for the Recreation Areas of the National Park System
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The purpose of this booklet is to state in one document the administrative policies of the National Park Service for the management of the Recreational Area Category of the National Park System. Additionally, at the beginning of each major part of the administrative policies, such as for Resource Management Policy, Fish and Wildlife Management Policy, Master Plan Policy, and Physical Developments Policy, there is included a discussion of the background and philosophy on which the administrative policies are based.

Secretary Udall said in his memorandum of July 10, 1964 (full text in Appendix A):

In looking back at the legislative enactments that have shaped the National Park System, it is clear that the Congress has included within the growing System three different categories of areas—natural, historical, and recreational.

Natural areas are the oldest category, reaching back to the establishment of Yellowstone National Park almost a century ago. A little later historical areas began to be authorized culminating in the broad charter for historical preservation set forth in the Historic Sites Act of 1935. In recent decades, with exploding population and diminishing open space, the urgent need for National Recreation Areas is receiving new emphasis and attention.

* * * a single, broad management concept encompassing these three categories of areas within the System is inadequate either for their proper preservation or for realization of their full potential for public use as embodied in the expressions of Congressional policy. Each of these categories requires a separate management concept and a separate set of management principles coordinated to form one organic management plan for the entire System.

It is hoped that this compilation of administrative policy will contribute to better public understanding of the management programs and plans for the areas in the Recreational Area Category, thereby promoting the knowledgeable use and enjoyment of our Nation's parklands.

The broad foundations for these administrative policies are in the several acts of Congress establishing national parkways, national seashores, national recreation areas, national lakeshores, national scenic riverways, and similar areas in the Recreational Area Category of the National Park System. The policies laid down by the Congress for the management of any particular recreation area may be found in the legislation establishing that area. These legislative mandates represent the basic policy guidance for the management of recreation areas and, of course, are controlling in any situation in which the Congress has acted. Of direct relevance, too, is the intent of Congress as disclosed in the hearings and reports on the legislation.

It is the purpose of administrative policy to implement the mandates of Congress and to prescribe guidelines for the day-to-day management of recreation areas. Separate booklets deal with administrative policies for natural areas and historical areas of the National Park System.

The Natural Area Category comprises those areas of the National Park System whose purpose is to preserve for all time the superlative examples of our Nation's scenic beauty, wilderness, native wildlife, indigenous plant-life, and areas of scientific significance.

Types of areas in the Historical Area Category of the National Park System include national historic sites, national historical parks, national military parks, national memorials, national memorial parks, national monuments, and national battlefield sites. Historical areas preserve antiquities, such as ancient Indian ruins and sites related to our national history.

The Recreational Area Category of the National Park System consists of those areas identified by the President's Recreation Advisory Council (now the President's Council on Recreation and Natural Beauty) in its policy Circular No. 1 of March 26, 1963, as follows:

Many names have been used * * * in describing areas * * * predominantly for recreation use. Some of these are National Seashore, National Lakeshore, National Waterway, National Riverway, National Recreation Demonstration Areas, and similar names which embody either the physical resource base or the functional purpose to be served.


The Congress has expressed its interest, over several decades, in the development of recreation areas to assure "adequate outdoor recreation resources" for all our citizens.

Congress passed, on June 23, 1936, a Park, Parkway, and Recreation Area Study Act. This act directed the Secretary of the Interior to make, through the National Park Service, "a comprehensive study * * * of the public park, parkway, and recreational-area programs of the United States * * * such as will provide data helpful in developing a plan for coordinated and adequate public park, parkway, and recreational-area facilities for the people of the United States."

On June 30, 1936, Congress passed the Blue Ridge Parkway Act. This national parkway, connecting Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, resulted from a study by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Public Roads.

The Blue Ridge Parkway legislation specified that the lands "be given special treatment for recreational purposes," and called on the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service to "correlate such recreational development as each may plan."

On October 13, 1936, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation entered into a cooperative agreement to permit development of recreational areas associated with the Boulder Canyon Project in Nevada and Arizona. The Bureau retained authority over Boulder Dam, its engineering works, and Boulder City. The Service took "jurisdiction over the remainder of the Boulder Canyon Project area, including the airport on the outskirts of Boulder City, and * * * authority over and responsibility for all activities conducted or to be conducted thereon."

On November 14, 1936, Presidential Executive Order No. 7496 as signed the National Park Service additional recreational responsibilities that have had a far-reaching effect in meeting the recreation needs of 24 States. Through emergency relief appropriations, the Government was then acquiring submarginal lands, some of which had recreational value. The Executive order gave the National Park Service responsibility for acquisition and development of recreational demonstration areas under the program.

With the generous support of the Congress, the Service acquired 397,000 acres of recreational lands and established 46 recreational demonstration areas in 24 States, usually near urban centers. The people poured into the new camping, bathing, hiking, boating, and picnic areas. Eventually, most of these areas were turned over to the States and local communities where they serve an important segment of the Nation's recreational needs today.

