Parks Conservation Association|
1300 19th St NW
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (800) 628-7275
Fax: (202) 659-0650
Exempt since: 1959
NPCA is America's only private, nonprofit advocacy organization
dedicated solely to protecting, preserving, and enhancing America's
National Parks for present and future generations.
Background: Created by millionaire Chicago borax magnate and Sierra Club member Stephen Tyng Mather (he had met Club founder John Muir, climbed Mount Rainier with Club bigwigs, and considered himself a conservationist), who lobbied the Woodrow Wilson Administration and Congress to establish a bureau of national parks. Mather, president and owner of the Thorkildsen-Mather Borax Company, contacted Secretary of the Interior Franklin Knight Lane in 1914 complaining that the nearly 40 existing national parks and monuments (including Yellowstone, Yosemite, Mount Rainier, and Devils Tower) had no department of their own and were being mismanaged by unregulated profiteers - farmers diverting water for irrigation, aggressive drivers actually dragging people off trains to take them to competing park hotels, promoters cutting giant sequoias for exhibitions, and the accommodations were sub-standard. Lane shot back a famous message: "Dear Steve: If you don't like the way the national parks are being run, come on down to Washington and run them yourself."
The National Park Service: It was a set-up. Lane had previously visited Mather in Chicago and sized him up as "a man of prodigious energy, a born promoter," who could actually do what President William Howard Taft told Congress in 1912: "I recommend the establishment of a responsible Bureau of National Parks to properly manage those wonderful manifestations of nature for the edification and recreation of the people." Lane lured Mather to Washington, supposedly only for a year, to draft a national parks bill and manage the large publicity campaign to get it passed. Lane gave him a competent young assistant named Horace Marden Albright, an Interior Department staff man. They hit it off immediately and remained friends for the rest of Mather's life.
Becoming Director: Mather hired noted writer Robert Stirling Yard to promote the concept through popular magazines of the day, while tirelessly lobbying congressional leaders with Albright. After a brutally long and stressful two-year campaign, Congress passed the National Park Service Organic Act in 1916. Mather's public service was done - he thought. The Service's first director, a lackluster geologist named Robert Marshall botched the job and Lane convinced Mather to take over as director in 1917. Albright became assistant director. Mather hired Bob Yard as Park Service publicity chief, paying the bulk of Yard's salary out of his own pocket, which was illegal. Mather, exhausted from two years of lobbying, had a nervous breakdown and Albright covered for him. Mather's disability, which came and went for a decade, was not widely known.
The Dual Mission: Taft's "edification and recreation" turned out to be contradictory goals. Congress wrote the Organic Act mandating both "conservation of the scenery in its natural state" and "public use and enjoyment of the parks." The tension between these goals immediately clashed. Mather was a utilitarian who established private concessions to build and run the hotels that hosted visitors, based on the public utility theory, with government owning the land and writing the rules, and private investors owning the buildings and equipment. Yard, who was a purist at heart, railed against this "commercialism" while still encouraging people to come and love the parks. The dual mission particularly stressed Mather the businessman, because he had to coax railroad magnates into building rails to - but not through - the parks. They were the only investors with the capital and motive to build and operate the huge lodge concessions needed to accommodate visitors - and visitors were the future lobbyists who would convince Congress to endlessly expand the number, size, and prestige of the national parks. But those visitors wanted to see untouched nature despite having to share solitude with thousands of others at every attraction. Getting them to come required untouched scenery. Accommodating them once there required commercial food, housing, and in-park transportation. Endless conflict.
The National Parks Association: In one of his lucid periods in 1919, Mather, realizing that private citizens could not give money to the government (promotional money that was needed to attract public visitors and encourage private concessioners to invest private money in facilities), decided that a private advocacy organization was necessary, and conceived The National Parks Association. Albright wrote of it in his autobiography:
Robert Yardbecame NPA's first president and immediately began making enemies in the National Park Service with his purism against visitors and the concessions that Mather and Albright provided for visitor accommodations. Mather had a totally disabling stroke in 1928 and was replaced by Albright, who had been running the National Park Service most of the time since 1917 anyway. Yard and Albright fought endlessly.
Yard was generally hated in the National Park Service by the early 1930s. He took a dictatorial stance against including "inferior" new areas such as the Grand Tetons, which enraged John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who used a local Wyoming banker as a front to buy up all the land surrounding Jackson Hole in hopes of donating it to the United States in return for having the area designated a National Park and his own company getting the visitor concession. Yard opposed including Kings Canyon, which outraged the Sierra Club, which wanted exclusive use of the area for their membership. Yard lasted until 1934, when he resigned and drifted to the Wilderness Society, which was as purist as he was, where he remained for the rest of his life.
The rest of the story is one of increasing empire building, helping the National Park Service find new areas, regardless of their quality, to seize into federal ownership. Privately owned areas were confiscated or condemned for new "historical areas," "recreational areas," "scenic byways," "viewsheds," and any other imaginary classification it could push past Congress.
Today the National Parks Conservation Association is the most potent destroyer of private property in America, all in the name of "conservation" and "for the good of all." The federal government owns more than one third of America's land. Other governments, State, County, Municipal, Tribal, and more, bring the total American land area owned by some government to more than half. NPCA wants it all and is determined to get it all.
Parks Conservation Association
Five Highest Paid NPCA Employees - 2006
most recent foundation grants to
Total: Number of Grants: