Interview with Director William J. Whalen

Bill, when and how were you notified that you had been selected to be Director of the Park Service?

Well, it was interesting.

I was just going about my daily work at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area where I was Superintendent, and at the precise time I heard about it, I was in the Director's office of the Port of San Francisco, and we were negotiating a land exchange and talking about things along the Hyde Street Pier area of San Francisco, and we were interrupted in the meeting, and the Secretary looked a little discombobulated that came in and said, "The White House operator is on the phone."

So somehow Bob Herbst, who was the Assistant Secretary of the interior, had gone through the White House operator to run me down out in San Francisco.

And I thought at the time, I thought, what a classy thing for these guys to do.

They're calling me to tell me that somebody else has been Director and, you know, they were just letting me know in advance.

And so when they literally said, "Would you accept the job" and so on, I was just absolutely amazed at the offer.

And that was the next question, what was your first reaction on hearing it?

Well, my first reaction was, am I up to the job?

Is this something that can I do to carry on a legacy that had been performed by a lot of great men in the past?

And so I think that any reasonable person would enter into the thought of that with some self-doubts because it is an awesome responsibility and a task.

But after having the chance to sit with my family and talk it over, I quickly saw how that it was awesome, but it was a great opportunity and that I had some skills that could be helpful for the Service.

And so we marched on.

What particular concerns did you have about accepting the position?

Well, I guess the particular concerns were I was not a part of the incoming administration, the Carter administration.

I had never even met the Secretary in the past, nor the Assistant Secretary, and so I was just a little concerned how I might fit in with the crowd, you might say, from Idaho and the crowd from Minnesota, and the crowd from Georgia since you had three different crowds that you had to deal with, and that became one of the biggest jobs I had.

Well, you've stayed close to the Park Service in a lot of ways since then.

Have you seen changes in how Americans value National Parks and the National Park Service in the years since you were Director?


I've seen some good changes, and I think very positive ones in the sense that more and more Americans are familiar with the National Park System than were 20 years ago, and I think a lot of it has to do with the burgeoning middle class and the demography of America, the Baby-Boomers coming of age, them having the opportunity and the funds and so forth to take their children on more meaningful vacations.

And so I think overall, you know, you have a much higher awareness of the National Park Service and its various units.

Certainly there's been a shift among other agencies, other land managing agencies, some of them BLM, certainly, Forest Service, even Bureau of Reclamation, from more extractive and manipulative kind of management of lands to management for recreation and for the contemplative side of things.

What do you think... the effect of that will be on the Park Service?

Well, I think you might step back and say what will the effect of it be on America in the way America administers its land resources, and I think the day is going to come when there's going to be a merging of the Forest Service and the Park Service.

And why I say that is that the Forest Service, as you said, further and further away from the timber cutting operations they had had in the past are no longer financially feasible and more destruction is done with the roads and haul roads, et cetera, to get the timber to market than it has value.

So, therefore, they're becoming much more recreation oriented, they're becoming much more preservation oriented in the sense that you find vast acreage in the Forest Service in the wilderness system.

So I think it would be a natural thing for the Forest Service to be merged together with the National Park Service.

And you could find some of the other agencies, such as the Corps or Lands and some from the BLM maybe follow in the same thing.

I would hope that when this happens the National Park Service would come out on top and they would be the administrator of all of this, but who knows, you know, as we look ahead over the next 20 or 50 years.

But I think the day is going to come when that happens.

I sense that there's a lessening of the opposition to it in the Senate and the House, and so I think this might be able to happen.

Folks in the Park Service have seen such values as species and natural landscape or ecosystem preservation and heritage preservation, the opportunity to find personal renewal in protected areas as National Park values.

What do you see as the proper role of the Park Service in helping other entities to promote those same values where Americans live and work, at least until they are melded...

Could you help me a little bit with the last part of that question about helping other entities?

Well, again, I think referring to outfits like the BLM, Forest Service, even the Corps and the Bureau of Reclamation, outfits that have made... are starting to make that shift and that in many cases are full of people that for whom maybe it's a grope to figure out, for example, what we're about or the kinds of things they're shifting toward is about.

Well, I certainly... those are proud old agencies, and they have their history and traditions just as we do in the National Park Service, but I think in the broader sense, you know, America's ready for the change, and I think the support there, when America's ready for it s going to be in the Congress and others for us to emerge in a more leadership role.

I think that probably, you know, the Directors of the National Park Service in the future need to make the Directorship more of a bully pulpit, if you will, for these values and this kind of management in the land and take a more aggressive role in touting the ideas and ideals and the... what the National Park System is all about.

Because I think if you look back at history, you know, the National Park System has endured in just a marvelous way, and there is, thanks to the changes that occurred post-1970 with the environmental movement beginning, a much greater sympathy and an ability... not an ability, a desire to vote for people that will be protective of the environment, and I think that's just something that is so much stronger in America today.

If I had to look back on us, we, the National Park Service, we may not have capitalized on this enough, not taken it to the public, not spent more time in an educational role.

Have you seen or been involved in any of this imaging... is that what they're calling it?

I'm not sure of the term.

They've had sessions on it here.

No, it's new to me.

I didn't know.

They hired, I think, Ogilvy to handle... to help the Park Service become better community indicators with the public really by and large, and it sound like, it's really interesting, they're doing things with the way we say what we're about that are...

