Resources 1984 – I. John Muir Assists the National Park Concept

Historic Resource Study, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, 1984

VI. Steps Leading Toward Establishment of Crater Lake National Park


I. John Muir Assists the National Park Concept

Following establishment of Yellowstone Park in 1872, a period of eighteen years elapsed before any more national parks were established. During this time a small group of intellectuals, including scientists, naturalists, landscape architects, arboriculturists, foresters, geologists, and a handful of editors of national magazines, were refining the basic concepts of conservation. Through their provocative writings and energetic leadership they made headway in reversing the traditional American attitude toward the use and disposal of natural resources. One particularly articulate and widely read spokesman for the national park idea was John Muir, a well-educated Scotsman who in the 1870s acquired a love for the mountains and forests of the Far West and who campaigned ceaselessly for forty-five years in favor of the preservation of the wilderness and federal control of forests. He was actively supported in these endeavors by the Sierra Club, which he organized in 1892 and of which he served as president until 1914. His chief concerns were the waste and destruction of forests by lumbermen, cattle, and sheep. [18]

Due considerably to Muir’s campaigning, three new parks were established in 1890: Yosemite, Sequoia, and General Grant–all established to preserve the Sierra forests from timbering excesses and overgrazing. Their bills slipped through Congress with few problems and little fanfare. Monumentalism, combined with economic worthlessness, were the predetermining factors leading to the establishment of all of them. As Alfred Runte explains, “only where scenic nationalism did not conflict with materialism could the national park idea further expand.” [19]

Despite this progress, valuable public timber land continued to fall into the hands of large corporations and timber speculators, primarily through provisions of the Timber Cutting and the Timber and Stone acts of 1878, the former permitting citizens of certain western states and territories to cut timber from public mineral lands free of charge for mining and domestic purposes, and the latter providing for the sale to citizens in certain western states of public lands valuable chiefly for timber and stone. Both laws were abused, with the consequent loss of much valuable timber land. The problem was aggravated in 1892 when the Timber and Stone Act was extended to public land in all states, resulting in a loss from the public forest domain of more than 13,500,000 acres of the most valuable timber property in the United States. [20]


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