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
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
And I thought at the time, I thought, what a classy thing for these guys
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Did we talk about your action agenda...
You just started the question, and I think we were interrupted
Okay, if you were appointed Director today, what would your action
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Yeah, I see the same thing in people who have worked in the Park
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
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
The ownership of cultural resources is a matter that's become
increasingly divisive between Native peoples and the science community
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
I think George was certainly a man ahead of his time on that
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
I had an enormous respect for his intelligence and his vision and his
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
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
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
Well, I think that, you know, in broad sense more should be
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
And if you take that kind of view of things, I think it's a very narrow
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
But he was an interesting guy, and I'm a lot better person for having
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
He was John L. Lewis' principal deputy.
and my father's family were involved in the management of coal
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
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
What do you think are the necessary attributes for a successful
Director of the Park Service in today's political and social
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Bob Herbst was the Assistant Secretary, Cecil Andrus, Secretary.
And Jimmy Carter was President.
But you arrived as they were in the process of...
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...
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
And then the White House had a guy over there watching the Idaho
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Now I'm rambling a little and forgot what the hell the question
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
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.