I think the idea of having professional help from agencies such as that is a very important thing because these people are schooled in it, fanned you look at American industry, obviously they help them get their product out there, and we, in a way, have a very highly idealized product, but it's a product, nonetheless, that can be passed on to many Americans.

So I applaud that they're doing that.

But I think that the managers in the National Park System, the Director, the Deputy Directors, the Regional Directors and the Superintendents need to take an active role themselves throughout America in touting the benefits and the ideals and the goals that we have.

You know, I just see it out in my small area of Northern California where, you know, people are just... would be happy to see the Superintendent of Yosemite or Sequoia, Grand Canyon, you know, come to town and be on the radio talk shows and explaining what the National Park Service was all about, and I see very little of that.

And I think part of the reason is that Superintendents maybe don't see that as their role to go out and talk about the broader aspects of the Service and the things it could do, because, believe me, these talk show host are looking for people and there's nobody has more credibility, I think, than managers of the National Park System.

If you were to get that call... through the White House switchboard today, what would your action agenda be?

Well, since I'm not going to get that call, and I don't have... it would be... this time it becomes a Presidential appointment rather an Secretarial appointment.

So if somebody were asked, they would have to think a little bit harder before they said no, but I think my answer would be no.

But nevertheless, if I had the call, I think that I would devote a lot of time to selling the values of the National Park System to Americans and helping the rest of the organization move in that direction.

Because I think, you know, you can, as Director, you can delegate and hire very good managers that are operationally oriented people and allow yourself, then, the luxury of doing something that you want to do.

Did we talk about your action agenda...

You just started the question, and I think we were interrupted there.

Okay, if you were appointed Director today, what would your action agenda be?

I think, you know, I would... I would... if that would ever happen, I would... and I accepted... I mean, all of that is a big if, but if it would happen, looking back on having been a Director in the past and observing the Park Service now over close to 40 years, I would insist upon having control over who my chief deputies would be and make selections there with people that I could easily work with and whom I trusted and make major delegations to, because my action item would be more to use the Directorship as an opportunity to sell the values of the National Park System, and I would, you know, make myself go on a country wide tour, if not an international tour in talking about these things and using the Directorship as an opportunity to sell that, and that would also be a concern of mine with whomever might offer me a job if they did that they would allow me to do that.

And if that weren't part of the deal, then I wouldn't want to do the job.

We heard some great words this morning on the subject of science as it relates to the parks.

What do you think of the Park Service's relationship with the science community now?

Do you think we're working effectively with them?

You know, I have a hard time saying exactly now.

I have to flash back to my time in the organization.

But I think the issues that I see with the science community and the Park Service were probably the same then as they are today, and that is, that in the Park Service the managers, the captains of the ships of the line, the Superintendents, are basically, you know, generalists and they're pragmatists, and they're looking to get things done, and if they can find a scientist that will get things done for them, then science is great.

If they find a scientist that says we have to look into this for another few years and I must get involved with peer review and many other things, then science isn't very great.

And so I think that Babbitt, Bruce Babbitt, the Secretary, was on the right track when he was trying to create this independent bureau within the Department of the Interior where the scientists work, much like the Solicitor's Office, and then you would draw upon that from... as Interior agencies.

I've talked to some of the scientists around country that I know, and none of them are real happy with this organization that they have today, and they're very low on the food chain as far as the U.S. Geological Survey is concerned, and that's very understandable.

I mean, it makes... you know, I can understand that.

But I also am not one that says, well, we want to bring all the scientists in under the control of...

Because I think that that could not lead to the best answers that science could bring to the topic at hand.

And so the idea of an independent science group and within the Department is very appealing to me, and if it could be organized in such a way within the Park Service that it would have a true independence and would have a voice at the table as scientists should, then I think I would go along with something like that.

But just to make the scientists themselves... place them on a Superintendent's staff and say, "There you are," I don't think that would work.

Dr. Wilson seemed to be suggesting that by making our... making scientists more welcome in the parks we could get a lot of good science done, recognizing that the parks are great places in which scientists can do work they couldn't do anywhere else, really.

Unfortunately, I missed Dr. Wilson's talk this morning.

I had a conference call I had to be on.

But was he talking about the idea of encouraging more university scientists and that to do work in National Parks and so on?


I certainly would agree with that, and that would assure an independence and great peer review and things such as that.

So that certainly would be something than think would be good.

But I think within the... just the way the bureaucratic structure works and not, you're going to need some scientists that are Federal employees, and so that's where I stand on my earlier statement.

Wilderness values and wilderness issues seem to have become very divisive again recently, particularly in the West.

How do you think those issues should be handled in the Park Service?

Well, you know, I've always been a strong proponent of wilderness, and I felt early on when we were talking about the place where you've been, Alaska, that it was a very important thing to see as much of the land that we had into wilderness system.

So I'm a pro wilderness kind of person, and I know there's some people in the Park Service who get a little haughty about this and say "We know how to manage our land, by golly, we don't need wilderness designation."

And I think that's a little short-sighted, because maybe they are, but their successor might not be, and it's important to have that designation.

I think, going back to one of the earlier things you said, where wilderness is going to make the change is that it's going to make the Park Service and the Forest Service a much more homogeneous group and you're going to find these groups coming together as a result of all of this new designation of wilderness, and I think for the American public in the long run that will be good, because the public values both the Forest Service and the Park Service.

