“The Yosemite, the Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon are all national properties in which every citizen has a vested interest; they belong as much to the man of Massachusetts, of Michigan, of Florida, as they do to the people of California, of Wyoming, and of Arizona.”
So wrote Stephen Mather, founding director of the National Park Service, in his 1920 annual report. And so reads the epigraph to “The Wonder of It All: 100 Stories from The National Park Service.” In this new volume, edited and published by the Yosemite Conservancy, employees and volunteers with the Park Service commemorate the 100th anniversary of the agency’s creation by reflecting on what the national parks mean to them.
One hundred years ago this month –– on Aug. 25, 1916 –– President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Organic Act, which established the Park Service as an agency of the Department of Interior. Two earlier acts indicated the desire of the federal government to protect important scenic areas. The first national park was Yellowstone –– designated as such by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. Then, in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act, which authorized the president to designate “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” for preservation.
Over the last century, the Park Service has grown to include more than 412 units (which include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks and several other designations) with more than 84 million acres across every state in the U.S., plus its territories. The national parks recorded more than 307 million visitors last year.
The contributors to “The Wonder of It All” write on topics covering all aspects of the National Park Service. Divided into seven sections, the book’s themes are “Getting Started,” “Life-Changing Moments,” “People to Remember,” “Stories from the Field,” “Volunteer Adventures,” “Love of Place” and “Looking Back, Moving Forward.”
Of particular interest to Idaho readers will be stories about the state’s federally managed natural and historic sites. Hayley Edmonston tells how, as a toddler, she and her father discovered a new cave at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve and named it after “a pacifier tragically lost on our adventure.”
Anna H. Tamura relates how, during an internship with the Park Service, she first visited the Minidoka National Historic Site,which caused her to delve into her family’s history and learn about the relocation centers that housed her grandparents –– along with 120,000 other Japanese Americans –– during World War II. Then, as a full-time park service employee, she helped to develop a long-term plan for the national monument, making her “proud that Minidoka is now protected by the American people ... sharing this history with the world.”
National park ranger Mike Reynolds explains that during a backpacking trip through Yellowstone, he came to understand better the premise of the Park Service: “We don’t just designate a national park and protect the resources therein; we designate a national park and invite the world to experience it. I believe this is also true with wilderness (areas).”
A preface from John Jarvis, the current director of the Park Service, and a foreword by author Dayton Duncan help to contextualize the history of the Park Service and convey the gravity of the agency’s mission toward “natural and cultural resource conservation.”
Though at times trite and overly sentimental, the anthologized vignettes nonetheless remind readers about the importance of the National Park Service in preserving the natural landscape of the United States and also offer glimpses into life working in these majestic places. Indeed, reading any of the stories — and seeing the authors’ accompanying photographs — humanizes the service and reveals the dedication these people have. Pick up “The Wonder of It All” to put yourself in the mood to visit one — or all 59 — of the country’s national parks.
Alessandro Meregaglia is an assistant professor and archivist/librarian at Boise State University’s Albertsons Library.
The Wonder of It All: 100 Stories from The National Park Service. Edited by the Yosemite Conservancy. 2016. 305 pages. $18.95.