Sunday, May 1, 2011

A western fight -- no guns, only principles, 1945-7 (added to, 4/10/12)

As 1944 ended, Regional Director Tillotson sent Ben Thompson to the Lake Mead area to "clear up" boundary matters. He might have become impatient with the many investigations and less action; he may have been concerned about Reclamation's activism on Bridge Canyon; perhaps he saw an end to wartime and wanted to settle this long-pending issue. In any case, LM Sup't Rose also had hopes, that settling Boulder Canyon NRA issues would ease local hostility. 

After three weeks study, and with Rose agreeing, Thompson broke no new ground in his 31 Jan 1945 report, emphasizing the need for Congressional action for the area. It was largely a "cultural resource of great scenic, education, recreational importance" that had been withdrawn for National Monument purposes before the dam was built, and included a large segment of the Grand Canyon. "What is not generally realized, I believe, is that the eastern half of (Boulder Dam NRA) is practically another Grand Canyon National Park, insofar as its scenic quality is concerned", and Bridge Canyon dam will not "constitute a serious intrusion below Kanab". However, the Kanab power tunnel is a serious project, so we must "promote public appreciation of the cultural values at stake as assiduously as (Reclamation) is promoting the power development program".  He did see that Bridge Canyon dam's construction would precipitate planning problems for the whole region. Reclamation claimed work on roads and power lines would begin "a few months" after the European war ends. So NPS should prepare legislation for two NRAs to go along with dam legislation, in this way planning for the Canyon totally, not just the Park. We should relinquish all lands not in our NRA proposal, and there is no need for the wildlife refuge. Necessary boundary changes should be made in the Park, with the Monument going into the Recreation Area. Grazing could continue, perhaps ending as recreation increased. He did not like Reclamation's idea of a boundary to exclude Bridge's reservoir at 2000'. The inundation would be too small to portray as inconsistent with our primary purposes. "Public interest and support could hardly be aroused over so remote an intrusion, and protection of the Park from more fundamental hazards would be weakened by 'crying wolf' over this issue".

The split in Thompson's (NPS's) thinking is evident as he made a detailed comparison of the Kaibab and Shivwits regions: The river makes two large southward curves. The Kaibab is higher, with spruce and aspen; Shivwits has ponderosa and juniper, limestone and lava layers. On its western side, the upper rim recedes several miles and the esplanade is deeply and spectacularly dissected by numerous side canyons, with long mesas jutting out into the canyon offering extraordinary views. "Comparisons are futile and superficial…the reality that impresses you is that it is all scenery on the grandest conceivable scale and that it possesses tremendous variety and esthetic appeal." But. The challenge of saving these park resources of the highest order cannot be done under the old familiar national park pattern, but must be worked out under a less restrictive type of reservation in which NPS maintains a proper relationship between dominant and subordinate uses. 

Thompson suggested a Grand Canyon NRA, headquartered at Bridge Canyon townsite. He offered boundary principles: include the reservoir and a sufficient buffer, and use legal descriptions for simple boundaries that ignore the reclamation withdrawals. Also, ignore Hualapai Reservation lands since there will be an agreement with the Indian Affairs office. The Shivwits line was drawn to exclude most of the plateau, i.e., grazing land. He included Snap & Twin Points and the heads of the Shivwits canyons; Mt Dellenbaugh, but not rancher Waring's location. He included the Parashant area, but moving on eastward, deleted land northwest of Tuckup, while adding lower Kanab Creek. On the south side, he wanted to take in the mesas west of Havasu Canyon, thus ignoring the Havasupai as well as the Hualapai. Here is Thompson's northern line, on the 1946 Survey map:

He further explained the problems: "The (western) Grand Canyon has been terra incognita, as far as the traveling public has been concerned. The construction of Bridge Canyon Dam would blast open the solitude of this regional forever." There would be "the most beautiful lake in the world". Public exploration would start with a bridge over the Canyon; there would be clamor for a road, with side roads and demand for lodges, airfields & other public accommodations. Events would precipitate this, and it was no exaggeration to say the problems were more important than any others NPS faces. NRAs are different: Hunting & fishing, grazing & mining, are allowed but regulable. No homesites or resort villages, however. Legislation is clearly required. 

