Interview with Director Russell E. Dickenson
Russ, when appeared how were you notified that
you had been selected as Director of the National Park
Boy, that was a very interesting experience in
the fact that it was sort of elected Director by a committee of
These individuals, the college of cardinals, was selected by the
Secretary and perhaps the Assistant Secretary, I don't know, and I
remember that we met in solemn conclave at the old conference room at
National Capital Parks to try to discuss who would be the best candidate
to present forward.
Because it was Cecil Andrus' decision that he wanted to have a career
National Park Service person follow Bill Whalen in the Park Service. And
so my recollection is that there was perhaps a general...more or less
general consensus, there might have been some negative opinions that
came out of that, but I don't recall them, and out of that discussion at
National Capital Parks my name was forwarded to the Secretary.
And a few days later, whatever, I was back in Seattle at the time, why,
the call came by telephone, and so that's how it happened.
What was your first reaction to that news?
Well, I guess maybe I had the instinctive feeling that I was going
to be selected.
So it was not one of surprise.
Secondly, the Secretary had a representative in Seattle at that time
named John Howe.
John Howe had been his principal assistant with Andrus was governor of
Idaho, and I kept in pretty close with John.
He was, he was sort of a coordinator of all the Federal agency
interests, not just the Park Service, all Federal agency interest in the
Pacific Northwest, and so John had tipped me off a little bit on that,
Did you have any concerns about accepting the position?
Because during the late '70s when I was the Regional Director of the
Pacific Northwest with Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Oregon, I had
pretty much made up my mind to retire.
I was getting along in years and I thought maybe I might be a little bit
too old to go back into the Washington maelstrom.
I had been there before.
Following several years at National Capital Parks I was Deputy Director
for two Directors, Walker and Gary, and while it was an enlightening
experience, I knew Washington and some of the problems
So I thought pretty long and hard.
And the thing that probably prevailed as much as anything else was the
spirit of the National Park Service as expressed to me through
innumerable telephone calls asking and begging me, once the word sort of
got out, you see, to accept.
You know, there was another step.
It wasn't just the college of cardinals, but there were a number of
people invited from around the National Park Service...I was one of
them...to come in and be interviewed by people.
I don't know if they were all interviewed by the Assistant Secretary's
office or not, but in my case I was, along with Rick Smith in that case,
and so that was the opinion of a lot of people beyond just the
Directorate, Regional Directorate.
I recall that now.
I recall that, yeah.
It was an interesting period.
I don't think it will ever be repeated again.
Have you seen changes in how America values the National Parks in recent times?
Do you think they think differently about the parks and the Service than they did during your tenure?
I don't believe so.
I think that from what I have seen in my post-retirement years through
continued association with service activities one way or another that
the support of the American people is just as strong.
I think the allure of National Parks is just as strong.
Witness the fact that annual visits continue to rise and to go up.
I think that the medium of television, I think the emphasis, increasing
emphasis by schools on environmental education, the general introduction
of youngsters to the principles of preservation and conservation through
numerous school activities has brought an awareness of National Parks at
an earlier and earlier age than ever prevailed maybe during my time.
Today's youngsters are wise beyond their years, and I think they
understand and appreciate the value of outdoor recreation assets more
than they did in my time by far.
Apparently that's extended beyond youngsters,
too, to managers of other Federal land managing agencies, certainly
Forest Service, BLM, even Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation
seem to be shifting more from exploitation and manipulation to the more
contemplative values of places.
And it's more and more difficult to wrest away areas away from the
Forest Service simply because they've settled upon a model which largely
includes recreation now with a greater emphasis than just resource
extraction in the past.
And we see that with BLM, too, I think, you know.
And they're getting more places that we might otherwise have.
Designated as monuments.
Pretty aggressive, yeah.
How do you think that's going to affect the Park Service over, say, the next 25 years?
Well, there'll be some impact.
I wish I were wise enough to foresee what that is, but I guess maybe in
my time I always felt that the primary park agency, the preservation,
and to some extent recreation agency, if you will, was the National Park
Service, and I personally hate to see inroads made into that, despite
the fact that probably these agencies have...are capable of hiring good
technicians and are capable of putting on a good program.