They're in high esteem as government agencies.

And I think that that will be a very positive thing to come out of this whole wilderness movement.

One of the suggestions has been that there's been inconsistency in the way the Park Service has handled wilderness and that that's to lead toward this divisiveness that's occurred.

I can't answer that, Boyd.

I really don't know, and that's stuff that has happened since I left, and so I'm just not going to try to stumble around with an answer on that one.

Cultural resources also have at times been characterized as an elitist concern and outside the interests of average Americans.

How would you respond to that?

Well, I think I'd say that's a putdown on the average American, you know.

I find just the opposite to be true, and I think that you see more and more in America a concern for the preservation of our past, even a reverence for it, and you only need to go into any of the major cities and see the areas that are being brought back and gentrified, and they're being done in a way that absolutely respects the past history of the area.

And I think the same is true of our various artifacts and things that we hold and we preserve and protect.

People are very pleased with that.

I think that, you know, the demography change as I mentioned before, there's just so many more and more people in America being educated today.

The little high school in the community where I live in Mill Valley, California, 88% of its graduating class went onto college.

I mean, this is a tremendous number of kids, and this isn't some great elitist school or anything.

So there are more and more people coming along that are being educated that are much more cognizant of this, and I think to make the statement such as you did that people feel this way is not taking that into consideration.

Yeah, I see the same thing in people who have worked in the Park Service.

In fact, some of the people who were great natural history types in their career in the Park Service became great historians.

Carl Russell is an example comes to mind right away.

It's gone on a long time.

And I think it happens to people as they mature, anyway.

Well, I think it's part of the maturation process, but I think that there are a lot more people that are mature in that thought process that are coming out of universities and colleges today and making up this vast middle-class population that we have in America.

And I think true, as people become more... that's not the word... that they have more disposable income, and they are going on more vacations every year, that a family may start out at the very early age with their children, it's obligatory to go to Disney World or Disneyland, but as time goes on, they're looking for a vacation or thing that has more meaning to it, a more educational experience, and they find themselves going to the National Parks, and then they're hooked, and they've gone to one and another.

I have a lot of friends that have found out that I worked for the Park Service and that and will tell me proudly, "I've been to 36 National Park areas" or "We're going to add five more this year."

And that happens.

I had an interesting thing happen to me just a few weeks ago.

I was in Mexico on a business teal that I'm working on and having dinner with an old pipeline engineer, and this guy was right of Attila the Hun.

I mean, he wasn't a far right guy.

He was a Libertarian.

He would give you at least we ought to have a Federal military, but beyond that it was state and local government issue.

And so he was going on waxing eloquently about his feeling on politics, having no idea what mine were or whatever.

And I'm kind of a quintessential New Deal Democrat.

So, you know, I'm kind of a little different than he is.

But then he found out I worked for the National Park Service, and he said, he was just stunned, and he talked about how his parents, who were both teachers, had spent a month every year for about 12 years when he and his sister were growing up visiting Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons and a couple of the other big parks, and they would camp out and spend their time there, and he talked about going to... he called them ranger programs, but they were obviously the naturalist programs, and listening to that and how much he had gotten out of it and how he was so proud to be able now to take his children... he was talking about his... taking his children back exact same campground his parents had.

Christ, he had me kind of tearing up the way he was talking.

But here's a guy that, you know, is far to the right on the political spectrum but still sees, you know, this strong values that come out of this National Park experience we talk about.

And some people, you know, scratch their heads about what is that experience, but I think what I just said is part of what we mean by "that experience."

The ownership of cultural resources is a matter that's become increasingly divisive between Native peoples and the science community in particular.

You know, I'm trying to remember myself, was that a matter of major concern during your tenure?

No... I can't remember it... there were some small instances of it.

Only one on some cultural resources I remember once was that one in which the Service was in a... in a battle with the Eisenhower family over some of the memorabilia of the President up at the farm in Gettysburg, and they want to move it to Kansas, and his son, who I believe his name was John Eisenhower, came in to see me one day, and we chatted bit and shook hands and solved the deal, but it was... it was one of those contests where "We're absolutely right" and the other side "We're absolutely right."

And there was obviously some middle ground which we were able to meet.

And after all, it wasn't as though somebody was going to take it out of the estate... I mean, out of the public's estate.

They were just moving it from Pennsylvania to Kansas.

And so I think it all worked out.

But in... I read about this in the newspapers and, you know, some of the more dramatic things, shipwrecks and so on, and whose bullion is it and so on.

And I think probably those are... those are healthy arguments.

There is certainly a case to be made that the Native Americans in wanting to do the thing by their own culture and to have control of it makes some sense in the way the world is today.

I could see 30 or 40 years ago the answer would be not only no but hell know.

But today I think that we see a Native American population that is very proud of their history and their traditions and would make all of this part of the public estate, just as I was mentioning that about the Eisenhower thing.

So I think that there's some middle ground, some way to work these things out, and we can't, you know, be taking these strong positions that are unyielding.

How do you feel the Park Service can help an increasingly diverse American public develop a sense of having a stake in the National Park Service's parks and programs?

Well, I think that part of that is going to be an evolutionary process, and for the first time in our history in California the white people are a minority in the State of California, and as you... the demographers talk about it, it isn't going to be long until this spreads throughout America.

