“Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears” by Heather Hansen
You’ve probably heard that 2016 is the centennial of the National Park Service, and there are festivities planned from Denali to the Everglades, Acadia to Zion.
To mark the occasion, Seattle’s Mountaineers Books has published “Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears.” As the rather unwieldy title suggests, this is a wide-ranging history of the park service. It was compiled by Colorado journalist Heather Hansen after she logged some 20,000 miles to visit 150 national park units for onsite research — what a great gig!
Hansen begins with the years that led up to the idea of setting aside land for parks. A remarkable piece of legislation, signed by President Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War, pledged Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove as lands that would be conserved “for public use, resort, and recreation … inalienable for all time.” There was no park system as of yet — these federal lands were put under the jurisdiction of California to be preserved as parkland.
By 1872, Ulysses S. Grant had gone from being commanding general of the Union Army to Commander in Chief of the (re-)United States, and he signed the bill that established the first national park anywhere — Yellowstone.
In the 1880s, with increasing population of the West, a new movement arose to protect prehistoric dwellings in the desert Southwest. That led to the Antiquities Act of 1906 — another step toward land conservation on a national scale.
Additional national parks and national monuments were developed through these years, but it wasn’t until 1916 that a National Park Service was created and all of the parks that previously had been established were placed under its management.
Hansen discusses the tensions between conservation, science and public recreation, and spotlights the interesting personalities behind the various factions. She reveals the ways in which politics and economics have buffeted the National Park Service through the years.
During World War II, there were calls to extract resources from national parks in support of the war effort. An editorial in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called for giving up some of the old growth timber in Olympic National Park: “Nothing is too sacred to do its share.” That didn’t happen, but in less drastic ways, the Northwest’s national parks did contribute — Kalaloch Lodge served as an outpost for the Coast Guard, and Mt. Rainier was the base camp for an Army mountain infantry battalion.
Hansen explores how the National Park Service has evolved to share not just the natural wonders of our country, but also our tumultuous national story. There are national park units that tell the stories of the battle at Little Big Horn, the Underground Railroad, the World War II Japanese internment camps, and so on.
This book is an excellent effort in so many ways, but I’ll end with one lament: It should have been sized larger. The small print makes for uncomfortable reading.
The Bookmonger review appears each week in Take Five. Contact her at email@example.com.