National Forests vs. National Parks, 1914-1925
Six years after Henry Ford introduced the Model T and began literally to mobilize
the nation, University of Nebraska professor W.J. Morrill penned a 1914 article
for American Forestry magazine titled, "National Forests as Recreation
An early tribute to the beauty and recreational offerings of the nation's forests,
Morrill's article came loaded with praise for the forest system and its rangers.
Read with the benefit of hindsight, however, Morrill's article also included several
points that would emerge as management challenges for the young agency. Recreational
use of the national forests was already exceeding 500,000 annual visitors by 1914,
and national forest lands such as the Grand Canyon (a National Monument managed
by the Forest Service at the time) were among the most popular destinations. Morrill
expressed a good deal of faith in the "strong protective arm of the Government...thrown
quietly and unobtrusively" over the lands, but also noted that "scenery
is a resource, and often one that can be marred" if treated unwisely.
Not long after Morrill's article, in 1916 Congress created the National Park Service.
With a mandate to "conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects"
and provide opportunities for the "enjoyment of future generations," the
national parks soon became a favored alternative to the national forests for recreational
boosters in the United States. The emergence of the new agency soon led the Forest
Service to face questions about how it managed lands under its care, whether it
was appropriate to take land from the national forest system in order to create
new parks, and how to avoid bitter fights between sibling federal agencies.
The Forest Service expressed concern about having its lands redesignated and transferred
to the care of the National Park Service. Official Park Service policy encouraged
a cooperative approach to such moves, but Forest Service officials could scarcely
avoid the sense that their lands were being appropriated by a younger, upstart agency.
The following passages from agency documents illustrate officials' efforts to maintain
cordial relations, but also demonstrate some of the recreational needs and agency
positions at the time.
An influential May 1918 policy directive from Secretary of the Interior Franklin
K. Lane to National Park Service Director Stephen Mather concludes, "In considering
projects involving the establishment of new national parks or the extension of existing
park areas by delimination [sic] of national forests, you should observe what effect
such delimination would have on the administration of adjacent forest lands, and
wherever practicable, you should engage in an investigation of such park projects
jointly with officers of the Forest Service, in order that questions of national
park and national forest policy as they affect the lands involved may be thoroughly
A March 11, 1925, Forest Service memo written by Assistant Forester L.F. Kneipp
on behalf of chief William B. Greeley showed the view from the other side: "When
the proposal to create a series of National Parks in the Southern Appalachian region
first developed we took the position, to which we have since adhered, that such
a system of National Parks was unnecessary, since the widely distributed system
of eastern National Forests was in itself adequate to furnish the people of the
United States with all of the outdoor recreational facilities which would be required
on lands under control of the Federal Government..."
Later, in the same memo, Kneipp contended that in places recreation should rate
comparably with and even transcend all other uses on the national forests -- including
timber production and streamflow protection. This view would not gain wide credence
for many decades, but seemed to come as a strong defensive effort to preclude the
transfer of national forest lands in the southeastern U.S. to the National Park
Kneipp wrote, "...with the increasing population and its increasing leisure
time there is a rapidly growing need for public provision or adequate opportunity
for outdoor recreation... [T]he National Forests [should] perform their part in
meeting this need as fully as is compatible with other purposes for which they have
been or will hereafter be created. [Greeley] believes...that it would be poor public
policy for the Federal Government to meet this need by setting up an independent
system of specialized Federal land holdings dedicated exclusively to recreation
when it is wholly feasible to equally well serve public requirements by a National
Forest system in which other important public needs can also be supplied."
National Forests vs. National Parks, 1959-1960
Memo from Assistant Forester L.F. Kneipp to Major Kelley, dated March 11, 1925.
Morrill, W. J. "National Forests as Recreation Grounds,"American Forestry, pp. 641-645, February 1914.
National Park Service website [May 9, 2002]