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Building the National Parks: Historic Landscape Design and Construction Paperback – November 18, 1997

3.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Editorial Reviews


In an era in which the National Park Service spends $600,000 to build a comfort station, this book attempts to explain the rationale for the agency's decisions on what structures to put where. As with almost every facet of park-making in the United States, the hand of the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted can be seen in the built environment of the national parks.

(Washington Post)

Building the National Parks is a detailed, descriptive chronicle of the efforts of the nascent National Park Service to develop the parks in a harmonious fashion... The author provides useful and interesting sections on some of the landscape architects and designers who worked in the national parks.

(Robert Pavlik California History Action)

Book Description

Recalling the era of the great lodges at Yellowstone and Yosemite -- the story of the landscape designers, architects, and engineers who built America's scenic national parks.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (November 18, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801855837
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801855832
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 7 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,590,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
The National Park Service's (NPS) 1918 statement of policy says that "in the construction of roads, trails, buildings and other improvements, particular attention must be devoted always to the harmonizing of these improvements with the landscape" (123). Linda Flint McLelland's Building the National Parks explains how this was done in the early days of the NPS. Over and over again, the book reminds readers that such improvements, especially those in the Civilian Conservation Corps era, were built so that the landscape was not injured and so they would, as much as they could, blend in to the natural environment.

The volume's explanation of the early construction of campgrounds is one of the more interesting examples of how early NPS landscaping attempted to lessen the impact on the environment. Plant pathologist E.P. Meinecke, known as the father of the modern campground, discovered that human activity caused a myriad of ecological problems and therefore applied his understanding of plant ecology to campground planning and design (279). Meinecke chose campground sites by type of soil, density of vegetation and then "divided up into individual campsites of legitimate sizes, each one offering approximately as much privacy, shade, and other advantages as the other (278). Environmentally conscious readers will hopefully think twice before camping somewhere outside an established campground.

The book presents facts and statistics well, but doesn't tell an engaging story. For instance, the volume lists the overall park visitation statistics from 1914 to 1918, which demonstrates a significant rise, but never offers any analysis on why those numbers augmented. Many journalism professors tell their students to "show, don't tell." McLelland's text tells, but doesn't show.
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