Report – EV3200 – National Parks: Preservation or Human Use

EV3200, 2001-03-22

Philosophy behind our National Parks; Preservation or for Human Use?


As human populations increase the pressure from urban living encourage people to seek solitude with nature, the number of visitors to national parks and protected areas continues to increase. Protected areas have important values in sustaining human society, especially through conserving cultural heritage. They also provide for the maintenance of representative samples of natural regions and preservation of biological diversity, and are important in protecting the environmental stability of the surrounding areas (WTO/UNEP, 1992).

The interrelationship between tourism and the environment plays a large role in many countries around the world and more and more extensive legislation is aimed at the protection of natural resource attractions (Ostrowski, 1984).

The first time public lands were preserved for public enjoyment was through The Yellowstone Act in 1872, that preserves the watershed of the Yellowstone River “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” (Anon., 1999). The land was “reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground…”.

National parks and conservation reserves are subject to increasing levels of tourism and recreation, firstly because recreation in natural areas is becoming even more popular, and secondly because real funding for the management and maintenance of conservation reserves has fallen so that reserve managers have been forced to seek alternative sources of funds (Buckley & Pannel, 1990).

One can the wonder if the two functions of national parks are complementary or not.

Ecotourism has been shown in studies to not be very ecological as the concept behind ecotourism. Human use is not all about tourism, it is also about indigenous people living in the protected areas and their impacts, both negative and positive impacts.

Early History of National Parks.

The origin of national parks started in Europe with a tradition among the royals and aristocrats to have private reserves, most commonly used as private hunting grounds and for pleasure (P. Valentine, EV5209, Tropical Environment Studies and Geography, J.C.U. 2001 pers. comm.).

In Munich “Der Englisher Garten” was developed in the late 1780s. These were formal parks designed for pleasure, health orientated (spas) and/or nature based private parklands managed for tourism. The “Naturschutzparken” in Germany are good examples of this (P. Valentine, EV5209, Tropical Environment Studies and Geography, J.C.U. 2001 pers. comm.).

In Great Britain the industrial revolution moved people from the rural areas into city life. People wanted to go back to the rural landscape and in the mid-1840s rambler clubs were established, for example, the Rights of Way Society. After years of fighting between the ramblers clubs, recreationalists and the landowners for their right of access, the National Parks and Access to Countryside Act was established in 1949 (P. Valentine, EV5209, Tropical Environment Studies and Geography, J.C.U. 2001 pers. comm.).

The Yellowstone Act in 1872, was the first time public lands were preserved for public enjoyment (Anon., 1999). However, although Yellowstone National Park was set aside in 1872 as the first national park in the world, there was no real system of national parks until the National Park Service was created. This was done when the National Park Service Organic Act was passed in the US Congress on August 25, 1916, to manage those areas then assigned to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

On August 25, 1916, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson signed ‘The National Park Service Organic Act’ that stated “the Service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of Federal areas known as national parks, monuments and reservations . . . by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” (Anon., 2001a).

The founding of Yellowstone National Park began a world-wide national park movement. Today more than 100 nations and some 1,200 national parks or equivalent preserves have been established (Anon., 2001a).

National Park Use / Human Use.

The objectives of nature area management are often twofold: to protect the natural environment and to facilitate recreational use (FNNPE 1993). These two objectives are not always compatible, and in order to maintain the natural setting, it is sometimes necessary to regulate the recreational use of an area (Vorkinn, 1998).

Conservation issues are now at the forefront of public opinion. The decline of natural rainforests, loss of endangered species, global warming and increasing land degradation have galvanised public support for conservation. However, in much of the world population pressures are dictating that excluding human presence from protected areas is no longer feasible (Wearing & Neil, 1999). Nature conservation’s most acceptable and prevalent form is a utilitarian one in that such areas are deemed necessary to protect and preserve for their potential human benefits. Thus the use and preservationist positions are constrained by two orientations: at one extreme lies the emphasis on human needs being met in parks, while the other leads to overt opposition to the preservation and protection of natural areas as valueless ‘locking up’ of land (Wearing & Neil, 1999).

Not many people would disagree that National Parks are established for public enjoyment; even former superintendent of the North Carolina State Park System, Thomas W. Morse, stated that the one basic purpose of park systems is “”to serve people” (Morse, 1958). Morse further pointed out that parks should serve in certain specific ways and not be all things to all persons.