Tillotson's February 1945 response to this enthusiasm was quite contrary to the line of investigations over the past decade or so; did one need to visit to believe it? The area, he said, had no legal status, within or without the Park System, although land could be eliminated from the withdrawal. There was no definition of recreation, and he did not see how the term could be stretched to include Thompson's recommendations. He dismissed the idea of getting Congress to act. Illogically, he then disagreed on adding area, until & unless the NRA was given more permanent legal status. Here he is:

April, Thompson wanted to clarify: The whole area had been withdrawn for Monument purposes, before dam was built. With Hoover dam, there could be no Monument out west. Now it is time to look at a permanent designation, and he called it Grand Canyon NRA because the reservoirs would never be more than minor features in that vast landscape. We need, he wrote, to forget Reclamation, and define an NPS area through legislation on purposes and boundaries. At this same time, Tillotson wrote Director Drury complaining this thinking was based on function, not area, contrary to the agreement with Reclamation. 

(To me, Tillotson sounds here willfully perverse, since he seems to be arguing that the current situation, while unsatisfactory, does not allow positive change; therefore NPS should not work to bring about any change. Given his readiness to concede NPS land or principles to opponents, as in the Monument boundary revision and in the fight over Bridge dam's height, his arguments give his general position a more negative cast. Given his 30 years of influencing policy on NPS and the Canyon, it would be sad to have to conclude that he did more damage to GCNP administration than good--a point to be considered when I come to look at some of the other issues he handled as GCNP Superintendent.)

The BDNRA's Ass't Sup't McColm, calling himself "extremist", argued for there being only one set of NPS policies for all areas. No NRA legislation was required because the dam and reservoir were features incompatible with NPS, and we are only there because Reclamation did not want to deal with lake visitors, and if that body of water is the main feature, then no need to be concerned about boundaries. [My comment: If his view had been adopted, then maybe the non-reservoir lands in the Canyon could have been given their correct weight and designation as a Park much earlier.] This is a playground, he said, and to elevate its status is to lower the status of the NP System. If we can put a Park around a reservoir, then why not a reservoir into a Park? Lake administration only requires a mile or less of land around it; the rest could be set aside separately, on its merits, and the resulting NRA would be one-third the size of Thompson's recommendation, so much less appalling to the stockman and miner. Recreation users will not be satisfied by park viewing activities. I disagree basically with Thompson's point of view. The lake is good enough for what it will be used for; we should not try to impose the significance of a Park on it, which will then affect our policies more.

BDNRA Sup't Rose first countered McColm's ideas by saying that it was not always practicable to go to extremes just to satisfy strict definitions of each NPS area. East of the Grand Wash Cliffs, the values are overlapping and inextricably interwoven. He opposed a "strict segregation" of areas, when there are such varying dominant values. Nature long ago overwhelmingly decreed that the western Canyon should be regarded as a single unit, even though a narrow portion of lake is to replace a turbulent, muddy river. [We are in a place of slippery slopes, yes? Still, too bad that he could not, as no NPS person did, say: It really ought all to be a National Park.]

Then Rose supported Thompson's recommendations in a May memo to the Region. Reclamation had recognized NPS interests, and restricted itself to the water, so the NRA legal status had some reality. He talked about the outstanding values NPS must recognize and protect. BDNRA was set up for administering higher values of general park character as well as for "the mere use of recreation" on Lake Mead. There was no inconsistency in proposing adding land on the basis of its scientific and inspirational value. [Side comment. This was a time in NPS history, when inspiration was a big deal. Today, I suspect we would be more likely to speak of wilderness or at least natural values.] The name change would produce less confusion in the public mind. The inter-bureau agreement recognized that inspiration and travel activities deserve protection even if there were no "participatory recreation". The lake after all is a "medium of accessibility, a narrow ribbon of water serving the function of a highway, thus seeming to offset somewhat the impairment of natural conditions".

