National Parks Centennial

February 16, 1972

Report Outline
Population Pressures in the Parks
Evolvement of National Park System
Future of American Park Development
Special Focus

Population Pressures in the Parks

Range of Problems in 100th Anniversary Year

When the united states began setting aside parcels of virgin land for recreation one hundred years ago, they were called “pleasuring grounds.” Today they are called national parks but there is little pleasure in visiting some of them. During the peak summer season many parks are characterized by packed trailer lots, traffic jams and blaring radios. “Don't fall down, you'll get trampled to death,” warned a backpacker who visited a remote hiking trail in Kings Canyon National Park in California. Overcrowding—in terms of people and automobiles—is the major problem. But there are others, including bear attacks, damage caused by sonic booms, wilderness crime, and confrontations between youths and the law. “What's become of the American dream?” Gladwin Hill asked. “How do we stop the national parks from withering into an obscenity that soon may be shunned alike by taxpayers and visitors from abroad, for whom the parks have long been a legendary lure?”

At the heart of the park problem is a paradox. The National Park Service is enjoined by statute to preserve the natural areas under its charge for public use. But how can any natural area be preserved when it is at the same time being used by millions? Although rationing of park use is not yet contemplated by the Park Service, it is being suggested with increasing frequency. In a statement on the park system, Aug. 19, 1971, President Nixon said: “We are beginning to understand that there are limits to the amount of use our parklands can withstand, and that as more and more people seek the great rewards of outdoor life, the experience can be somewhat diminished for each of them.”

Another paradox: While the Park Service is struggling to accommodate the millions of Americans who drive to the national parks every year, it is also working to attract millions more. The rationale is that parks should be for everyone, not just those with mobility, affluence and leisure time. As a consequence, there is now a major effort to take the “parks to the people” by creating new recreational areas near urban centers. But the acquisition of land for new parks, especially near large cities, is beset with problems too—not the least being a scarcity of funds.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
National Parks
Jan. 17, 2014  National Parks
Oct. 06, 2006  National Parks Under Pressure
Jun. 16, 2000  Protecting the National Parks
May 28, 1993  National Parks
May 22, 1987  National Parks
Feb. 16, 1972  National Parks Centennial
National Parks and Reserves