The State Park Movement in America: A Crictical Review

By Ney C. Landrum | Go to book overview

Prologue

Steve Mather was not happy.

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. Interior Secretary Lane had been very specific in laying down those standards: A national park must have “scenery of supreme and distinctive quality or some natural features so extraordinary or unique as to be of national interest and importance.” The words could easily have been Mather’s own; in fact, they were.

Stephen T. Mather had come to the nation’s capital in 1915 at Lane’s request to accept the challenge of administering the world’s first national parks program— a program at that time with no funds, no staff, and no clear-cut mandate or policy direction. By dint of considerable personal charm and dogged perseverance, however, he was soon able to persuade Congress to create a national park service and give it the means to do the job. Appointed the first national parks director in 1917, Mather lost no time in molding the nation’s handful of parks into a true system according to his own noble ideas. He was eminently successful, probably far beyond anyone’s realistic expectations—but the road to success had been fraught with obstacles and frustrations.

In a relatively few years, the national parks concept had truly captured the nation’s fancy; it seemed that every locality not only wanted its own park, but also had an energetic group ready to lobby for it. Congress was all too eager to oblige. In 1916 alone, the year that the National Park Service organic act was passed, Congress considered sixteen proposals for new national parks. Only two of those were deemed worthy of enactment, but the nominations for new parks—a few good, most marginal, and some bordering on the ridiculous—continued unabated. One congressman eventually introduced a bill to “establish a… national park in every state.” Mather, who was now spending much of his time and energy trying tactfully to discourage and derail so many questionable proposals, decided that the situation was desperate. Something had to be done.

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