So you're going to find that the minorities brought together are going to be the majority, and obviously they're going to have a lot to say when they are in the majority from a political standpoint and many others.

But I think from a country's point of view, we have to do what we can to help that move along, because it's a natural evolutionary process, and anything you would do to stand in the way is wrong, just dead wrong, and I think the Park Service can provide some leadership in that whole movement, because we have been a long time the repository of ideas and ideals that pretty much had white man's view upon it and didn't have the view of the Indians and the Hispanic people and the black Americans.

George had a lot, George Hartzog, had a lot of foresight in dealing with that, didn't he?

That was a major reason for his emphasis on bringing in urban areas into the system.

I think George was certainly a man ahead of his time on that issue.

He felt strongly about it.

And he acted strongly about it.

And I think that's probably where that began in the National Park Service at that point in time, and the Park Service is a much better organization today, I think, as a result of it.

You've been very close to George, as I recall, and I always felt like you modeled yourself after him in a lot of ways.

Well, I certainly... he's a great role model.

I would have to say there was probably some of that that was true.

I had an enormous respect for his intelligence and his vision and his enthusiasm.

I just feel so much that, you know, if a person is going to be in a leadership role in whatever it is, he has to get up every morning and bound out of bed and be a happy guy and see the glass as half full and not half empty and translate that enthusiasm to the people that he is dealing with, and that's leadership and bringing people along, and if you don't have that enthusiasm about what you're doing, you're never going to be able to change other people's ideas or bring them along.

So in that regard, if I emulated George, I'm glad I did it, and I still try to do it today.

The National Park Service, again, has been accused of tiptoeing into outreach education.

There's been highs and lows in our efforts in that direction, providing interpretive and educational material to non-park visitors.

What's your view of that effort, how it's been done, how it should be done?

Well, I think that, you know, in broad sense more should be done.

And the reason I think more should be done is because the Park Service is an organization that can be a great teaching organization.

But with all that said and done, there is a strong segment of people within the Park Service that see their role as primarily managing the resources that we've been given to manage and the outside role of education and that best left to colleges, institutions and other people.

And if you take that kind of view of things, I think it's a very narrow view.

The world's going to pass you by.

I think that we, rather than tiptoeing, we need to get out in front on these issues and provide a major leadership role in this whole arena, and I think because of the foundation that's been established since 1872 with the National Park Service that we have the credibility to leap into that role and to be listened and heard by many people, and I'm sure that the... it doesn't take long for networks and major newspapers and others to be able to sense who has credibility and who doesn't, and I think that we as an organization do.

I remember back when I was Director we commissioned a roll, and I can't remember whether it was Yankelovich or... you know, one of the major polling organizations did a poll about, you know, how Americans viewed the National Parks, and there were a lot of subquestions in that, but the overwhelming and compelling thing that came apart was how much they appreciated National Parks and how much they wanted to see them preserved and protected, and, you know, if anything, it was certainly a mandate towards preservation and protection, but it was also an awareness of how the National Park idea was part of the psyche of Americans.

You go back to things like the Alaska project that began back in the early '70s and the vast amount of lands that were set aside there, I mean, the reason all that happened was because Americans wanted that idea of wilderness, they wanted those land protected, even though there was probably one chance in million... or not a million, but a thousand that they would ever be there or ever go there, but they wanted that protection.

And I remember so much the help that the Park Service received from outside organizations and philanthropy, the Rockefeller family and others, to help sell that idea ahead of the congressmen's passage of that act because that was a concentrated effort on the part of many people to reach out and make the establishment of those parks and refuges and additions to forest land in Alaska a thing that came about.

And now we have it, and you, of course, have been there and been responsible for a lot of that during your career, but, you know, at least wait I observe it today and listen to people talk, it was a grand experiment that worked very, very well.

And you were very close to Phil Burton who was really instrumental in getting that legislation through, too, weren't you?

I was very close with Phil Burton because he happened to be the congressman from San Francisco of where I came, and, you know, I like to tell the story, when you say you're very close to him, one time I came home after spending the day with Phil Burton, and my wife says, "Well, how do you feel?"

And I said, "Well, he only called me a son of a pitch three times, but I think he only meant it once."

So, you know, Phil was a character, I mean a character.

On the Alaska land, Phil didn't play a big role.

That role was more played by John Seiberling and Mo Udall were the ones, and Phil sort of stepped aside, and they carved out that part in the congressional action, and Phil was more concerned with making his mark in other parts of the National Park Service, and so, you know, pushed through a big parks omnibus bill where many new areas were established.

But mentioning Phil, I knew Phil well, and, you know, he had reached a point in his life where he had lost out by one vote to be the Majority Leader of the House, and that just stunned him because he had a couple of people that voted the other way, and he never expected to that happen.

So he was... he was stunned and hurt by it all, and so when I got to know him as sort of the subcommittee chairman on parks, he was just beginning to regroup himself and to look for what he wanted to do with the time that was left in Congress because he saw this dream of going from Majority Leader to Speaker had evaporated, and he pretty much knew that wasn't going to happen.

And so he had this MENSA-like I.Q.

I mean, the guy was just one of the brightest guys.

This was obviously the days before a lot of computer stuff, but his brain was like that.

He could compartmentalize things and understand it.

And also Phil had this uncanny ability to work with members of the other party.

I mean, he was respectful of the conservatives, and he was an ultraliberal, and he worked with them to get things that they wanted in their districts and vice versa.