But it...the flip side is it weakens the position of the National Park
Service as the primary national agency representing park and recreation
Speaking of values, we've seen things like
species and ecosystem protection, heritage preservation, and the
opportunity to find personal renewal as National Park values.
What do you think is the proper role of the National Park Service in
helping other entities to promote these values?
Well, I think it's important that we assist in appropriate ways, not
to the point, however, of diluting the moral authority that has been
built over decades of the National Park Service as the premier agency
dealing with that in the United States.
Now, you can talk about cooperative relationships with state agencies
and other kinds of forms that deal with preservation or cultural matters
or whatever, valley preservation or...but that has to be dealt with, I
think, pretty carefully, and the degree to which each side wants to
I harken back to the time, and I thought the model was pretty good, in
which the Park Service had a whole group of people that did nothing but
aid the states, Native American tribes and others from a professional
standpoint with advice and assistance, and in some cases, financial
support and aid.
Didn't you have...seems to me that one of my
hitches in Washington you had a role in that, didn't you, a pretty
Well, that's right.
Yeah, we tried to foster and promote to that a greater degree than had
been the case in the past.
But this was somewhat the Connie Wirth model back during the CC period,
CCC period, in the '30s, you see, state assistance, and the development
of demonstration areas, and many of those were turned over to states.
Some, a few, were retained by the National Park Service because of their
geographic location or their worth or whatever.
I guess that's what I'm expressing, is I think that ought to be the
proper role as professional advice and assistance and not be drawn into
trying to staff up and to try to replicate some sort of a National Park
operation in every sort of cultural resource that needs to be saved.
Those are judgment calls.
There may be some parallels in that...to that
in our relationship with the science community. Do you feel that the
Park Service today is working effectively with the science
Well, probably not as effective as it could or should.
If we're going to adopt the philosophy, as we should, of
scientific-based resource management, then that means that we need to
strengthen our relationship with the colleges and universities and to
insist that work undertaken be by the highest qualified people
Park Service and perhaps a distinguished committee of scientists need to
periodically review and to set priorities and to make sure that we don't
just accommodate every graduate student that comes along who wants to do
I think that's the key perhaps right there.
On the other hand, there's great value in
representing parks as fine places in which to do research even if we
don't see immediate management gains to be made from them.
I think it's generally recognized that the long-term protection and
the management that we have given to these public lands have established
opportunity for some baseline studies that can't be replicated any other
place, and so that argues strongly that we need to give some real
additional attention to it.
Wilderness is a hot button topic to a lot of
people, especially in the west these days, and the Park Service has been
accused by some at least as being inconsistent in its responses to
wilderness management and that that's possibly contributed to the
divisiveness today. What do you think about that?
There's probably a grain of truth in that, for sure, because at the
outset in the '60s when the Wilderness Act was passed, the National Park
Service was very slow in embracing the basic premises therein.
I recall at one point when I was stationed in Washington I was the Chief
of New Area Studies and Master Plan, and I spent a year at that job.
Had three service centers at the time and this was sort of the crucial
breaking point of either getting the wilderness studies on track and on
schedule or not.
So I lent my...I lent my labor and efforts to trying to do that, sort
of whiplash some of the staff, but we did, we made these studies, and we
sort of got back on track, and that would have been 1967, not too long,
you see...I think the Wilderness Act was '65, something like that.
So here a couple of years later this guy Dickenson was trying to crack
the whip at the Washington Office to get things going, and I wasn't
doing it by myself because Director Hartzog and Ted Swem and Ray
Freeman, who were all under the gun on this, was pressing me.
I was sort of the low man down here on the totem pole as an office chief
trying to get these guys with the aid of the Regional Offices to do the
necessary studies, the 5,000 roadless acres and all the other criteria
that had been set out.
Now, I think the Service's attitude toward wilderness has slowly altered
and changed as we went into the early '70s, but because of the kind of
time limitations that had been placed upon the completion of these
studies and the kind of resistance that we met by some of the
legislators up on the Hill, both in the House and the Senate, the
Service, in my opinion, never really pushed all that hard.
Certain individual people on the committees and in Congress were
interested in pushing through because they had a constituency back home
that was strong enough to press them into that position, but the mere
fact that we had completed studies, presented these to the Congress,
doesn't mean that anything happened.
It languished for so long.