With human use, comes human impacts. One can wonder if degradation of national parks affects visitors’ nature experiences. Many authors (e.g. Merriam and Smith, 1974; Helgath, 1975; Hammitt and Bixler, 1994) have found that wilderness campers rarely commented on conditions of campsites other than absence or presence of litter. Helgath (1975), Hammitt and Bixler (1994) and Chin et al. (2000) all found that most users expressed satisfaction with trail conditions despite noticeable and severe erosion.

These findings suggest that recreationalists have high levels of acceptability and are not sensitive to environmental impacts (Floyd et al. 1997). This means that managers’ and recreationalists’ perceptions of what is severe or noticeable impacts diverge. In many instances these impacts go unobserved by the visitor and have little influence on their experiences (Hendee and Harris, 1970; Downing and Clark, 1979; Lucas, 1979, 1980).

Many authors (e.g. Merriam and Smith, 1974; Helgath, 1975; Buckley & Pannel, 1990; Hammitt and Bixler, 1994; Obua & Harding, 1997; Vorkinn, 1998; Chin et al., 2000) world wide report about increased trail erosion, impacts on campgrounds, exceeding the carrying capacity of the parks often in addition to decreased funding for management. One can then wonder if it is acceptable to let the parks ‘suffer’ by erosion to be able to cater for the high and rising visitor numbers. Furthermore, the question can be asked: should the parks, and with them the species that live in them, pay the price for our enjoyment?

Preservation of parks.

Preservationist ideas can be dated all the way back to the 1700s. Preservationist argued that vast and open wilderness should be valued as places of spirituality, creativity and as places of renewal (Anon., 1996). These justifications for preserving public land and resources drove government agencies and non-government organisations to push for government management of public lands. Additionally, the preservationist idea was concerned with the possibility that such valuable lands and resources would not be available for future generations to appreciate. The preservationist idea saw these designated landmarks and historical sites as a symbolic representation of American heritage (Anon., 1996).

National parks contain fragile ecosystems that must be preserved, not only for the enjoyment and enrichment of present and future generations, but also for the protection of both cultural heritage and the natural environment. The challenge for park officials and visitors alike is to ensure accessibility for the millions of yearly visitors, while at the same time reducing the environmental impact of so many people (Anon., 2001b; Noe et al., 1997). Gary Everhardt, former U.S. National Park Director, stated in 1992 that “we need to be more sensitive to the needs of the public and how we can better accommodate them without destroying the very thing they came to experience – the nature of the park” (Noe et al., 1997).

While national parks needs to be preserved, absolute preservation would mean no entry to the parks. At the other extreme uncontrolled use could destroy the features that national parks are meant to preserve. Neither of these two are acceptable outcomes (Anon., 2001b).

Protecting Cultural Heritage

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is considered to be an example of both cultural and natural heritage of universal value. As a cultural landscape, the park represents the combined works of nature and man, manifesting the interaction of humankind and its natural environment and is an outstanding example of traditional human type of settlement and land-use known as hunting and gathering. The landscape also reflects part of the outcome of millennia of management, using traditional Aboriginal methods governed by the Tjukurpa (the Aboriginal law) (Anon., 2001d).

Staff of Uluru National Park face an exciting preservation challenge: They must make the park an accessible, educational experience for an increasing number of modern-day visitors while uncovering and protecting Uluru’s prehistoric culture and indigenous values. The joint management between Uluru Kata Tjuta Board of Management and the Australian Nature Conservation Agency are responsible for preserving existing prehistoric paintings and monitor the impact of nature and humans on these non-renewable cultural resources (Anon., 2001d).

Biological Protection

Biological Protection have come a long way since the beginning of the 20th century. For an example, when the U.S. Army was in charge in Yellowstone National Park, bears were chained to trees so visitors could see the bears up close. At one time near the geysers and hot pools, there used to be laundries and visitors tried injecting soaps to set off geyser eruptions. Elk were caged, predators were hunted, and roads were built. The balance had tipped, all in good faith, toward a public amusement park (Anon., 2001c).

Gradually, the National Park Service has moved toward minimal interference with the park’s natural state. The National Park Service recognised that Yellowstone, as large as it is, is not a self-contained ecosystem. The complex geothermal structures extends beyond park borders. Migration of animals also extends beyond park boarders through adjacent ranch lands and national forests in search of food (Anon., 2001c).

