The State Park Movement in America: A Critical Review


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State park

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Sign Up. Theodore Roosevelt Protects 10 Percent of the U. Land Area When the magazine Corporate Knights asked 12 top environmentalist individuals and groups to name the greenest president in U. Richard Nixon Creates the EPA Richard Nixon was not a committed conservationist like Roosevelt, but he came in second place in Corporate Knights' poll because he responded to an emerging environmental crisis, and a growing environmental movement, by signing key legislation like the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The construction of lakes and other scenery on such a large scale where none existed before was a first for the Park Service. State parks have become a familiar part of the American landscape. Systems of such parks provide recreational opportunities and often protect unique natural landscapes or sites of historical significance. More than seven hundred million people have typically visited these facilities across the country each year—roughly twice the number who went to national parks. In some cases, generations have grown up making pilgrimages to their favorite lake on summer weekends, which in all likelihood was developed as a state park.

Between and , workers for the Civilian Conservation Corps CCC built eight hundred state parks within the United States, and the National Park Service encouraged park-system planning in all forty-eight states.

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Beyond the unprecedented volume of park development, the CCC program was significant in several ways. First, the large-scale construction of lakes and other scenery where none had existed before marked the entry of federal park planners into the process of significant landscape modification. Before this, the Park Service had concentrated almost solely on the preservation of scenic grandeur in about two dozen parks, almost all located in eleven western states.

Although not intended to be elitist, the early western national parks were out of reach. Unless citizens were fortunate enough to live nearby, most Americans in the s could not afford to visit them. In contrast, state parks were designed to be accessible to the masses. The Park Service planners that oversaw this process produced master plans for design that could be replicated across the country. Such scenery usually had to be literally constructed because most of the early state parks were established on inexpensive or donated land that had marginal scenic value. While the construction of lakes was relatively straightforward in humid Virginia, applying this concept in the arid West was a whole different matter.

Ney C. Landrum (Author of The State Park Movement in America)

This and similar differences pose the central focus of this article. How did federal planners apply their basic design model across the diverse cultural and physical landscape of the United States? Five states arguably saw the greatest impact from the work of the CCC, and this fact helped me to logically narrow the scope of this research.

Each of these places, which were without any state parks in , developed an entire system of parks by participating in the CCC program. I chose three of the five for case studies.

I began with Virginia, where state planners constructed some of the first CCC parks in the nation. The second choice was Oklahoma, where parks were constructed in both humid, wooded areas in the east and in arid areas in the northwest. Finally, New Mexico offered a physical and cultural landscape very different from the other possibilities. Geographers certainly have looked at the development of parks before, although not in great numbers and most focused on national parks.

Traditionally, research on parks has been dominated by historians. Ney Landrum devoted a chapter to the role of the CCC in his study of the state-park movement. By July 1 of that year , men occupied 1, work camps across the country. Despite the rush, the Park Service plan evolved into a well-choreographed program that was responsible for unprecedented gains in recreational development. By constructing eight hundred state parks, hundreds of city and county parks, and establishing state planning agencies to encourage continued development in the following decades, the program modified a significant portion of the landscape and shaped how many Americans interacted with nature.

Some park scholars suggest that the CCC program pushed state-park development ahead by as much as fifty years. However, in a major shift in national policy, one of the most important guidelines of the federal model was the placement of the new parks within reach of ordinary citizens, including low-income families. Federal planners reported that forty-two percent of the U. The consensus of these existing programs was that parks should be located within fifty to one hundred miles of every state resident if possible.

This policy of accessibility was important for two reasons. First, it represented a shift from conservation of very selective scenery and natural areas toward the democratization of nature. Federal planners made this point clearly. The centerpiece is a large artificial lake surrounded by a wide valley with forested slopes. The park has only one entryway and a limited amount of roads to take visitors to points of interest.

Cabins and camping areas are spread along the shorelines, and a bathhouse is centered on a wide beach. The idea of constructing artificial lakes as the centerpiece of a new park arguably had more impact on the landscape than any other criterion in the master plan. Between and the CCC built dams in state parks and other recreation areas. Swimming, after all, was the perfect activity for making nature available to everyone, and fit nicely with the goal of democratizing nature.

Yet not all planners were comfortable with the idea of dams in parks. Perhaps still reeling from the public outcry after the damming of Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park, federal planners were notably cautious.


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But this temptation should be examined with great caution before one gives way to it. Landscape architects had earlier fought outright the damming of streams in Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks.

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The same efforts were made to naturalize other human structures within parks. It thus achieves sympathy with natural surroundings and with the past.

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The size and shape of the logs, timbers and rocks had to be scaled properly to match the surrounding terrain. In mountainous and forested areas, for example, the native materials had to be overscaled to match the imposing terrain. The challenge of Park Service planners was to coordinate all the work being done in the state parks so they met the above goals for park development. He used examples of outstanding park designs to create a pattern book of rustic designs. Works commended included the park museum buildings Herbert Maier had designed for Bear Mountain, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite, and also suitable examples of trailside shelters, footbridges, culverts, and amphitheaters.

The pattern book was distributed widely and helped standardize the government rustic style among Park Service architects and planners. The role of Park Service planners regularly went beyond architecture narrowly defined.

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It included all aspects of park development, including roads, the selection of natural areas, and the zoning of different types of land use. With its early and rapid development of an entire system of state parks, Virginia became the first success story of the CCC program and helped to better define Park Service master planning.

Media newsreels of these events also helped to place Virginia and the parks program in the national spotlight. First, state officials already had experience working with the federal government through the establishment of Shenandoah National Park. This involvement required the state to acquire all the private land needed for the new park. It was an easy transition to then continue acquiring land for a system of state parks. Second, its close distance to Washington, DC, gave this state a political advantage over distant places in competing for CCC projects.

And finally, the development of parks had broad statewide support. The federal planners within this Richmond office often worked closely with Virginia planners, sometimes even at the same drafting board. The six Virginia CCC parks were designed as a group and shared the same overall guidelines. In each park a central water feature was the primary organizing element in the overall design. The lakes constructed at Virginia CCC parks were viewed positively at the time as a way of improving nature.

Rather than viewed as necessary but unsightly aspects of the parks, the dams were often promoted much like natural scenic features. When the dam was built at Douthat State Park, engineers created a series of rock-faced spillways that came to symbolize the park itself.

The State Park Movement in America: A Critical Review The State Park Movement in America: A Critical Review
The State Park Movement in America: A Critical Review The State Park Movement in America: A Critical Review
The State Park Movement in America: A Critical Review The State Park Movement in America: A Critical Review
The State Park Movement in America: A Critical Review The State Park Movement in America: A Critical Review
The State Park Movement in America: A Critical Review The State Park Movement in America: A Critical Review

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