I was surprised, years later, to find that various members of the
Washington state delegation had finally decided, probably due to
constituent pressure or the advocacy groups for wilderness, to present
bills naming some wilderness land in the state of Washington, which
passed and has been established.
But there are so many out there which has not.
So I guess what I'm simply saying is that there's still an ambivalency
about the whole idea of wilderness.
You have strong advocates and you have strong, strong opponents.
Was it in that time while you were in
Washington that we...wasn't there a person given responsibility solely
for wilderness issues in the Park Service at that time, and then weren't
there similar positions in the regions as well?
Yes, but that was largely subsequent to the '67 period that I was
talking about, because we had a small cadre of people that I was sort of
whiplashing to get going, and then following that, in 1968, I went to
National Capitol Region with Nash Castro.
We went at the same time...he was already there, but he was elevated
to...I guess they called him Regional Director and I was Deputy or
Associate or something.
He left in September of that year and I became the Regional Director.
But it was during that period that the Washington Office and the
Regional Office began to redefine their whole wilderness study
And then that kind of went by the boards, too?
That's right, because we completed dozens and dozens of those, as
required, sent them up on the Hill, and they languished.
There's some also who characterize cultural
resource matters as an elitist concern, something that's outside of most
Americans' interests. How do you respond to that?
Well, again, that's probably a grain of truth.
You find...you find people on certainly both sides of the issues with
strong feelings one way or the other.
National Trust, for example, I think has helped reshape some of those
attitudes, and certainly the financial aid and assistance that's
available to many private developers through the Historic Preservation
Program has helped alter that some.
Broadly I believe there is an appreciation in most parts of the country
for worthy historic preservation.
I believe that.
To lose these important vestiges of the past really strikes a lot of
People hate to see old high schools torn down, you know, and all the
other things that are part of their lives.
It doesn't have to be a Mount Vernon or a Monticello, that type thing.
I think people are interested in seeing that.
And the historic preservation of the National Park Service and the
program of financial aid and assistance, the tax benefits, et cetera,
that flow from that, have helped that.
The National Institute and its Main Street programs and others have been
So I...that's something to continue to focus on, to push on and to build
The ownership of cultural resources, certain
ones, anyway, has increasingly divided Native peoples from
Was there a concern about that during your tenure?
And if so, how did you deal with it?
Increasingly there was.
I would simply characterize it as the main focus during the '70s and the
'80s, during the time that I was...main focus was one of economics and
economic concern, and civil rights, the expressed need for civil rights.
And we had numerous instances of that.
I can recall an incident when I was...in 1979 just before I became
Director in 1980, I was the Regional Director of Pacific Northwest, and
we were constructing a new visitor center at Nez Perce National
Historical Park in Idaho, and despite all the advance surveys that had
been made, one of our contractors' bulldozers tore into a Nez Perce
Well, under the circumstances, what do you do?
Well, we did it just as quickly as we possibly could, we shut it down,
and we made contact with the tribal leaders and said, "We're not doing
anything more here until we reach an understanding about how to
accommodate your concerns.
That's our primary deal.
The visitor center can just sit there, the roads can sit there,
whatever, until we work this thing out."
And they said, "Well, we'll try to be accommodating here.
We think the...these are ancient members of the Nez Perce community."
And even the tribal...even the oldest of the tribal people had
forgotten...or didn't remember that the burial site was there.
So during the shutdown period, they agreed we could send in the tribal
people and the archaeologists and everybody else concerned and remove
and rebury at a more appropriate spot of their choosing.
And then we moved the road intersection, which really was...slightly
away from that in order to really protect the sacred quality of that
So there was an awareness, a real awareness, I believe, within the
Service at that time of trying to accommodate that.
Now, nothing at that time similar to what came later in the terms of
repatriation of native artifacts and return to the Native American
tribes, that wasn't really during my time much of an issue.
It came later.
But we had several other conversations with many other Native American
Bill Fields in the Southwest Region, for example, during my time as
Director was named the nationwide coordinator, liaison, if you will, to
keep that two-way communication going.
"If you have a concern, let's hear about it."
And Bill was excellent at that.
He did a good job.
And it wasn't easy because it's not like they all view things the same
way at all.
And you're not always sure you're dealing with
the right people.
It's a complex...they have complex societies and the elders may rule in
one case and the chief in another and still another group...
