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What is the purpose of our national parks?
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A lively discussion ensues today over the ''mandate'' of America's national parks. Utilitarians say parks are for people-the forest always returns no matter what we do. Consevationists say, let's balance use between recreation and protection of natural resources. Preservationists say, the parks were created to protect the natural resources and recreation must be subordinate. In a capitalistic frenzy following Independence in 1776, Americans consumed, wasted, and sold their forests and wildlife, precipitating a host of ills upon the land such as, drought, floods, and wildlife extinctions. During this period the first 3 public reserves--Hot Springs, Mariposa Bigtree Grove with Yosemite, and Yellowstone were set apartl by Congress for the masses- particularly the poor-as national healing meccas and public playgrounds. Although the nation's timber supply was in danger of depletion by lumber barons who were rapidly harvesting virgin forests, the idea of federal forest reservles was repugnant and resisted by Congress until 1891. During this time Forest Reserves weren't deliberately enacted into law but came in as an amendment to the Timber Culture Act allowing Presidents the right to reserve forests on the headwaters of rivers to prevent seasonal flooding. This was done for conservation--not preservation-reasons, especially during the Teddy Roosevelt/Gifford Pinchot years. Sponsors of the National Park Service bill of 1916 wanted to develop the National Parks for mass use to prevent commercial exploitation by adjacent states of these areas. The law clearly wasn't passed with an environmental agenda in mind. Mather and Albright acting in concert together developed the scenic areas of the parks for recreational use, but left the rest of the park undeveloped which satisfied most environmental groups. Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to help the nation come out of a depression and develop parks with CCC funds. Park visitation improved and rapidly grew following WWII with another infusion of development during the mid-1950's to 60's. An environmental movement took the nation by storm during the period of rapid growth in park visitation. National Parks began losing their scenic appeal from over development and mass visitation. Planning frameworks were developed with names like ROS, C-CAP, VIM, LAC, and VERP to cope with the destructiveness of resource damage from mass visitation. Psychological needs to relieve stress in natural environments have been responsible for millions of visitors seeking recreation in National Parks and retirement communities surrounding them. Parks have been losing species since the 1920's when animal counts began, and will continue unless a science program of species enrichment is adopted. This will require the Park Service to abandon the failing policies of 'natural regulation' and 'nonintervention.' A new policy of natural education should be attempted by the Park Service to instill understanding and overcome fears and discomforts with fauna and flora which exist in the general public.
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 258-266).
Manning, Orlinda D. (2001). What is the purpose of our national parks?. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from
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