ON LOSING THE NATIONAL PARK IDEA
Carl Russell, when superintendent of
Yosemite National Park, urged me to put a most important article
in the Sierra Club Bulletin, of which I was then editor,
entitled "Yosemite: The Story of an Idea," by Hans
Huth, of the Chicago Art Institute. I signed the foreword, but
Carl wrote it. It was one of the most important articles the
club ever published. You can find it on my web site, www.wildnesswithin.com.
I urge you to read it and this short
piece as soon as you can. It will help you understand how the
National Park Service, Bruce Babbitt, Al Gore, and President
Clinton have forgotten what the national park idea is.
The Wilderness Society and National
Parks Association may not remember. They favor the Babbitt plan
for Yosemite, opposed the Sierra Club's effort to establish Kings
Canyon National Park decades ago (as did the California Chamber
of Commerce). NRDC also likes the Babbitt planand recently
took credit for destroying the environmental movement's effort
to oppose NAFTA and GATT, which the club, Friends of the Earth,
Earth Island, and Ralph Nader opposed and still oppose). It is
fair to add that the club initially opposed Kings Canyon, but
Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes came out to San Francisco
to show the club directors the error of their ways. The club
had not wanted a park that failed to protect Cedar Grove and
Tehipite Valley from dams that the Forest Service could not prevent
but a national park could. The club especially did not want a
welter of little dams in the Kings River High Sierra. Happily,
we got the park with the High Sierra intact and the dam builders
themselves gave up on Cedar Grove and Tephite.
An earlier Secretary of the Interior
was willing to let Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley be dammed.
Secretary Hodel wanted it liberated. Secretary Udall wanted dams
in the Grand Canyon but got over it. We would like Secretary
Babbitt to decide that National Parks are Nature Centers, not
Still another Secretary of the Interior
allowed the National Park Service to vandalize Yosemite on the
overengineered Tioga Road. NPS Director Newton B. Drury could
say "We have no money; we can do no harm" and his Secretary
admired him for it. Ansel Adams nailed the National Park Service
with "When the theater is full, they don't sell lap space."
The Babbitt plan will eliminate the
laps that don't like high hotel prices, cherish highways that
are overengineeered, prefer leaving their cars far from home
and Yosemite Valley, love polluting diesel bases, and hate camping
Bruce Babbitt once told me in Yosemite,
"Because I'm not saying anything doesn't mean that I agree
with you." I would like to have him agree that I have learned
some useful things in my 81 years of traveling to Yosemite, three
of them from working in the Valley year in and year out, and
big number of years working to add nine units to the National
Park System, a few of those years protecting three national parks
from the National Park Service. Some of those years I was harsh,
gentle for more of them. It is one of the most important government
institutions anywhere. It can stay that way. Or get caught up
in what my wife calls "greedlock." Which is where it
From time to time the Sierra Club has lost its way in Yosemite,
one of the club's main reasons for being. In the twenties the
club wanted roads up Yosemite Valley to Vernal and Nevada Falls,
and up the wild Tenaya Canyon. Recently a club calendar placed
Yosemite Falls in Colorado. They gave Secretary of the Interior
Hodel a photograph they said was in Hetch Hetchy. It was under
Washington Column in Yosemite Valley.
The club has recently forgotten what
Frederick Law Olmsted had to say about Yosemite in 1865, and
no one has said it better since then. Mountains can use a voice,
and his was one of the first to try to speak for them. This,
with minor editing, is the essence of what he proposed the rights
for nature implicit in the national park idea.
first requirement is to
preserve the natural scenery and
restrict within the narrowest limits
the necessary accommodation of visitors."
should not detract
from the dignity of the scene."
"In sacrificing anything that should be
of the slightest value to future visitors
to the convenience, bad taste, playfulness,
carelessness, or wanton destructiveness
of present visitors, we probably yield
the interest of uncounted millions
to the selfishness of a few."
Thus, in 1864, did an idea born on one
coast reach another.
Both coasts would contribute its flowering, as did his son, author
of the mission clause in the National Park Act, which provided
for the public's enjoyment of the park by such means as would
preserved it unimpaired. The NPS has often had trouble understanding
what "such means"are. It suffers from that trouble
My contribution to the flowering of
the park idea was to enjoy every national park my parents took
me too, Yosemite being the first in 1918. There were 37,000 visitors
that year and I celebrated my sixth birthday alongside the railroad
built to expedite construction of an alien dam in Yosemite's
Hetch Hetchy Valley. Muir opposed it. The club didn't.