But Bill was a Cherokee, and so he had a wonderful rapport.
Find his way through those things.
He had a wonderful rapport with the people.
How can the Park Service help an increasingly
diverse American public develop an awareness of their common stake in
the National Parks appeared National Park programs?
I think Bob Stanton, Director Stanton, has been in the forefront of
leading that recognition that there are certain cultural groups that
have, for whatever reason, been sort of bypassed, and from the outset
the visitation to National Parks even in the late 1800s was simply by an
elite white class, and so many of the immigrant groups and
African-Americans and others didn't have the opportunity or the cultural
need to participate in National Parks that the white did.
I think the move and the push currently by Bob Stanton is a most worthy
I think that's going to...as the years go by will produce great
As you look at schools today, you find a great diversity, multi-cultural
people, and the classes right now that my young great grandson is
attending, you will find at least half a dozen...in a group of 20,
you'll find at least half a dozen or more ethnic groupings just in that
one kindergarten class, and to me, that points the way to the future,
There's an important reason why the National Park Service through its
outreach and interpretive programs needs to emphasize a presence,
continued presence, in the schools.
Now, obviously the media, the television and other outlets, provide an
awful lot of information regarding this, but there's nothing quite like
a uniformed ranger, naturalist, interpreter before the school children
in impressing them on the values and the worth of National Parks.
Talk about wildlife and flora and fauna and the happy times that are to
be available, and all of a sudden you've got an understanding public as
they mature ready to progress.
And we have been accused of tiptoeing into
outreach education, and certainly depending on the political
circumstances we find ourselves in, we can do more or less in those
Well, certainly any future Director, and hopefully it will be from
within the career service, has got to be aware that there's some
tremendous opportunities out there to deal with this pluralism and
multi-cultural America that we live in now.
What do you think are the necessary attributes
for a successful Director of the National Park Service in today's
political and social environment?
The ability to take a lot of heat and crap.
When you were talking about your reservations
about going into the job, I thought, anybody that was close to a
Director for very long would know. There's reason to have
There are some very handsome psychic rewards and there's
always...there's a downside to it, too, because you can get...you can
get beat up unmercifully.
Every battle cannot be won.
You lose some.
You hope that you have more advocates than adversaries and all the other
things, but it's...it's...it wears on you after a while, you know.
I think that you need to have, above all, and the kind of attribute
and characteristic in a Director is one that...experience...I mean
actual park experience.
That's why I say I like to see Directors come from within the career
In order to have the kind of credibility with the organization, the
organization will function best if it has a leader that it trusts and
that they know has the requisite knowledge and background, experience to
understand what is going on and their problems.
I think...now, obviously a strong academic background in park-related
subjects is interesting and vital but not absolutely necessary.
Experience on the ground, in the field, in a wide variety of jobs,
including management, is absolutely vital in my opinion, and I can point
to several what I consider to be failures when that rule was violated.
That was the most important factor in my new relationship on the Hill.
See, I had a relationship under a Democratic administration and also of
a sudden I was facing...I was representing a Republican administration.
But, "Mr. Director, in your opinion," you know, "in your opinion what
should be done?"
Because the Reagan people would send me up with...and I was espousing
positions that sometimes I...I had a great deal of difficulty with.
Now, if it had gotten too severe, I always had the option of packing
bags and going home, you know.
But at the same time, I was...my heart was warmed by the attitude of
most members of the committee that I dealt with, recognizing that I was
under a lot of pressure.
And when the going got tough, they would say, "Now, we understand the
position that you've just given...you had a world of experience.
You had all these jobs.
What do you think is the answer?"
You mentioned the importance of having had the
great experience you'd had in the Park Service before you became
Director as it affected your relations with people in the Park Service.
How about others?
Yes, the experience that I had and the transition period from a
Democratic administration to a Republican administration was that the
credibility that I had built up as a long-term Park Ranger,
Superintendent, et cetera, but long period of actual experience in parks
was accepted by most members of the Congress, but particularly the
committees that I dealt with, in a way that was most gratifying.
And since I moved from the Carter democratic administration...Cecil
Andrus Secretary over into a Reagan-Watts arrangement in a Republican
thing, they continued to demonstrate that kind of courtesy, and I found
that from time to time I was by OMB and...primarily sent to the Hill to
represent administration positions regarding National Park matters with
which I sometimes had some differences of opinion.