Thompson also wrote Tillotson in May: If a theory (like McColm's) ends up with something poorer, then something wrong with the theory. To trim the boundary would be to lower our sights. [Well, not if he had for extending the Park to the Grand Wash Cliffs; but that, of course, would have been "impracticable".] People will take advantage of the additional features if given the opportunity; the area is not merely an adjunct of a reservoir. So why leave it to Reclamation, who doesnt care about it anyway? A doughnut-shaped Park surrounding the NRA would be untenable and confusing. [This may often be true, but for the Grand Canyon, the question is more one of promoting and administering access, rather than just a piece of land.]

In July, Rose amplified his recommendations. He wanted to add Oak Grove near Mt. Dellenbaugh as control point, the center for area roads. Also, Reclamation did not want to be left with parcels of old withdrawals, so their wishes had to be coordinated with NPS changes.

In November (the war now over), Tillotson was supported by NPS Chief of Lands, who urged McColm's solution: the lake plus one mile. Boundary proposals should be abandoned, along with some of the agreements with other agencies. Functions involving grazing, roads, wildlife, airports should go to non-NPS administration. Rose was excited by this enough to send a telegram to Washington that, if there were to be limits on our services, this was not the way to do it. It would be better to keep going for five years as a trial to see the problems. Tillotson, of course, was glad to see the memos coinciding very closely with his on the vagueness of this operation. He preferred the one-mile idea, believing in administration based on function, not area, and agreed in delegating activities to other bureaus, specialists in their line. 

Rose fired back in December, disagreeing with this extreme position of elimination. Our experience since 1936, has shown the many features and possible uses, even if there were no swimming or fishing. An arbitrary one-mile strip would not give adequate protection or evidence of our interest in the values such as the Grand Wash Cliffs and east. It is just too early to see what the development centers should be, particularly with respect to Bridge dam. I suggest we just reduce the 1930 withdrawal, leaving only our proposed boundaries. Tillotson made his point by "noting" the report, not approving it. Also in Jan 1946, the name seems to have been changed by dropping 'National'. Work continued in 1946, in an unsettled way, on getting rid of unwanted lands from the 1930 withdrawal. 

Apr 1946, Director Drury wrote to Tillotson on how NPS would deal with "differing viewpoints". First, end the withdrawal outside the Thompson boundary and study the lake+mile idea. He would talk to the Secretary and Reclamation about limiting our activities to recreation. Then you will work out a "close boundary" to delimit interests and draw up a new inter-bureau agreement. Although Drury found that the "complexities" arising from Bridge dam would not allow the questions to be settled for some time, Tillotson took the situation as a decision in favor of the narrowest course, and into 1947 was directing BDRA Sup't to deal only with the lake. It was no longer possible to justify holding any land other than that related to and essential for recreation use of water area, he wrote. Be literal and conservative in lands needed. Otherwise, keep only what Reclamation requests. My land staff will review your recommendations. Sup't (no longer Rose) proceeded with study. Tillotson, June 1947, reminded the Sup't that the study was important and urgent since the Secretary wanted us to release all lands that cannot be thoroughly justified as essential for recreation use. Some lands were released in 1947-8. Director Drury in Nov 1947 seemed to agree with the extreme position, writing that reservoir recreation areas like Lake Mead were not part of the NP System, so he did not want to bar hunting. We may well amend the no-hunting policy at Mead, he wrote, but not immediately.

Although Tillotson remained Regional Director until 1955, action on the boundary, whether a radical in-drawing or more expansive, died away. In Nov 1951, a request for a boundary report noted the last report was in 1946. In response, the NRA's only concern was with fire control near Mt. Dellenbaugh, where there had been a fire control aide from 1950. It seemed as if the argument over principle of 1945-6 had withered. This could have been because the legislative fight over the Central Arizona Project, including Bridge dam, held all in suspense until the early 1950's then ended with no resolution. On its own, Lake Mead was becoming well established as a recreation center and an NPS administrative site. So I will close this entry with another comment about getting bogged down-- from 1952, when a long-time ranger indicated that in the early days of the reservoir, there was good daily attendance on boat trips into upper Lake Mead. However, by 1952, only charters went. The high cost ($14) and long distance to travel meant little use. Furthermore, silting closed the area nine months a year.

Sources:Lake Mead N.R.A. archives in NARA (Laguna Niguel)

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