The Congress extended the role of the Service still further in the management of recreation areas when it established Cape Hatteras National Seashore in 1937. The Congress later changed the name to Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area. The 1937 act said this first national seashore was "especially adaptable for recreational uses * * *" and should be managed for these and other purposes. One of the other purposes for which the area was to be managed was the preservation of certain portions thereof "as a primitive wilderness." In the act of June 29, 1940 (P.L. 689, 76th Congress), public recreational hunting was authorized at Cape Hatteras.

In 1946, Congress authorized the National Park Service to administer recreation on lands under the basic jurisdiction of other Federal agencies. Public Law 633 authorized National Park Service appropriations for "administration, protection, improvement and maintenance of areas, under the jurisdiction of other agencies of the Government, devoted to recreational use pursuant to cooperative agreements."

By authority contained in the 1936 Park, Parkway, and Recreation Area Study Act, the Service conducted detailed surveys of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the Pacific coast and the shorelines of the Great Lakes. The purpose of these studies was to identify opportunities for conserving portions of natural or historically important shorelines for park and recreation uses at the local, State, or Federal level.

Under the same authority, the Service studied the recreational potential of the several reservoirs (Glen Canyon, Curecanti, etc.) authorized under the Upper Colorado River Storage Act of April 11, 1956. These and other studies laid the groundwork for legislation authorizing several national seashores and national recreation areas. Congressional legislation for these areas during the 1960's has brought about an unprecedented expansion in the management responsibilities of the National Park Service for recreation areas. Since the Cape Cod National Seashore Act of August 7, 1961, twenty-two areas in the Recreational Area Category have been assigned to the National Park Service for management.

The legislation respecting several of these areas introduced innovations in land acquisition and management which have had a profound influence upon the administrative policies of the Service for the management of recreation areas. For example, in the Cape Cod legislation of August 7, 1961 (P.L. 126, 87th Congress), the Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to "issue regulations specifying standards for approval by him of zoning bylaws." When zoning bylaws, in accord with the prescribed standards, were issued by towns within the seashore, the Secretary's power of condemnation was suspended with respect to improved property subject to these zoning bylaws. The act also extended to the landowners the option of selling improved property to the United States, retaining "the right of use and occupancy" of such improved property for noncommercial residential purposes during the lifetime of the owner or the owner's spouse, or for a fixed term of 25 years or less.

As in the Cape Hatteras legislation, the Cape Cod Act also authorized public hunting as an appropriate recreational activity.

In the Ozark National Scenic Riverways legislation of August 27, 1964, the Congress indicated that, where appropriate to the management of the area, the Secretary should acquire lesser interests in land than the fee, including specifically the acquisition of "scenic easements." This legislation also provided certain options to landowners to reserve residential use and occupancy when selling their lands to the Government. The act also provided that the Secretary should permit public recreational hunting.

In the Lake Mead National Recreation Area legislation of October 8, 1964 (P.L. 639, 88th Congress), the Congress provided specifically that grazing and mineral leasing, among other things, should be permitted to the extent that such uses are not inconsistent "with either the recreational use or the primary use of that portion of the area heretofore withdrawn for reclamation purposes."

The far-reaching report of January 31, 1962, of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (established by Congress by the Act of June 28, 1958, led to the establishment of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation in the Department of the Interior on April 2, 1962.

Many of the recreation planning duties assigned the National Park Service by the Park, Parkway, and Recreation Area Study Act of 1936 were transferred to the new Bureau.

In the Act of May 28, 1963, the Congress charged the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, through the Secretary of the Interior, with the responsibility "to promote the coordination and development of effective programs relating to outdoor recreation." In the same act, the Congress declared that it was "desirable that all American people of present and future generations be assured adequate outdoor recreation resources * * *."

Moreover, in the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of September 3, 1964, the Congress provided the basis for acquiring large acreages for outdoor recreation. This act earmarked entrance and user fees of the National Park System and other Federal recreation areas, receipts from the sale of surplus lands, and motorboat fuel taxes for the fund. Monies from the fund are appropriated by the Congress to the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation for allocation to the Federal agencies for the purchase of lands for outdoor recreation and to the States for both the purchase of lands and the development of facilities for outdoor recreation.

The Act of July 15, 1968 (P.L. 90-401), amending the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, provided authority to "Lease-Back" and "Sell-Back" interest in land acquired, subject to such terms and conditions as will assure the use of the property in a manner consistent with the purposes for which the recreation area was authorized by the Congress. Public Law 90-401 also added some of the receipts from the outer continental shelf oil and gas revenues to the Land and Water Conservation Fund.