Programs has been initiated to better protect the park, its wildlife, and its resources. Interpretation for visitors about the park’s fragile ecosystem through park programs, exhibits, and literature were set in place. Boardwalks help to minimise the delicate geothermal areas, and wildlife management programs were also set up (Anon., 2001c).

However, the process of maintaining the balance of nature in national parks is an ongoing one. Park officials, scientists, and others continue to study for clues about preserving our national parks.


In the late 19th early 20th century many national parks were more like amusement parks, in Yellowstone national park for example, park officials chained some of the mega-fauna to trees for public enjoyment.

In the late part of the 20th century, an increasing recognition of the values of such areas for preservation and conservation of biological heritage was established. Preservation of threatened habitat types and endangered species conservation grew in importance.

Park managers are faced with increasing management problems and declining funds to be able to manage for such problems.


Anon., (1996) Preservationism and The National Park Service


Anon., (1999) The National Park Service URL:

Anon., (2001a) The National Park Service URL:

Anon., (2001b) American Park Network URL:

Anon., (2001c) American Park Network URL:

Anon., (2001d) Protected Area Programme URL:

Buckley, R. and Pannel, J. (1990) Environmental Impacts of Tourism and Recreation in National Parks and Conservation Reserves. The Journal of Tourism Studies. 1(1): 24-32.

Chin, C.L.M., Moore, S.A. & Wallington, T.J. (2000) Ecotourism in Bako National Park, Borneo: Visitors’ Perspective on Environmental Impacts and their Management. Journal of Sustainable Tourism. 8(1): 20-35.

Downing, K. and Clark, R.N. (1979) User’s and managers’ perceptions of dispersed recreation impacts: A focus on roaded forest lands. pp. 18-23 In Proceedings of the Wildland Recreation Impacts Conference. USDA Forest Service, USDA National Park Service.

Floyd, M.F., Jang, H. & Noe, F.P. (1997) The Relationship between Environmental Concern and Acceptability of Environmental Impacts among Visitors to Two U.S. National Park Settings. Journal of Environmental Management. 51: 391-412.

FNNPE (Federation of Nature and National Parks of Europe). (1993) Loving them to death? Sustainable tourism in Europe’s nature and national parks. Report from the Federation Working Group. Grafebau, Germany.

Hammitt, W.E. and Bixler, R.D. (1994) Visitor Perception of Impacts at Three National Parks. Final Report to the Southeast Region of the USDI National Park Service.

Helgath, S.F. (1975) Trail Detoriation in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. USDA Forest Service Research Note.

Hendee, J.C. and Harris, R.W. (1970) Foresters’ perceptions of wilderness-users attitudes and preferences. Journal of Forestry. 68: 759-762.

Obua, J. and Harding, D.M. (1997) Environmental Impacts of Ecotourism in Kibale National Park, Uganda. Journal of Sustainable Tourism. 5(3): 213-223.

Ostrowski, S. (1984) Tourism in Protected Areas – The Case of Poland. Tourism Management, June issue. Pp. 118-122.

Lucas, R.C. (1979) Perceptions of non-motorised recreational impacts: A review of research findings. In Proceedings of the Wildland Recreation Impacts Conference. USDA Forest Service, USDI National Park Service. pp. 24-31

Lucas, R.C. (1980) Use Patterns and Visitor Characteristics, Attitudes and Preference in Nine Wilderness and Other Roadless Areas. USDA Forest Service Research Paper.

Merriam, L.C. and Smith, C.K. (1974) Visitor Impacts on Newly developed campsites in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Journal of Forestry. 72: 627-630.

Morse, T.W. (1958) Basic Purpose of State Parks. Park Practice Guidelines. Wheeling, W. Va: American Institute of Park Executives.

Noe, F.P., Hammitt, W.E. and Bixler, R.D. (1997) Park User Perceptions of Resource and Use Impacts Under Varied Situations in Three National Parks. Journal of Environmental Management vol. 49, pp. 323-336.

Vorkinn, M. (1998) Visitor Response to Management Regulations – A Study Among Recreationalists in Southern Norway. Environmental Management vol. 22, No. 5, pp 737-746.

Wearing, S. & Neil, J. (1999) Ecotourism: Impacts, Potentials and Possibilities Reed Educational and Professional Publishing Ltd, Oxford.

WTO/UNEP (1992) Guidelines: Development of National Parks and Protected Areas for Tourism. WTO/UNEP Joint Publication, Madrid.

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