So Phil was a very bright guy.

But what I guess I'm getting to was I had dinner with him one night, and Phil was known for his legendary ability to consume... consume alcohol, and I'm sure he had quite a few that night, and was waxing on... in fact, I used... I detract here.

He used to call me up around 5:30, 6:00 and say, "Come on up to my office."

And I would go up there, and I, of course, don't drink any alcohol anymore, and Phil would get me my obligatory diet Pepsi, and then he would take out a quart of vodka and take the top off of it and throw the lid into the wastebasket.

So he had his quart there and his glass, and we would begin talking, and his wife Sala would call two or three times wondering when he was coming home for dinner, and he would say he was dealing with high matters of state.

But generally it was just talking about what he was going to do to make the Park Service bigger.

And he had come to a conclusion that, you know, that the social legislation that he had passed, some of which was very important, such as black lung disease for the miners of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, he was the author of the black lung bill, but he wanted to do something that had... that would have lasting meaning and would be there for a long time to come, and that's why he told me, he said, "I went after this parks chairman job, and I'm going to put my imprint on the National Park Service by getting as many new areas as I can," and not only that but in expanding areas, and I mean, he was the kind of guy, I mean, he didn't just deal with the Director of the Park Service.

I mean, he called the planner in the park unit or the Superintendent and pinned him to the wall.

"Now, how many acres do you think we need to expand this?"

And the Superintendent would say, "Well, I think if we expanded it 7,000 acres on the east and 2,000 acres on the west it would be good."

Then Phil would expand it 20,000 acres.

He said, "I always felt they were a little conservative, you know."

But he was an interesting guy, and I'm a lot better person for having known him.

He has his critics, of course, but I think as far as the National Park Service was concerned, he did a lot of good for it.

You mentioned Pennsylvania, and I remember hearing you on the subject of Pennsylvania before a little bit and your remembering John L. Lewis when you were a kid.

Am I remembering right?

Is that right?

Values and so forth that were just part of my core upbringing that did have an effect upon things later on.

I mean, it's hard to be absolutely precise, but certainly you don't grow up in the environment that I did and not have a feeling that... of Service, of trying to help particularly the underdog.

Your grandfather was a union...

He was a union official, vice-president of the United Mine Workers.

He was John L. Lewis' principal deputy.

and my father's family were involved in the management of coal mines.

So that would make for some interesting discourse at the table.

I think that's...

Family wakes and weddings were always done with a couple bottles of whiskey in the middle of the table.

Some pretty strong arguments on all sides.

But I think when you talk about it, my upbringing in southwestern Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh area is where I grew up, and there was a strong population of people that came to America around the turn of the century there from Poland and Germany and Czechoslovakia and Hungarian, and these people came to America, and the only jobs they could get were either in the coal mines or the steel mills, and they went in there, and they really worked hard.

So the idea of a work ethic was just so much part of my upbringing and so forth that, you know... no matter what the job, and I remember one of my first jobs was cleaning restrooms in a truck stop when I was about 15 years old, and I remember once scrubbing out the toilets and doing these things and thinking, why am I doing this?

And then my next thought was, I'm going to do it better than anybody ever has, and I went back to my scrubbing and so forth.

Because that was what was expected of me as a kid.

I mean, my parents just expected you to... if you were going to accept pay to work hard.

So I've always been a champion of the working men, much as my grandfather was, and a champion of the underdog.

And I spent a lot of my time talking about helping women in particular get into better jobs in the National Park Service and minority people, and that's just part of me, that's part of my core and part of the things I believe in, and it was part of what was taught to me as a child.

And particularly being here in St. Louis at this conference today and seeing so many people that you know you had a small impact upon why they were part of the National Park Service or helping them get their start, and that's one of the most satisfying experiences a human being could have.

What do you think are the necessary attributes for a successful Director of the Park Service in today's political and social environment?

Well, I think the attributes are the same today as they probably were back in 1916.

You have to have somebody... obviously you wouldn't even be considering somebody that didn't have a pretty good intelligence.

So we'll just accept as a matter that anybody that's being considered is bright.

But I think the attributes of enthusiasm, of an ability to communicate their ideals, of a willingness to be flexible, and I stress that very much.

I think that as a leader of an organization you have to have flexibility, and particularly in the National Park Service, or a leader can quickly get overtaken by the troops, and sometimes the troops aren't as flexible as they need to be in this dynamic society that we live in, particularly the society today.

And they have to be someone that appreciates the political process.

You know, I have spoken a lot in the years past to classes at Albright and so on, and so many of the young people, unfortunately, just have a total disdain for the political process and politicians in general, which is sad that that occurs, but I think that's just part of where America is today.

But when you're running an organization from Washington, if you're not cognizant of and appreciative of and a player in the dynamics of politics, you can't be effective today.

You just have to be attuned to that.

Now, that doesn't mean you compromise everything away or you don't stand up for your ideals, but you have to realize that at the end of the day, you know, you have to have half of 435 votes plus one, and if you only 200 votes, you're not going to get your job accomplished.

Or 51 over in the Senate.

So there is an attention one must pay to the politics.

And I think it's important for Directors to try to develop relationships with the senior committee chair people and the minority leaders of those committees and begin an honest dialogue with them that is based upon a trust that you can build between the two.