The earliest expression of administrative policy for the selection and management of recreation areas is to be found in Policy Circular No. 1 of the Recreation Advisory Council, dated March 26, 1963. Other policy circulars of the Council are also applicable to the management of recreation areas. Policy Circular No. 3 of April 9, 1964 (full text in Appendix C) is of special significance. The Council was established by Executive Order No. 11017 of April 27, 1962, to coordinate policy within the Executive Department regarding outdoor recreation. The Bureau of Outdoor Recreation serves as the staff of the council. In his Executive Order No. 11278 of May 4, 1966, President Johnson enlarged the duties of the Council to include programs concerned with natural beauty and established the President's Council on Recreation and Natural Beauty. The order also established a Citizens Advisory Council on Outdoor Recreation and Natural Beauty. The Bureau of Outdoor Recreation continues to serve as staff for both groups.

In its Policy Circular No. 1 (the full text of which appears in Appendix B), the Council declared that national recreation areas should:

Be areas which have natural endowments that are well above the ordinary in quality and recreation appeal, being of lesser significance than the unique scenic and historic elements of the National Park System, but affording a quality of recreation experience which transcends that normally associated with areas provided by State and local governments;

Be consistent with Federal programs relating to national parks, national forests, public lands, fish and wildlife, water resource development, grants for urban open space, recreation programs on private agricultural lands, and programs for financial assistance to States in providing recreation opportunity.

The Council also said:

In order to provide a rational basis for planning and evaluating proposed projects where outdoor recreation use is the dominant or primary purpose, the Recreation Advisory Council hereby sets forth the guidelines it believes should govern the selection, establishment, and administration of National Recreation Areas.

The Council set forth seven primary criteria as follows:

1. National Recreation Areas should be spacious areas, including within their perimeter an aggregate gross area of not less than 20,000 acres of land and water surface, except for riverways, narrow coastal strips, or areas where total population within a 250-mile radius is in excess of 30 million people.

2. National Recreation Areas should be located and designed to achieve a comparatively high recreation carrying capacity, in relation to type of recreation primarily to be served.

3. National Recreation Areas should provide recreation opportunities significant enough to assure interstate patronage within the region of service, and to a limited extent should attract patronage from outside of the normal service region.

4. The scale of investment, development, and operational responsibility should be sufficiently high to require either direct Federal involvement, or substantial Federal participation to assure optimum public benefit.

5. Although nonurban in character, National Recreation Areas should nevertheless be strategically located within easy driving distance, i.e., not more than 250 miles from urban population centers which are to be served. Such areas should be readily accessible at all times, for all-purpose recreational use.

6. Within National Recreation Areas, outdoor recreation shall be recognized as the dominant or primary resource management purpose. If additional natural resource utilization is carried on, such additional use shall be compatible with fulfilling the recreation mission, and none will be carried on that is significantly detrimental to it.

7. National Recreation Areas should be established in only those areas where other programs (Federal and non-Federal) will not fulfill high priority recreation needs in the foreseeable future.

Six secondary criteria—to be weighed whenever they bear a meaningful relationship to a specific area—provide:

1. Preference should be given to proposed National Recreation Areas that:

a. Are within or closely proximate to those official U.S. Census Divisions having the highest population densities;

b. Are in areas which have a serious deficiency in supply of both private and public outdoor recreation areas and facilities as determined by the National Recreation Plan;

c. Are in areas which have a comparatively low amount of federally provided recreation carrying capacity;

d. Show an optimum ratio of carrying capacity to estimated cost.

2. National Recreation Areas may be based upon existing or proposed Federal water impoundments where it can be shown that significant increases in the scale of recreation development are required, beyond the level normally justified under standard multiple-purpose project development, in order to assure that full recreation potential is provided for projected needs.

3. National Recreation Areas may include within their boundaries scenic, historic, scientific, scarce or disappearing resources, provided the objectives of their preservation and enjoyment can be achieved on a basis compatible with the recreation mission.

4. National Recreation Areas should be in conformity with the National Recreation Plan prepared by the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, and shall take into consideration State, regional, and local comprehensive plans.

5. Whenever possible, National Recreation Areas should be selected, developed, and managed to provide maximum compatibility with the recreational potential of adjacent rural areas in private ownership.

6. Preference should be given to areas within or proximate to a Redevelopment Area as officially designated by the Department of Commerce and deemed significant in the economic improvement of such a Redevelopment Area.

In his memorandum of July 10, 1964, Secretary Udall prescribed the following management principles for the Recreational Area Category of the National Park System:

Resource Management: Outdoor Recreation shall be recognized as the dominant or primary resource management objective. Natural resources within the area may be utilized and managed for additional purposes where such additional uses are compatible with fulfilling the recreation mission of the area. Scenic, historical, scientific, scarce, or disappearing resources within recreational areas shall be managed compatible with the primary recreation mission of the area.

Resource Use: Primary emphasis shall be placed on active participation in outdoor recreation in a pleasing environment.

Physical Developments: Physical developments shall promote the realization of the management and use objectives. The scope and type of developments, as well as their design, materials, and construction, shall enhance and promote the use and enjoyment of the recreational resources of the area.

The administrative policies which follow guide the National Park Service in the management of these areas.

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Last Updated: 05-Jun-2007