Wilderness in National Parks

Playground or Preserve

John C. Miles

  • Published: 2009
  • Subject Listing: History / Environmental History; Environmental Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 344 pp., 20 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

Wilderness in National Parks casts light on the complicated relationship between the National Park Service and its policy goals of wilderness preservation and recreation. By examining the overlapping and sometimes contradictory responsibilities of the park service and the national wilderness preservation system, John C. Miles finds the National Park Service still struggling to deal with an idea that lies at the core of its mission and yet complicates that mission, nearly one hundred years into its existence.

The National Park Service's ambivalence about wilderness is traced from its beginning to the turn of the twenty-first century. The Service is charged with managing more wilderness acreage than any government agency in the world and, in its early years, frequently favored development over preservation. The public has perceived national parks as permanently protected wilderness resources, but in reality this public confidence rests on shaky ground.

Miles shows how changing conceptions of wilderness affected park management over the years, with a focus on the tension between the goals of providing recreational spaces for the American people and leaving lands pristine and undeveloped for future generations.
John C. Miles is professor of environmental studies at Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington.

"Prior histories of wilderness policy have focused primarily on the National Forest Service, and this discussion of the NPS is needed."
-The Western History Quarterly, The Western History Quarterly

"Wilderness in National Parks is an outstanding addition to the wilderness literature, an impeccably researched, well-argued work that provides important new perspectives on how the wilderness concept was conceived and incorporated by American national park administrators and bureaucrats in the 20th century."
-International Journal of Wilderness, International Journal of Wilderness

"This is a remarkable book that fills an important niche in the literature on US national parks and the National Park Service (NPS). Miles effectively uses primary sources to document the conflict between promotion of the national parks and the erosion of wilderness due to increasing access and use of the parks as America became an auto culture. Highly recommended."
-Choice, Choice

"This is a great case study for those managing or studying how to balance political and resource needs when managing public lands."
-Wildlife Activist, Wildlife Activist

"Wilderness in National Parks is timely, original, ambitious, and comprehensive. It's a big book on a big subject."
-William Dietrich, author of Natural Grace: The Charm, Wonder, and Lessons of Pacific Northwest Animals and Plants

"Wilderness in National Parks is an extensively researched chronological narrative of specific events driving the internal debate within the National Park Service about whether and how to treat the concept of wilderness in managing the national parks. I highly recommend the book."
-Timothy Duane, University of California, Berkeley, and Vermont Law School

"John Miles's Wilderness in National Parks is a well-conceived treatment of the complicated relationship between the National Park Service and wilderness and all of its proponents. He hits the right themes and nicely negotiates the twists and turns of policy. This is a solid addition to the bookshelf of national park histories."
-Hal Rothman, author of The New Urban Park: Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Civic Environmentalism


1. Wilderness and the Origins of National Parks
2. Wilderness and the New Agency
3. Wilderness Becomes an Issue for the Park Service
4. Preservation of the Primeval in the Post-Mather Era
5. More Ferment and Expansion
6. From the War to Director Wirth
7. The Drive for a Wilderness Act
8. A Hesitant Start at Implementation
9. Wilderness Reviews Reluctantly Completed
10. Wilderness in Alaska
11. A New Sort of National Park Wilderness
12. Park Wilderness after the Reviews
13. The Work Continues