You know, the luxury of kind of hands off and not trying to develop that relationship is very bad today, and I have found that, at least when I was there, that the political leadership was very open to having discussions and off-the-record talks and many other things, and I would imagine it's a lot the same way today.

Well, it's certain that there'll be some different conditions when and if Bob decides to leave the Directorship, whoever comes after him is going to be facing... I guess it's pretty hard to tell at this point just what kind of make-up of Congress and orientation in the administration there might be.

Well, I think that we... obviously, none of us have that crystal ball here in September what's going to happen in November, but I don't really believe whatever happens in America is going to make a fundamental difference to the National Park Service.

I just don't believe that that's going to happen.

Because both of the candidates are somewhat in the moderate range of things and, you know, some people would say, "Well, gore is all pro environment and Bush is anti-environment."

You know, there's... they're pretty close on most on most issues.

The House members and the Senate, and particularly the House, they're not going to do much to hurt the National Park Service in any fundamental way if it changes to Democrat or it stays Republican because the people won't allow this.

That's the one thing... we have the laws that established each of the parks and so forth, and the people are not going to let anybody decimate the organization.

I mean, it's just not going to happen in America because it's just so fundamentally a part of our fabric.

So to... I think we don't want to give too much credence to this transition.

The important thing is that the leadership that is selected in the administration, I mean, a very important job, as far as how the Park Service really operates, is who the Secretary is.

You know, if the President selects a Secretary who is an activist as far as the environment is concerned, that's going to help our cause a hell of a lot more than if he checks somebody that is sort of a more of a caretaker over at the Department of Interior, and I think we've seen in our time, Boyd, where you had a guy like Stewart Udall, now, there was an activist Secretary.

And there haven't been too many more like him.

I think Cecil Andrus had a strong independent streak and an activist about him, but there aren't too many more that I can think about over the last 30 or 40 years that have been activist Secretaries

so I think that's the key spot that you have to look at in this transition, and then everything else will follow after that.

and hopefully the new Secretary, you know, working with the White House, and this is a tough thing in this day and age because they have so many patronage jobs... I mean, so much patronage that they have to take care of to get elected as President.

So these jobs like Director of the Park Service, Assistant Secretary of the Interior, are looking pretty good to a guy that lost a race for congressional seat in Ohio.

So you have to watch how that all comes together, and if you have this type of Secretary that I was mentioning, he's going to insist upon having people in those slots that are capable of doing the job.

In no way am I saying you have to reach within the ranks of the Park Service to make a person Director and so on.

I don't think that is true.

But you have to find a person that fits in with the programs that the President and the Secretary want to carry out, and that's very important.

I remember hearing, and I don't know that this is rumor or not, but there were two names thrown about here to be Director a while back, one was Robert Redford... I know Bob Redford, and he's a wonderful man, but I don't think he's, you know, the kind of person that should be Director of the National Park Service.

Now, if he sees this, he may have a different opinion.

And the other was... was the fellow who was the son of the ex-Secretary, Ickes, Howard Ickes' son.

and that name was thrown about.

And I read something in one of those kiss and tell books about the administration that at the time the President hadn't realized that the bill had passed and he had signed that made the Director of the Park Service a confirmable position.

So he was going to put Ickes in there, and he realized that Ickes wouldn't get confirmed as dog catcher in this administration... the Congress that was in power at this time.

So he was out.

So I think Ickes, you know, would have been a highly charged political animal if he were in there.

But I don't think that's the right mix, either, myself.

So it's somewhere in between there.

What was your most satisfying moment as Director of the Park Service?

And it doesn't have to be just one.

Well, that's good.

There were certainly a lot of satisfying moments.

In fact, you know, I've only had a few bad moments, but they were real bad.

But the satisfying moments, one that I would say... I just remember the feeling I had that evening, and I was out in Southern California, and I had dinner with Horace Albright, and Horace was very, very alert at that time and very, very eloquent, and it was just a memorable evening of him talking about the very beginnings of the National Park Service and then its evolution up to about the present time, from the eyes of a person who was, you know, a big part of what we're all about and the fundamental core values that we espouse today.

And it was just this wonderful conversation, and I felt a lot like certainly a pupil at the... on my knees in front of the master.

I mean, this guy is just a... and he's not only very intelligent, but he's very funny, too and can make a lot of good points.

But, anyway, I'd gone back to my hotel room after that... after that dinner and was sitting there thinking about it, and it was just a very happy moment in my life to be able to be a part of something like that, to be able to help carry on this legacy, and it gave me a kind of a renewal to try to hold to my values and so forth, you know, about what I really felt were needed in the National Park Service.

It just had a... you know, it was an impact moment, as they say, and, you know, I thought about it a lot since, too, and I just have... just an absolute strong respect for people like Horace and Stephen Mather and people that were part of this grand, grand, grand agency.

Is there anything you did, any action you took during your time as Director that if you had it to do over again you would have done differently?

Well, we don't have enough time...

That's a loaded question for anybody, isn't it?

I'd say this... there are a few things.

There were a few times that I misspoke, and a lot of it is... you know, I've learned something in life.

There's an acronym called HALT, and it says, you know, don't make decisions when you're hungry, angry, lonely or tired.

And I made some decisions and statements when I was in that state of either being, you know, particularly tired and hungry that, you know, emotionally I made them more from a visceral emotional standpoint than a measured thought out stand pointed.

