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Most people who have stood beneath a redwood, necks craned to see its top 300 feet rising far above; or who have heard ghostly whispers of residents long-past among the burnt-red cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde; or who have climbed the stairs to gaze out from the Statue of Liberty's crown, would agree that the US National Park system is a source of pride and wonder.
But 100 years ago, creating a bureau to administer America's vast and diverse parks was a concept requiring great debate and persuasion. Those who argued vigorously for its creation, believing in conservation but appealing to patriotism and economic sense, understood that if Americans were to be enticed to spend their tourist dollars at home (and if Congress was to devote resources to protecting instead of exploiting our natural resources) then the parks would have to open their arms to all Americans.
The story of the NPS is the story of people who fought for the protection of the places that have helped to define our national identity, those places which we now hold dear from the blue hazy mist that hangs over fall color in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the spouting geysers of Yellowstone to the thick, steamy waterways of the Everglades. At a moment when the American mind was beginning to shift from the concept of wilderness as something to conquer to a more romantic notion of nature, the NPS founders were the architects of our family vacations, the inventors of icons with worldwide appeal. They battled progress, which often masked greed and ignorance, and their story continues with those who molded and grew the NPS through a flu pandemic, the Great Depression, World Wars, and beyond.
Heather Hansen is a reporter specializing in environmental and travel journalism. Heather's work has appeared in High Country News, Men's Journal, Coastal Living, National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian, Outside, Mountain Gazette, Away.com, and other publications. She is the co-author of Disappearing Destinations (Vintage, 2008), which won the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Award, and other honors. Heather lives in Boulder, Colorado.
"The park system is the biggest, real-world science laboratory on the planet,and an eyewitness to American history."
– from the foreword by Jonathan B. Jarvis, Director, National Park Service
"This book, published by Mountaineers Books, is all that I could have asked for during this, the National Park Service centennial year. At 352 pages, its 125 archival and modern photographs, historical context, and great insight, make this a meaty, but accessible, read."
– Patrick Cone – National Parks Traveler
"An important book for anyone who values our national park system and who wants to understand its sometimes turbulent history. Well written and well researched, but more than just another dry history book. It's a fascinating read about how we got here and its many anecdotes, interesting facts, and wonderful images [...] It was an ambitious undertaking that succeeds with its mission of educating the reader."
– Colorado Authors' League