I always said to myself that if it became too difficult to maintain my
sanity in that kind of an operation I would simply pack my bags and go
back to Seattle.
That never really happened or had to because most of the members of the
Congress when they realized we were getting to that particular point in
the hearing or whatever would say, "Now, Mr. Director, you've
been...you've had all these experiences over a large number of years,
and we hear what you're saying on behalf of the administration.
Now what do you think we ought to really do?
What is the answer?
What is the best for the National Parks?"
And I think that's the strongest argument that I can make for someone
who can go to the Hill and to represent the interests of the Service
with that kind of background and...even though your political overseers
and others don't necessarily share your opinions.
Many of my...many of my people in the Reagan administration delighted in
calling me a tree hugger to my face with gritted teeth simply because
they had...they were following a manifesto that called for radical
change in the way National Parks were protected and operated and I
resisted, and I had the right, and the legislation and the background on
my side, and I think...I don't know that we lost any of those.
But there were some interesting battles along the way.
So that...to sort of sum that up makes the strongest case that I
possibly can to have a professional in charge of National Park matters
And with your credibility it would be pretty
hard for an administration to just ignore it or just override it too
obviously, I would think.
Maybe that influences their willingness to appoint people with that kind
I think...I think that's a good point.
I can cite several other instances in which the position would be
presented on behalf of the administration and the chairman or other
members of the committee would very carefully work it around so the
National Park Service viewpoint was available to them.
What do you think the Park Service can do today
to improve its relationship with Congress?
Well, it would be awfully nice...it would be awfully nice to have
the administration and both houses of Congress of the same persuasion
rather than to have a house divided up on the Hill, that is, a
Republican house or a Democratic Senate, whatever, which is a battle I
had to fight one time.
That would be, I guess, maybe an ideal situation.
On the other hand, I guess I can be blunt enough to say that I found it
extremely difficult, extremely difficult, from the standpoint of the
National Park Service tradition, legislation, culture and what I
perceived to be the expressed will of the American people to deal with
conservative Republicanism, which as an undercurrent is always
exploitative and attempts to change the status quo of protection and
preservation to one of utilization.
It's an imperfect world.
It's an imperfect world, one plays the cards that one is dealt, but
once...if you have a sympathetic Secretary in your presentation of
budget matters and policy matters, if you have a sympathetic Secretary,
that's a wonderful start.
That's a wonderful start.
If on the other hand you have an unsympathetic Assistant Secretary at
the same time, then you're in a position of having a maelstrom, divided
opinions about this, that and the other.
I went through a portion of that at one time.
That is a very difficult situation.
But the big dog eats the little dog, and one hates to break the chain of
command, I suppose, but when invited to do so, one does.
These are factors that will vary from administration to administration.
In recent times I've seen so many of the, for example, Assistant
Secretaries come from either one extreme or the other.
You've got a died in the wool state game and fish commissioner with all
that that sort of represents, or that you get an environmentalist over
here who, again, is a little bit may off center, off the edge, and
This is a great American democracy, and the President gets to appoint
his Secretaries and the White House Personnel Office gets to do their
bit with the assistant Secretaries.
So strong leadership by a well-reasoned individual will produce good
results for the National Park Service.
And one cannot predict in advance what that will be.
What was your most satisfying moment as the
Director of the Park Service?
Well, that's...I've reflected a bit from time...the question has
been asked to me on previous occasions, and there were very...there were
very few...there were very few really strong rewards, but the one that I
guess I can pinpoint more than any other was at the outset of the Reagan
administration the ability to convince Jim Watt that a General
Accounting Office survey of National Park facilities was wholly
deficient life, health and safety issues...repairs, et cetera.
So many defects, so many things affecting the welfare and vitality of
visitors, and employees, that I was able in the first week to convince
the Secretary that we needed help and needed it badly.
He went to OMB and he fought the battle with the then Director on behalf
of the service, and the White House challenged that, and he went to the
White House and won that battle, and he came back and we won a
significant amount of financial support and aid for rehabilitation of
both concessioner and National Park facilities.
Sewer systems, electric systems.