And one in particular was my famous dust up with the National Park concessioners out in Glen Canyon, and I took them on out there.

I came into there.

I was bone tired.

It was early in the morning.

I hadn't had breakfast.

And they were talking about how I was a son of a B and everything and Don Hummel was the head of the park concessioners at that time, and, you know, these guys really thought I was a really horrible guy because I had, you know, deemed to say that preferential right of renewal for right of concessions wasn't a good idea.

And they were trying to say that it was a great American idea.

And I sort of was having a hard time how these great capitalists, you know, were saying preferential right of renewal was part of the American dream.

But, anyway, I got in there, and in the introduction that one of them made of me, he made a few sniping comments that were not very complimentary, and so by that time my Irish temper had just hit the... hit the thing, and so I started out threatening them with going to the "Wall Street Journal" and "The New York Times" and most of the major national dailies and exposing the hypocrisy of the leadership of the concession movement.

Well, who would know, but they had a tape recorder there, and they tape recorded the whole thing, and then sent out these intemperate remarks to key members of Congress.

So it was easy for everybody to see this thing.

So that began the end of Bill Whalen as Director of the National Park Service, and finally it came down to, you know, a highly senior member of the Congress asked the second for my head, and it was right at the top of a renewal of... or change in administration... about to be change, and it happened.

It was a little before, but it was in that year of the election.

So as I look back on it, that was one time when I think that, you know, I brought a lot of that on myself by being a little intemperate and making remarks such as that without thinking they would be repeated.

But that just is a good advice for any of you young rangers out there that are watching this as you come on, you know, remember the words HALT, hungry, angry, lonely and tired.

If you're in that state, be careful about what you say.

There was another incident, too that fell right in this tired part.

I had gotten up this one morning in Washington at about 4:00 a.m., and I had a meeting on the Hill at 7:00 for breakfast with Ted Stevens, and Ted was at the time the ranking minority on the appropriations committee and, of course, that was at time when all this Alaska stuff was going through and, you know, at that time I wasn't... I was just guilt by association with the whole Alaska thing, with the Alaska delegation and so forth, even though personally Stevens and I didn't have any problems, but, you know, still, you know, his thing.

and so I had this meeting with him, and it was rocky, as we expected it to be, and I left then and got on a plane and I flew out to San Francisco, and I had meetings with the Regional Office staff, and then there were some people who were upset about something Lynn Thompson was doing out in the GGNRA, and I met with them because I had been former Superintendent there, so they were asking me to mediate that.

And then we were supposed to, the end of the day, the next day, we were having this big press conference on announcing the new master plan for Yosemite National Park, and, of course, you know, this is a big deal to California, it's a big deal in the environmental community, and we in the National Park Service were really proud of what we had done as far as the master plan was concerned.

So we organized an extravaganza, and we invited many of the conservation leaders to be there at Yosemite and invited the press and everything, and at that time the Park Service had a little airplane, a King Air, and I remember I flew a couple of the... our favorite journalists up with me, and, anyway, we get up there, and they have a late evening reception, and by that time I am very tired and so on, and one of the conservation leaders just started in me about how horrible this master plan was and how I was a coward for not just, you know, taking all of the houses out of the Valley and all of the concessions out of the Valley and returning it, and if I had any backbone at all that's where I would be.

Well, I called him a little... that F word something or other, and it was an inappropriate thing to do, absolutely, but I was so bloody angry, and I swore at him.

So that was another time when I was in that state that I shouldn't have been in making statements.

And I remember later on, must have been six months later on, I had a call from "People" magazine, and this was carrying this thing on, and the lady was saying, "We're running a story about people swearing at the wrong time and doing things and we've been told you said this to one of America's leading conservationists," you know.

And I said... I didn't say no.

I didn't deny it.

I said my mother told me something when I was very young that only people that didn't have a very good vocabulary use swear words, and I was always one to pay attention to my mother's advice.

Now, I never had to say I did or I didn't, but, anyway... as far as that conservationist is concerned, my staff were so angry with me for doing it, so we had a little sit-down meeting at the Harpers Ferry and we kissed and made up and life goes on.

Your entire tenure was under one administration, one Assistant Secretary, is that right?

Or was there...

No, just one.

Just one.

Bob Herbst was the Assistant Secretary, Cecil Andrus, Secretary.

And Jimmy Carter was President.

But you arrived as they were in the process of...

Transition, yeah.

That was an interesting time, and I think I alluded to this earlier on that, you know, as you... you know, my wife and I were talking about this one time not too long ago about the amount of time spent in what I call intramural squabbles within the Department of the Interior, and you're supposedly a team, the Secretary, the Assistant Secretary and a bureau Director, but, you know... and then you each have your respective staffs, and there was just an awful lot of jockeying for position and arguing and saying this guy was a jerk and that person didn't know what they were talking about and how could this Assistant Secretary hire this 23-year-old person, you know, who had never even been to Yellowstone and her dealing with something.

So, I mean, it was all of this going on all of the time.

That was one of the toughest parts about the job, was just being involved in all this intramural activity which was taking from everybody's real job of running the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service.

But it was particularly true, you know, with me with... you had Bob Herbst, and he came from Minnesota, so he brought his guys in from Minnesota, and they're in there, and, of course, they're kind of stretching their wings.

