Let’s end with this question for each of you: I’d like to know what each of you sees as the most serious threats to the national parks and to the National Park Service both during your administration and also today. What were the greatest threats then and now?
Well, I think “relevancy” is the word that occurs to me most frequently, because unless the National Park System remains relevant to the changes in our society it’s not going to last. [Consider] the history of the Veterans Bureau that was established after World War I and their last great act, the riot that they had when General [Douglas] MacArthur ran them all out of town and that whole bureau was replaced, and it now is the Veterans Administration. So that’s what happens when bureaus become irrelevant. So remaining relevant…
That’s why Bill Everhart and I, (and I keep referring to him, because that’s really the way it was; he and Ted Swem are the two who are still alive who were a part of that inner group that managed the National Park System) we felt that the Park Service had to be relevant to an urban environment. We had to get urban people involved in the program. It was not enough to have the Sierra Clubbers hiking the trails and using the private campgrounds inside Yosemite. We had to get the little children playing in Lincoln Park, into the park and off the street, if we were going to survive as an institution and as a resource in America. So that was an emphasis of our program, to make it relevant.
I still think that’s an issue, because, you see, we have representation based on population and as our population becomes more urban, the Congress becomes more urban. And if you’re not relevant to Charlie Rangel, then Charlie Rangel is not going to be relevant to you. He’s just not going to be voting for you or for what doesn’t affect his constituents. So you’ve got to make sure that you’re relevant. That’s why we came up with Parks for All Seasons. That’s why we bused the children from Bedford Stuyvesant to Fire Island [National Seashore], so that they had a park experience. That’s why, as I mentioned earlier, we came up with Summer in the Parks through the generosity of Mrs. Hansen adding $275,000 to our budget to start it. That’s where we came up with Living History programs, and Parks for All Seasons, and Summer in the Parks, and other programs to make parks relevant.
That’s why we came up with National Educational Landmarks, which the Park Service abandoned. After I left they had no interest in it and abandoned the program, which in retrospect is ridiculous … when today everybody is saying that the great thing is environmental education. We were the first ones in the field. We even had a landmarks program to go with it.… I don’t know. That is what I think: “relevancy” is the word that most aptly describes it from my standpoint.
I can certainly see that if the Service isn’t relevant it doesn’t get the funding it needs. Funding its needs is a function of relevance. If those members of that committee believe that it’s important to their constituents, they fund it. Why else do you think farmers are floating in money? As they farm less and less they get more money, because the powerhouses on the Appropriations Committee all are from the farm and that’s their constituents and these lawmakers are going to make sure they’re financed.
Do the two of you feel that you left behind a different Park Service than the one you joined?
W.E.– Wait a minute. You’re saying from the time we joined until the time we left or from the time we joined until now?