All of which had been built years and years before far beneath the code
of today's world.
And I guess maybe that was my highlight.
And a secondary feeling that I had was to be able to beat the whole
issue of privatization, which was a strong, strong push by the
Republican Reagan administration, and I resisted.
I was called on the carpet by the Office of Management and Budget.
Bill Clark...Watt never called me on it, but Bill Clark who called me on
the carpet wanted to know when I was going to get hot and carry out the
will of the administration regarding privatization.
I marshaled my arguments.
I went up on the Hill.
I was called up on the Hill for hearings.
But I still won.
Because they wanted to privatize so many service activities that should
not ever be privatized.
So many activities by the National Park Service are essentially
governmental and only government should do it, not the private sector,
and I consider one of those interpretation.
They wanted to privatize interpretation.
They wanted to do a wholesale job on camping, campgrounds, and while we
have maybe individual instances here there and there, I can point to a
number of deviations throughout the system.
We do a lot of maintenance by...by contract, private contractors come in
and do all sorts of things, but we don't devise total programs NASA-wise
and turn them over to the private sector to operate.
So that ranks pretty close to the top, to be able to come out of five
years as Director of the National Park Service, four under the Reagan
administration, without having to really give up a lot of things to the
Is there any action that you took while you
were Director that you would do differently if you were doing it
Most of the...most of the things that we engaged in that were
controversial, for example, we reasoned out ahead of time, and I don't
know that we ever had an unforgivable compromise on any situation that
I don't know of a single instance there.
But there were a lot of instances that people tried...there was the
Florida Bay fishing bit and there were dune buggies and there was the
controversy between cross-country skiing and snowmobiles and individual
communities and individual parks always wanted maybe something a little
bit different than the other.
Where there was an opportunity to be reasonable in terms of the
extinction of grazing privileges to accommodate a family in need or a
long-term situation...these little things can be accommodated because I
think it's in the public interest to do those sort of things.
But I don't believe that we ever lost a battle of basic policy or
philosophy that I can recall.
So I don't know that I would do anything differently.
One might interpret that to be asking if under
different conditions we're in today, but you can't...the conditions will
be different again in...
Each one has to be attacked on its merit.
Look, for example, what happened to Bob Stanton when he immediately came
in for his confirmation hearings.
There was a whole Colorado National Monument issue about the marathon or
the road races.
Here he wasn't even Director and he was in the hot seat on that thing
because this is rather typical, I think, of the kind of special
exceptions that many local communities would like to have, and you just
have to deal with those on their own terms.
Having been through a transition yourself, can
you...are you willing to speculate on how the National Park Service
should handle the upcoming transition...actually, for each contender I'm
sure transition things are going on right now.
Oh, yes, absolutely.
All I can say is that I know that Bob Stanton is shop worn and a real
I know he would like to get reacquainted with his grandchildren.
Of all things, he came out of Director to be Director.
What a hero.
But at the same time, I get the feeling that probably there will be,
regardless of the administration in power, there will be a new Director.
I have that feeling.
Right now is probably the time for those members of the Congress,
particularly the committees of interest that have influence and interest
in National Park matters, to be readying themselves to make appropriate
It's premature to do these things prior to the election.
You really don't get into the...but once the votes have been counted and
you know who the victors are, you've got from November until sometime
around in December, perhaps, you've got a window of about two to three
weeks or so for the heat to go on, and who is best to do that?
Well, I think individual members of Congress who are sympathetic to
National Park matters, advocacy groups always come forward, but for the
most part they tend to push their own candidates rather than National
Park Service career employees.
The only ones who can really push career employees effectively in that
kind of situation, I think, are probably members of the committee and
members of the Congress.
I don't know of anybody else who can really do that.
It's no good, really, for an individual within the Service themselves,
regardless of their status, whether they're an Office Chief or a
Superintendent or a Deputy Director or whatever, to try to push their
I can speak from experience on that.
I try...I tried to pull the levers during the transition from Walker,
which proved eventually to be Gary Everhardt.
I made a lot of behind-the-scenes calls to Secretary, Assistant
Secretary and a lot of the advocacy groups and one way or another, and
the only thing I didn't know was that Nat Reed had been in very close
consultation with Rockefeller and the decision was made at that
particular level outside of...outside of government, unknown to me.