As a member of the Advisory Board of
the Yosemite Concessions Service, operated by Delaware North,
I have hope that the firm will add to its various interests,
such as sports, food service, gambling, and making profit centers
of the national parks, an interest in switching from ubiquitous
SUV madness to sane rail transportation, so sadly sacked so recently
by Big Oil, Speeding Cars, and Screaming Tires at our expense.
(By the way, I'll bet I can drive to Yosemite faster than anyone
but Galen Rowell, thanks to the sins I just complained about).
If they do want to add pricier hotels,
wider roads in Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows, fewer campsites
in the Valley, and have similar ideas for Sequoia-Kings, Yellowstone,
and the Grand Canyon, the club should encourage the activists
who are best informed on the subject to propose alternatives.
I would just like to take Delaware North to lunch, and after
enough martinis persuade them to add an American West Division
as a profit center for National Park and World Heritage Conservation,
Preservation, and Restoration Network Group (to use all the currently
One of the missions would be to show
Page Arizona that it need no longer be depend on income from
polluting motor boats on a dangerously vulnerable Lake Powell,
but do beetter as the gateway to a new Navajo-Hopi Heritage Region
as the most innovative inspiration for the world environmental
model of how to enjoy the Earth National Park idea. (That idea
led to the Sierra Club's firing me from its staff in 1969, which
led the founding of Friends of the Earth, which in a quarter
of the club's life has found four times more members, in sixty-six
countries and counting.
There are several opportunities I feel
the club should seize before I get older and mature. I was a
mountaineer back when the club liked mountaineers who knew that
if you have lost your way you go back to the last known landmark.
We are all losing our way on many routes. It could help us now
to try to determine where we lost our way and where we didn't.
Senator Tom Hayden analyzed his past for us: "All I've done
is slow the rate at which things get worse." That's all
the club had done, all I have, and perhaps you.
It is time for a a U-turn.
David R. Brower
Berkeley, March 26, 2000
[Initiator of the Sierra Club Foundation,
co-founder of the John Muir Institute for Environmental Studies,
founder of Friends of the Earth and the League of Conservation
Voters, founder and chairman of Earth Island Institute, co-chair
of the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment, nominated
three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, Recipient of the Blue
Planet Prize (Japan), co-founder of the Fate and Hope of the
Earth Conferences, needing I was 86 again so I can get older
Note: Bruce Babbitt is the officer in
charge of three Wonders of the WorldYosemite, the Grand
Canyon, and not-yet-well-enough-known Glen Canyon, all three
of them fully deserving of the sound bold leadership that Goethe
had in mind:
you can do, or dream you get, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
Timidity, on the other hand, has smoke,
mirrors, and hesitation in it; we all know that he who hesitates
is lost and may even advocate liquidation sales of irreplaceable
assets. We need another Harold Ickes or Stewart Udall, not another
Doug McKay, Walter Hickel, or James Watt. Go for twelve!
Beware of violating the National Park
Act, NEPA, and directives of the court in California. Engage
the public's trust in the National Park Idea.
forms are in the quarry than ever Angelo evoked."
Anyone for lunch?
If you were thinking of not voting in
The State of Texas, under the leadership
of Governor George W. Bush, is
50th in spending for teachers' salaries
(Makes California look good)
49th in spending on the environment
48th in per-capita funding for public health
47th in delivery of social services
42nd in child-support collections
41st in per-capita spending on public education
1st in air and water pollution
1st in percentage of poor working parents without insurance
1st in percentage of children without health insurance
1st in executions (avg. 1 every 2 weeks for Bush's 5 years)
5th in percentage of population living in poverty
Just think of what he could do for the
country if he were president.
Dr. William E. King
Professor of English
Department of Communication Arts, Language and Literature (CALL)
Western State College
Gunnison CO 81231
Here's a great juxtaposition of quotes
that combine to tell the
whole story. Enjoy.
"I have become very impatient with
my own tendency to put a finger to the
political winds and proceed cautiously. The voice of caution
persuasively in the ear of every politician, often with good
when caution breeds timidity, a good politician listens to other
voices. For me, the environmental crisis is the critical case
now, every time I pause to consider whether I have gone too far
out on a
limb, I look at the new facts that continue to pour in from around
world and conclude that I have not gone nearly far enough. The
of the environment is not just another issue to be used in political
for popularity, votes, or attention. And the time has long since
take more political risks -- and endure much more political criticism
proposing tougher, more effective solutions and fighting hard
-- Al Gore, "Earth in the Balance"
"Sentiment without action is the
ruin of the soul."
-- Ed Abbey