To Love the Beautiful:The Story of Texas State Parks
Early Years: Birth of the National Park Service
Visitors to Yellowstone National Park using a downed tree to cross a river, circa 1900, HPC-000868 . National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection.
While Texas was taking its first small steps in creating historic parks, the national parks movement was gathering steam. The public loved the new national parks and monuments, especially as more and more families could visit them by automobile. Within a few years, people were pouring into the parks each summer by the tens of thousands.
In the early years, army troops were assigned to serve park visitors; develop roads and buildings; and protect the parks from vandalism and illegal hunting, grazing, and timber cutting. In 1917, the federal government relieved the army of these duties and established the National Park Service to manage the nation’s natural and historic treasures as tourist attractions for Americans, combining preservation with services for visitors.
The dynamic head of the National Park Service, industrialist Stephen Tyng Mather, wanted to take the pressure off the national parks, especially Yellowstone and Yosemite. One of his main goals was to encourage the development of state parks that would attract tourists for summer vacations.
Death of Hetch Hetchy
A feeling of urgency lay behind the creation of the national parks: a knowledge that their preservation was a race against time. A case in point was the drowning of Hetch Hetchy. As part of the rebuilding of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, developers wanted to build a dam and reservoir at Hetch Hetchy, a beautiful valley that was part of Yosemite National Park. John Muir, the famous conservationist and founder of the Sierra Club, mobilized an all-out war to save the “mountain temple.” But the nature lovers lost. According to scholars of the environmental movement, the 1913 inundation of Hetch Hetchy by the O'Shaughnessy dam is still considered the greatest tragedy ever to befall a national park. The Hetch Hetchy battle was the first environmental cause to receive national attention and created a core of awareness and support for wilderness that grew as the century progressed.
Hetch Hetchy from the Southside Trail, 1912. Herbert W. Gleason, Sierra Club.