But I made a real run at that.
And I was sort of disappointed.
I reconciled my feelings later on because there was a period in which
there was an extraordinarily rapid succession of Directors, a turnover.
I would have probably been a part of that...if I had become Director
immediately following Walker in 1975, say in...I think Gary became
Director in January of '75, as I recall.
If I had...I would have fallen by the wayside, too.
Whoever was Director would have fallen afoul of that kind of political
climate that was operating at that time.
Bill Briggle was cashiered out along with Gary, you'll recall, and a
little bit later, well, then, Whalen got the ax because maybe of a
mistake or two on his part.
Nevertheless, he got it.
And one of the...one of the rewards, of course, that I didn't mention
earlier there, but it was a real psychic reward for me, was to be able
to come in behind Bill and to be able to influence the National Park
Service into reacting professionally and to gathering ourselves up and
going forward with the program, the mission, instead of hang dog, hang
our head about what had happened at that particular situation...that was
what the Secretary wanted, too.
That's exactly why he chose a career person out of the service, is to
lift the morale of the Service and to redouble our efforts and go
Do the National Parks.
Do you remember any specific things that you
did during that transition that worked and others that didn't
Well, in the transition from the Carter Democratic administration to
the Reagan groups, I didn't turn my hand over personally.
I...Reagan was coming in.
I was prepared to go through inauguration day, or whenever the new
Secretary came in, and there were two or three different
Secretary...candidates for Secretary who had floated in the newspaper
and the media, but it turned out to be Jim Watt, and on the day that he
was sworn in, he came down to my office, to the Director's office, and
he says, "I've just got to firing all the other bureau chiefs," you
know, "but I want you to stay on."
Just like that.
So I don't know...see, I didn't...I didn't lift a finger personally to
try to stay on.
The reason, I presume, that I stayed on, that he felt I had some value
to him and to the administration because he was...he was following
presidential orders he told me personally to shake up interior and to
really modify the way they did business.
And we're talking now primarily, however, about mining and oil and gas,
although, there was a conservative Republican manifesto which called for
radical change in the National Park Service, and I had read that before.
And the Secretary wanted to know how I felt about things in general, and
I said, "Well, the guiding principle has been one to operate and
maintain the National Parks at the highest standard possible, but recent
events have shown that we've had difficulty getting an awful
lot...getting the kind of financial support and aid out of the Congress
that we need to really do that.
We just haven't been getting it."
And even Secretary Andrus and I had agreed that it was time for a
moratorium on the addition of new areas to the system until we can
start...we need to consolidate some of our gains and be able to put
ourselves on a better footing.
He said, "That's just exactly what I want to hear."
I'll say this for Jim Watt, although he's maligned by all sorts of
people, he was always a perfect gentleman to me, and he gave me
extraordinary leeway to operate the Service in a way that I felt very
comfortable and very beneficial.
That's not to say, however, that he was not surrounded by a number of
people who had the knives out.
That was my problem.
That was my problem.
I had a tough...a tough period with a lot of the people in the system,
but the Secretary himself stayed constant and he backed me and he was
[inaudible] all the way.
I remember you often publicly said that he
would...he would leave it to the professionals.
And he did.
I remember in a controversy with the governor of Pennsylvania at one
time over a bypass road at Delaware Watergap, and this had been a
commitment which had been made by my predecessor, but at the same time
it fell...it felt due when the governor was pressing very, very hard to
get this bypass road.
My position was that the bypass road lay outside the assigned boundaries
of Delaware Watergap and if anybody was going to do it it would be the
Federal Highway Administration, not the National Park Service.
And so this rocked along.
Various letters were exchanged over a period of time.
And it got to be pretty testy.
So I went to the Secretary and I laid it all out for him one time, and
he listened, and then he thought for a minute, and he says, "Do what you
think is right."
So that characterized basically the kind of relation...despite the kind
of caricature that he became, you know, was painted.
I had...I had...I had two presidents and four Secretaries of Interior
that I worked with.
and so I spent an awful lot of time...I must say I've spent an awful lot
of time...not educating, but briefing Secretaries about what they could
and what they could not do regarding National Parks and the kind of
legislative background and history that had been laid out by the
Congress for lo these many years, and it wasn't just a matter of coming
in and making a unilateral managerial decision to change things, that
you got a law that determines how we manage the National Parks.
