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The NPS 50th Anniversary [1955-1966]

1955 - 1966:
Mission 66 sign at Grand Teton National Park, 1960s
Mission 66:

"The year 1966 will mark the Golden Anniversary of the National Park Service. In an effort to solve, by that time, the difficult problem of protecting the scenic and historic areas of the National Park System from over-use and, at the same time, of providing optimum opportunity for public enjoyment of the parks, I have initiated a project which we are calling MISSION 66."

- NPS Director Conrad Wirth, 1955

Photo: Mission 66 sign at Grand Teton National Park, 1960s

Hikers in Yosemite National Park, 1950s
Reinvesting the assets of the NPS:

The war years took their toll on the parks despite the efforts of Director Drury and Secretary Ickes. Tight budgets left the NPS unable to adequately maintain facilities. With the return of peace and the subsequent increase in travel due to affordability of automobiles, the parks' problems became painfully evident. Visitation skyrocketed. While attendance was less than seven million in 1943, that number grew dramatically over the next decade, surpassing 33 million in 1950 and 50 million in 1955. In the meantime, the NPS budget remained stagnant. In terms of man-years of employment, the field staff was even smaller in 1955 than it was before the war. Campsites, roads, and employee housing were in dire need of maintenance, and visitors complained about overcrowding, scarce lodging, and little information on-site about all aspects of the parks. A 1955 Reader's Digest article actually warned potential park visitors that their trips were "likely to be fraught with discomfort, disappointment, even danger."

Photo: Hikers in Yosemite National Park, 1950s

Highways in Miami, FL
The Interstate Highway Act:

In 1956, at the height of the Cold War, Congress passed the Interstate Highway Act, approving the creation of a 41,000-mile highway system to improve military mobility. These new roads meant that travel and, consequently, park visitation were sure to increase still more. That same year, NPS Director Conrad Wirth responded to the park system's decline with an ambitious 10-year program dubbed Mission 66. Under this program, Wirth proposed upgrading facilities in time for the NPS's 50th anniversary in 1966. Both Congress and the president approved of the idea and ultimately spent over a billion dollars on the program, bringing improvements such as staff increases, new housing for employees, and staff development. Some described Wirth's initiative as a "renaissance."

Photo: Highways in Miami, FL

A school class visiting the Frederick Douglass Home, 1970s

Mission 66 allowed the NPS to renew its focus on historic sites after they had been largely neglected during the war years. The NPS was able to continue its National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings, which originated with the Historic Sites Act of 1935. As a result, many new historical parks were created during the Mission 66 program, including sites commemorating the homes of President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Photo: A school class visiting the Frederick Douglass Home, 1970s.

An elevated highway in New York, 1974
Culture and the political climate:

The Interstate Highway Act paved the way to a more connected nation via 41,000 miles of freeways for civilian and military transportation. This connectivity did not happen overnight. It took decades for the system to be completed. On March 19, 1978, the New York Times ran an article detailing the many missing pieces of the interstate system yet to be completed in the Northeast. Titled "Interstate Highways are Still Unfinished," the article notes that some states, like New Jersey, had 75% of their roads complete, but they have "done so in bits and pieces; none of the roads have been completed according to original plans" (pE8). One of the major barriers to completing the projects was the location of the roads.

Photo: An elevated highway in New York, 1974



'Reflection' icon

What if there were no National Parks?
A study conducted by Michigan State University for the National Park Service showed that for 2011, there was $13 billion of direct spending by 279 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. That visitor spending had a $30 billion impact on the entire U.S. economy and supported 252,000 jobs nationwide (source: