The Early Years,
Defining The System,
The New Deal Years,
The Poverty Years,
The Ecological Revolution,
A System Threatened,
The changes set in motion by the Leopold report and the spate of legislative action that followed in the 1960s continued to expand and mature the national park system in the 1970s. The decade saw vast additions to the park system in part arising from a series of omnibus bills disparagingly called "park barrel legislation" by opponents. Also, a series of major environmental protection laws further defined the web of regulatory controls on federal activities including those in the national park system. Finally, specific legislation and policy evaluations pertaining to the national parks further defined the changing and threatened system.
The profile of park system functions further broadened in 1972 with the addition of the first two specifically urban recreation areas. Gateway National Recreation Area in the New York metropolitan zone brought the National Park Service into the nation's largest city with all the distinctive requirements and challenges of that environment. On the same day Congress authorized Golden Gate National Recreation Area in and around San Francisco. Management and protection of such areas would become radically different from that in the traditional parks of the old system.
Returning to the more classic, natural parks in 1978, Congress grappled with the problems of parks as natural islands encroached upon by adjacent activities. Redwood National Park, approved in 1968, protected the largest remaining stands of coastal redwoods primarily in the lower watershed of Redwood Creek. Logging outside the boundary, however, resulted in siltation deemed harmful to the park trees. In a controversial action, legislators expanded the park boundaries to encompass the remaining watershed and protect the endemic ecosystem. In the process they agreed to compensate those unemployed by the loss of logging jobs.
During the same year President Jimmy Carter addressed the preservation of lands in Alaska, the last great frontier of America and an area under increasing threat of consumptive use. As miners, loggers, and others maneuvered for the opportunities to exploit vast new areas, Carter hearkened back to Theodore Roosevelt in using the Antiquities Act to unilaterally proclaim seventeen huge national monuments (summarized in the Appendix). This was by no means the first time the act had been used as an emergency device for protecting wild lands, but it was certainly its most extensive use. Two years later in the waning days of his presidency, Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 (see the Appendix). This sweeping legislation more than doubled the size of the national park system, anchoring the earlier monuments and many other lands as new parks, national forests, wildlife refuges, and wild and scenic rivers.
The vast expansion of the park system transpired amidst ever tighter federal environmental controls. In 1971 President Richard Nixon strengthened the process of historic preservation with Executive Order No. 11593 stipulating steps to be taken in expanding and maintaining the National Register of Historic Places and in protecting threatened historic resources. Most of this document was subsequently written into the National Historic Preservation Act Amendments of 1980. And 1972 saw passage of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act (see the Appendix). The former established provisions to ensure clean water while the latter emphasized coordinated action between states and the federal government aimed at restoring and protecting coastal areas including the Great Lakes shoreline. A year later passage of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (see the Appendix) required federal agencies to modify their activities to ensure protection of endangered species of plants and animals. This provision would materially affect construction in the parks which often served as islands of endangered species amidst zones of agricultural or urban land use. Finally in 1979 Congress corrected more than seven decades of inadequate protection for archaeological sites and objects with passage of the Archaeogical Resources Protection Act. This law superseded the Antiquities Act as the prime legislative protection for federal archaeological sources by more fully defining them and establishing appropriate penalty provisions for their destruction or theft.
Attention to the status and management of the national park system also surfaced from a variety of sources during the decade. Owing the extensive diversification of responsibilities delivered to the Park Service in the previous decade, some attention was felt necessary to secure equal protection for all units. In 1970, just two years
after release of the separate handbooks for administration of natural, historic, and recreation areas, Congress passed the General Authorities Act. In it legislators specified that all units administered by the National Park Service were part of the same "system" and that they were to be managed according to the provisions of the Organic Act of 1916 and other related laws.
During the 1960s conservation organizations had vastly grown in both numbers and influence. Some had challenged the federal government's management of parks and had become integrally involved in efforts to authorize or enlarge parks. In 1972 one group, the Conservation Foundation, released its report, Preservation of National Park Values, promoting its blueprint of how parks should be managed to best preserve the resources they were charged to protect. In addressing issues from visitor and concessions policies to carrying capacity and the need for research, the conservation group publicized the agenda of one powerful clique of park users.
Finally, as the decade ended and the administration of Jimmy Carter neared its expected end, the National Park Service answered a congressional request to report on the state of the parks. The report, released in 1980, resulted from an extensive survey of park administrators throughout the system. What it concluded was disheartening. The parks suffered from a wide variety of threats ranging from internal ones like overcrowding, overbuilding, and insufficient personnel to foreboding external ones such as air and water pollution, accelerated development on park boundaries, and destruction of migratory park species on outside lands. The lists of specific, identified threats ran to dozens for some parks. Clearly the next decade would require extensive action to stem the problems and protect the nation's "crown jewels."