every state park system.

Prototypes of the state park actually started springing up here and there long before the term itself came into use. Before anyone—even the most farsighted of the conservation pioneers—had a clear notion of what a state park system might . . .

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