And then you had some of the Carter people that were put over under Bob Herbst in Chris De Laporte and a guy named David... I can't remember his last name now, but, anyway, they were sort of the Carter guys watching to make sure the Minnesota guys didn't do... Clinton guys making sure... no, Carter.


I remember David, too, but I...

I can't remember his last name.

But, anyway, there was that.

And then you said the Idaho crowd that surrounded themselves with the Secretary.

And then the White House had a guy over there watching the Idaho crowd.

So you just had all of this stuff going on, and people would call you, you know, with advice.

You know, "Well, I can tell you that the President would really like to see this happen."

This coming right out of some staffer in the White House.

Or somebody would call and say, "Don't worry about what Herbst says.

The Secretary really wants this," you know.

And it just was this kind of information that's coming in.

And so you finally have to step back and say, you know, I'm going to do what's right until somebody tells me absolutely to not do it, because you just didn't know who was in charge.

But I think that's probably true even today with the way things are set up.

The Department of the Interior, as you know well, Boyd, is a confederation of bureaus, and it has to be managed as a confederation if you're the Secretary of the Interior, and, you know, there's just a lot of competing, bureaus in there for the dollar, for positions, for stature and that's not the healthiest thing in the world.

Now, believe me, I believe in competition in the workplace and the capitalistic part of America, but in a government agency, believe me, that's not a good idea.

I think you just answered the question about what works and what doesn't during a transition.

You said do the right thing.

Well, I think the right thing works for the Director, yeah.

You just have to do the right thing.

But the right thing, though... the other right thing is what the President and the Secretary do, and you know, I think particularly the Secretary sets a pretty high tone for what's going to happen in the new President's administration, and, you know, I would hope that it would be done in a more pure standpoint this time... or, you know, the new President, they select the Interior Secretary they want, and then allow that Interior Secretary to have a lot of say about his subordinates in the department.

But given now that the Directorship is a presidential appointment, there's going to be a lot of people vying for that job.

They have, I guess, what they call the Blue Book that lists all of the patronage jobs for an administration.

You know, it doesn't take long for a guy looking down through that to say, bingo, I think being Director of the Park Service would be a wonderful thing.

So it's making sure that that person, he or she, is a qualified person for the job.

By qualifications, I don't mean that they have to, you know, have spent all their lives working in a state park system or something.

Well, a transition of one kind or another is inevitable here in the not too many months.


What would be your advice to whoever is Director after the election, after the new administration comes in?

Well, I think that I would be a little careful on giving a lot of advice to people.

I haven't felt there were many Directors that succeeded me that were ever looking for any advice from me to begin with, and I never tried to impose it on anybody either.

I think probably a good thing in an honest way is to reach out to the immediate past Directors, to reach out to the senior members of the Superintendent core and Regional Directors and to listen a lot and to learn what they feel are the issues within the organization.

Because I think that repository of ideas and thoughts is very, very important.

Because it's easy to mistake things and to get off on something that the new Secretary said or the new Assistant Secretary and say, you know, this is what I've got to do with the organization.

But to listen a lot to the senior people in the organization.

And also to the... you know, the newer people.

But I don't think there's time to go out and talk to everybody, but certainly there's time to bring the senior people in and listen to them.

Another thing that... my one bit of advice I remember giving to one Director and he did follow it, probably because he would have done it anyway, is to have one person at least close to you that you can really talk to and that will puncture a hole in your balloon of self-importance if that starts to rise where you think you're omnipotent and so on, because there's a lot of part of the rank and file of the National Park Service that wants to see a Director and puts that Director's position sort of in an infallible role, that they can... they have so much control and power and, you know, their utterances are absolute dogma.

I mean, even the papacy is in trouble on a lot of that, and I don't think that that will work for the National Park Service.

But it's just the way, you know, somehow there's a positive side to revering your past leadership, but there's a downside to thinking that Directors alone are what an organization is all about, and that is very, very far from being true, because the organization is about the integrity of its people within the organization and the clearness of its purpose, and that's where the National Park Service is just way ahead of everybody else... or a lot of other agencies in that there are purpose is very clear and it's one that sparks the altruism in people to come and want to work for it, much the way as the old Peace Corps did by going out and doing things to help others.

There's a clarity of mission here, and a lot of people say, "Well, you have a bifurcated mission," this and that.

That's not true.

I mean, we have a mission that is very, very understandable, and I think that's what attracts a lot of people to come and work for it and to stay with the organization.

Because, golly, we know that the people aren't paid a lot, and these young people that come in and get a master's degree and are working as a GS-9 or 11 or 12, you know, look at their friends who went on and got master's degrees and are working out in, you know, silicon Valley with an engineering degree or something and making five times their salary.

So, you know, you have to have a compelling reason to keep people like that, and I think our organization has been one that's been able to do that.

Now I'm rambling a little and forgot what the hell the question was.

It was what kind of advice you'd give the person who occupied the Director's office just like you did.

I'm just not one to go in and pound on the table and have my advice listened to.

Certainly be willing to talk to anybody opinion you know, I think, as I mentioned there, one of the important things is to have somebody close to you that you can talk to at the end of the day and sort things out with that you're not afraid to say, you know, "I'm not really sure what my decision is on this matter."

Well, thank you, Bill.

Thank you, Boyd.

I appreciate it.

And, as I said, my only quid pro quo for this interview is I get a copy of the tape.

I think you should.