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The Environmental Era [1960s]

Rangers erecting a sign on National Park Service trails, 1966
Reevaluating preservation:

The Mission 66 program was a success, bringing unprecedented growth to the park system. In 1966, the 50th anniversary of the National Park Service, visitation to the parks reached 127 million, more than double what it was before the program began. The newfound popularity of the parks led the NPS to reexamine its preservation activity.

Mission 66 gave the NPS the resources it needed to accommodate an influx of visitors, but concerns arose about the impact and influence that people were having on the ecosystems within the parks —not only the visitors but the park officials themselves. In the early 1960s, a series of internal reports advised for a change in NPS policy to minimize human intrusions and to manage park wildlife based on research conducted by scientists working in the parks.

Photo: Rangers erecting a sign on National Park Service trails, 1966

A. Starker Leopold
The Leopold Report:

In 1963, a committee of distinguished scientists, chaired by A. Starker Leopold, son of ecologist Aldo Leopold, issued a report focusing on the management of natural areas. The report, which became known as the Leopold Report, declared that the nation's parks "should represent a vignette of primitive America." It recommended that "the biotic associations within each park be maintained, or where necessary recreated, as nearly as possible in the condition that prevailed when the area was first visited by the white man."

Other environmentalists voiced their opinions through literature. One important publication of this era was Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, an account of the author's experiences as a ranger at Arches National Park. In Desert Solitaire, Abbey advocated banning automobiles from all national parks, asserting that they would ultimately destroy plant and animal life. On the national front, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring first alerted the public to the damage that certain pesticides, such as DDT, were causing to wildlife.

Photo: A. Starker Leopold

Ponies at Assateague Island National Seashore, 1964
The Wilderness Act of 1964:

This activity led to the passing of the Wilderness Act in 1964. This act identified wilderness as an area "where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain," and specified that these areas be protected in order to "leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness." Although NPS Director Wirth had believed the Park Service did not need additional supervision of its wilderness management, the Wilderness Act proved to be a useful legislative tool in protecting some park land from development projects.

Photo: Ponies at Assateague Island National Seashore, 1964

Mud River Covered Bridge, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975
The National Historic Preservation Act:

Additionally, the National Historic Preservation Act was passed in 1966, and the National Environmental Policy Act was passed in 1969, reflecting the growing concern for protection and conservation.

The National Historic Preservation Act was particularly significant for the NPS because it authorized the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register, which is administered by the NPS, is a list of historic and archeological resources that have been designated for preservation. It includes national historic landmarks, all historic areas in the National Park System, and properties all over the country that are significant to a particular community or state or to the nation as a whole.

Photo: Mud River Covered Bridge, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975

Dr. Martin Luther King during the March on Washington, 1963
Culture and the political climate:

American politics in the 1960s were marked by passionate protests and the quest for equal rights. These rights included the ability of minorities, particularly African Americans in the south, to vote without undue barriers and the right to quality education. To further these goals, President John F. Kennedy sent proposals to Congress in early 1963 to support voting rights, ban segregation of public facilities, and to authorize the Attorney General to initiate proceedings against segregated schools.

To garner support for the legislation, African American leaders organized one of the most famous demonstrations in the history of the United States. On August 28, 1963, they held the March on Washington, which more than 250,000 people attended. The event, held at the Lincoln Memorial, became famous for Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech in which he called for equality in American society. These demonstrations calling for federal legislation eventually proved fruitful. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law on July 2, 1964, with the firm support of President Lyndon Johnson.

To this day, the National Park Service works with civic groups to use the Lincoln Memorial as the backdrop of their demonstrations.

Photo: Dr. Martin Luther King during the March on Washington, 1963


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The Leopold Report

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The Wilderness Act is still the foundation of wilderness management in the United States. Understand its intent, and its application on the ground through Wilderness e-courses.