And for the most part all of them accepted that in pretty good shape.
Sometimes the bureau chiefs for Mines and the bureau chiefs were Water
and Power and others would all have different ideas, but I had an open
invitation from Secretary Watt that if any of the people ever tried to
do anything that was not deemed appropriate or authorized by law or to
steer the National Park Service into a position of difficulty, that I
was to come to him.
You can't beat that.
Now, it caused me some problems with an Assistant Secretary named Ray
Arnett, but because I had full access to the Secretary's office, and
that was an uncommon, very uncommon arrangement, I think...other
Directors would have to speak for themselves, but I found it
Given all of those changes, thank goodness for that.
Well, that's exactly right, you know.
Yeah, I think...I think the...I think during that particular period was
one of...that particular period was fraught with peril, and we survived.
It wasn't necessary...I used to use the allusion to the fact that you
don't win battles by falling on your sword, but you make sure that you
count the number on the other side of the hill before you attack, you
There are just some little common sense things that any Director, any
Director with any experience at all in the real world is going to take
Well, and that leads to what's officially the final
question of this interview, and that... One purpose of these interviews is to
have a record that future Directors will be able to view and think about. What's
your advice to the person who will be Director in this next transition in
Well, the obvious answer is to be deeply steeped in the culture and the
traditions of the National Park Service.
If he is to be effective, he has to have the full support of the
I believe in my time, and maybe even in today's world, there's about 14,000
permanent employees and 6,000 seasonals, perhaps a few more now... anyway,
that's the ballpark figure... and we have units all over the country and the
Caribbean and overseas, and for these people in this far-flung empire to be
really effective they have to have complete confidence in the leadership of the
National Park Service, and that leader has got to be on the move, constantly
reassuring, instructing, being aware of the kind of changes and influences that
are affecting parks, visitation, protection, interpretation.
nd as stated many times previously, I hope that person comes from within the
career National Park... I think there's a number of well-qualified candidates
who are familiar with the processes that occur in Washington D.C., and, of
course, that's of what the Director has to be primarily concerned, but he has to
be an effective overseer and manager as well for the regions and know who is
coming up within the organization, who is showing growth, awareness.
So whoever becomes Director has got to be firm, a leader, in tune with National
Park Service employees and matters.
Every handshake, every back slap will come back and rewards tenfold from the
Director and requires an awful lot of movement around and travel, but that's
part of the culture and tradition of the Service, because the people of the
Service expect to be recognized for their achievements and they like to be
congratulated on their achievements, and the Director is the one to do that.
I don't think... I don't think it's in any Director's interest or any
organizational interest to push for a massive expansion of the Service.
Now, that's not to say that there are some logical areas and candidates that
need to come in, and maybe as affiliates or those in which we have
extra-organizational arrangements of some kind.
I don't think there's probably all that many true National Park candidates still
There may be.
There may be some monuments that need to be sort of converted over to give them
the recognition that they need.
But we need to be totally aware of the fact that there will always be candidates
in the historical and cultural area awaiting recognition... heroes, heroines of
the nation need to be recognized, and that's truly a worthy role for the
National Park Service.
The great growth of the system later on in the Wirth period, certainly during
the Hartzog era, and to some extent during the Whalen period during an
aberration that occurred up in the Congress there, the candidate area type
thing, 12 candidate areas per year, which was a... was fraught with some
political overtones, you see.
I don't think we need to go back through that again, but the National Park
Service needs to be aware of the changing currents in American life so they can
always be in the forefront.
Otherwise, we're going to wind up with a BLM that was start pushing a cultural
program, or the Forest Service, or some other successor agency will take over.
We've got to protect that role of the National Park Service through studies and
awareness of American life.
There will always be people up on the Hill who will be pushing their own pet
agenda for either local chamber commerce or commercial reasons or whateverĘ
the magic of the National Park affiliation, etĘcetera, etĘcetera.
Just as in the MatherAlbright period, we've got to be aware that any
substandard, any substandard addition to the National Park Service will lessen
the appreciation and the support of the American people they have high
They expect the best, the unique, highquality areas in the system, and above
all, the National Park Service has to be alert to the fact that it's got to be
the custodian and upholder of that.