“Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears” is the title of a new book about the history of the National Park Service (NPS). 2016 is the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, so I read the book eagerly. I thought it would be easy to find a book about the history of the National Park Service, but as far as I was able to determine, this is the only one. Fortunately it is a good one!
Heather Hansen, the author, has written a well-researched and well-organized history of the National Park Service. “Prophets and Moguls” has four sections which divide the history of the NPS into years. The first section deals with the years before the establishment of the NPS – 1872-1916. Hansen describes the ideas necessary for the birth of the Park system, the movers and shakers, the hard work, and the opposition. The book deals with the old tensions between using land and setting it aside, between states’ rights and a strong central government. She writes about the people who worked so hard to get national parks established and provide a service to oversee them: Stephen Mather, Horace Albright, Harry Yount, Ansel Adams, John Muir.
The second section of “Prophets and Moguls” deals with the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916 and how it struggled to achieve a balance between protecting the parks and encouraging people to enjoy the parks. This section moves through World War I and the Great Depression and the popularity of the parks. There are descriptions of the partnership with railroads, how concessionaires in the parks developed, and the struggle to allow automobiles into the parks without destroying them. During this time the Civilian Conservation Corps entered the parks and created roads, lodges, and improved infrastructure.
The third section looks at the years from 1940 through 1979 as the National Park Service struggled to create parks that were part of their natural ecosystems. If you kill all the predators and feed the elk and bison, are you improving or destroying the park? There is a chapter on Mission 66 which poured money and energy into the parks as they gained in popularity following World War II. The book documents the struggle to preserve the natural and wild parts of parks and discusses the impact of the Wilderness Act and the Clean Air and Water Acts.
The fourth section of “Prophets and Moguls” describes the years from 1980 through 2016, as the National Park Service adds units and reaches record numbers of people. Hansen describes the struggle to create inclusive parks, accessible to all people and illuminating the history of all people in the United States. She ends with a chapter suggesting how we can keep our parks great into the next 100 years.
One of the most valuable things about the book is the wonderful historic pictures and the informative sidebars. From the Buffalo soldiers who first protected Yellowstone to the necessity for the Law Enforcement rangers, Hansen adds historical bits and pieces that give a whole picture of the National Park Service. The pictures of the people and places make the story come alive.
Heather Hansen traveled over 20,000 miles and visited most of our National Parks in order to research this history. She writes, ” I realized I’ve been researching this book for over 30 years. I was a “national park kid,” and from the time I became a Junior Ranger at age seven at Cape Cod National Seashore, I’ve been to more than 150 national park units. It turns out that to move forward, personally and professionally, I also had to go back to my beginning, to recall that pure love of place.”
“Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears” is an excellent book with beautiful pictures and as much information as you might want on the National Park Service. I hope many people will read it and learn as much as I did from the book. Whether you love the parks, work in the NPS, or know nothing about them, this book will teach you something new.