The concept of national parks date back to antiquity. Some of the earliest parks were established by Persian kings to provide an exclusive area for sports and hunting. Later the Romans and Greeks developed open air facilities as public meeting places for athletic events. The Renaissance period in Europe witnessed the growth of the idea of national parks, to the extent that woods extended over many square miles with raised galleries set aside in various locations.
The Muslim park tradition has been influential in the religious and social order of Islam in different parts of the world. The original Muslim idea was to think of the garden (park) as a paradise, a symbol of the afterlife as an oasis of beauty blooming in the earth’s desert. Water and cypress were the key elements found in the parks. Water symbolized purity against sins, and cypress trees offered protection against strong winds, which could blow in evil forces. On a more mundane level, water is used for irrigation and cooling purposes and trees provide shade to guard against harsh sunlight. Parks are places for reflection and relaxation.
In Africa, the idea of national parks also existed historically. In countries where communalism was descriptive of the social and political systems, the public land was used for hunting and sporting endeavors. The land was jointly owned by the entire group, with the ruling strata holding the land in trust. With colonization and its economic and political ramifications, it became expedient to formally designate areas that would be protected and maintained by the government. In many cases, the catalysts that led to their creation, was an overwhelming need for animal protection and tourism.
Webster defines national parks as “an area of special scenic, historical, or scientific importance set aside and maintained by a national government and in the United States, by an act of Congress.” With the scientific and historical attributes inherent in the definitive concept of national parks, it is almost axiomatic that the study of national parks rightful placement in the core curriculum would be history, science, and ecological and environmentally-oriented programs. A review of curriculum guides reveal that most references to national parks are part of the social studies units on environment, and in science, the ecology and geology components. However, within the conventional approaches to the study of national parks, innovative strategies can be developed to teach many subjects across the disciplines.
Global perspectives for examining phenomena is rapidly gaining momentum. It is increasingly acknowledged in most fields, that knowledge is becoming less peculiar to its form and to geographical considerations. Such a broad premise for intellectual and phenomenal discourse has innumerable positive benefits. For example, by studying the salient characteristics of the notion of U.S. national parks, invaluable insight can be gleaned about parks in other regions of the world, thus promoting an appreciation for the differences and similarities of parks worldwide.
By approaching studies from several dimensions, knowledge is acquired in greater depth and viewed from more than one perspective. A multidisciplinary approach to the study of national parks, allows for an appreciation of natural phenomena, literature, research, history, science, and many aspects of the social sciences. By formulating instructional objectives that connect disciplines and sensory perceptions, knowledge is not only reinforced, but enriched and experienced. National parks, for instance, can focus on essential values that promote responsible participation in local communities and the world at large. Such intellectual stimulation can precipitate healthy action and can have a healthy effect on the individual and the environment.
Affective education which addresses the value aspects of moral development is a vital component in both the formal and nonformal curricula. Traditionally, values transmitted by nonschool agencies, such as family and church, were assigned the important role of character developer. The universal principles, such as commitment, respect, dignity, honesty, and so forth, are essential in the process of good character formation. Though these principles vary in their interpretation and manifestations in different societies, they are valued by mankind and are incorporated in both the cultural traditions and educational systems. Values are most commonly based in psychology, philosophy, and religion. Increasingly, the direction of values are channeled into the formal educational arena and grouped under the subject headings of civics and moral education. Within this framework, focus is on value development, clarification, and articulation. Here again, the study of parks can be used to teach respect for life forms, commitment to action to preserve nature, aesthetics in nature, the intrinsic value in leisure, and tolerance of the views of others.
Parks serve a variety of purposes and service a large and divergent constituency. Perhaps the most popular and primary use of national parks is its provisions for recreation in a passive mode, surrounded by nature’s awesome wonders. As the world becomes more industrialized, the undesirable effects of modernity, such as pollution, overcrowding, crime, alienation, will increasingly require mankind to make a conscious effort to provide sanctuaries that are free of the trappings of development, namely national parks.
The goal of this part of the unit are threefold. It is imperative to introduce the conceptual underpinnings and definitive attributes of national parks. Mastery of the essential prerequisites paves the way for specific focus on selected national parks and the examination of issues that feature in the national park movement.
National parks have played a unique role in the history of the United States and are destined to maintain its unique position in the future environmental configuration. The literature is replete with works that examine the issues relating to national parks. Alfred Runte’s
gives a comprehensive history, with specific focus on culturalism and monumentalism. According to Runte, the park movement developed first and foremost from a need for Americans to compensate for a perceived historical and cultural deficit.
“In response to constant barbs about these deficiencies from Old World critics and New World apologists, by the 1860s many thoughtful Americans had embraced the wonderlands of the West as replacements for man-made marks of achievement. The agelessness of monumental scenery instead of the past accomplishments of Western Civilization was to become the visible symbol of continuity and stability in the New Nations.”
Essentially, the early pioneers were motivated by a sense of pride in their country and the establishment of a ‘national’ monument that would equal, if not supersede, some aspects of their European cultural heritage. James Fennimore Cooper in the
Home of the Picturesque
pursued this theme in his writings, along with other prominent contemporaneous Americans such as Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant. Cooper acknowledged that, although Europe’s castles, ruins, and abbeys would never be eclipsed, the U.S. had earth monuments.
Expansionalism, when coupled with culturism, added momentum and strength to the establishment of parks. America was broadening its borders with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 from France, the acquisition of the Pacific Northwest from Great Britain in 1846, and finally the control of California and the Southwest from Mexico after defeating the Spanish. The expansionist stance became embedded in America’s ethos. Cooper, while never relinquishing the cultural aspects, includes expansion in relationship to park development.
“It must be admitted that Europe offers to the senses sublimer views and certainly grander, than are to be found within our own borders unless we resort to the Rocky Mountains, and the ranges in California and New Mexico.”
Joseph Sax in
Mountains Without Handrails
, related expansionalism to aesthetics as a contributing topic to national park development. In Chapter one, entitled the “Quiet Genesis”, the promise that America’s frontier would be open to the public and not sacrificed to the private sector, extended to national parks.
“The application of that principle to the great scenic wonders could not be realized by granting a sequoia grove or Grand Canyon to each citizen. But it was possible to preserve spectacular sites for the average citizen by holding them as public places to be used and enjoyed by everyone.”
The enjoyment that Sax alluded to, embraced some of the zeal and fervor that characterized the Rocky Mountain School of Art, Music, Photography and other art forms. John Muir, Frederick Law Olmsted, Aldo Leopold and others, cited the unique esoteric and aesthetic qualities inherent in the wilderness in national parks. John Muir wrote,
“Everything here is marching to music, and the harmonies are all so simple and young they are easily apprehended by those who will keep still and listen and look . . . ”
In the same vain, Olmsted, an architect, stated,
“In the interest which natural scenery inspires . . . the attention is aroused and the mind occupied without purpose, without a continuation of the common process of relating the present action, thought or perception to some future end. There is little else that has this quality so purely.”
Norman MacLean, in his autobiographical story, “A River Runs Through It,” views the park as a unique place that enriches any activity. His description of flyfishing evokes the contemplative faculties.
“I can lie for hours at a time and watch the flow of a little stream . . . the secret vagaries of current are clearly revealed here . . . A fold or break of current, a burst of bubbles or the ripple of a stone. . . . releases in me a flood of satisfaction that must, I think, be akin to that which a philosopher feels as his mind is opened to a profound truth.”
Many writers have made significant contributions to park literature. Their insight, commitment and activities have helped to preserve America’s parklands and encourage millions to visit the parks each year to have positive encounters with nature. Values, knowledge, and physical activities are all part of the park experience.