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One Hundred Years in Yosemite (1947) by Carl P. Russell


CHAPTER X


*

THE INTERPRETERS

The superlative qualities of the scenic features and such outstanding biological characteristics as the forests of the Yosemite region compelled the interest of scientists as soon as the area received wide mention in the press. The miners’ concern with mineral values directed the attention of mining engineers upon the sections both east and west of Yosemite Valley. As early as 1853 Professor John B. Trask attempted to explain the geology of the Tuolumne-Merced watersheds.

The California State Geological Survey was established in 1860. Josiah Dwight Whitney, of Harvard University, was made State Geologist. He enlisted the services of several young men who were destined to become leaders in American geological and topographical work. William H. Brewer, William Ashburner, Chester Averill, Charles F. Hoffmann, William M. Gabb, James T. Gardiner, and Clarence King were among the members of the Whitney Survey. Over a period of ten years they penetrated the remote and unknown canyons and climbed the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, recording their findings and mapping the wild terrain. They made the first contribution to accurate and detailed knowledge of the region embraced in the present Yosemite National Park.

In 1863, Whitney himself began studies in the Yosemite region.1 [ 1See Farquhar, 1926, pp. 15-23. ] He concluded that the Yosemite Valley resulted from a sinking of a local block of the earth’s crust. His assistant, King, recognized evidences of a glacier’s having passed through the valley, but Whitney, although he published this fact in his official report, later stoutly denied it. Whitney at first believed the domes to have risen up as great bubbles of fluid granite.

Galen Clark, while not a trained geologist, was a careful observer and commanded considerable respect from the public. He believed that Yosemite Valley originated through the explosion of close-set domes of molten rock and that water action then cleared the gorge of debris and left it in its present form.

King, although he was the first to observe glacier polish and moraines in the Yosemite Valley, did not attribute any great part of the excavation of the valley to the glacier. He regarded the Yosemite as a simple crack or rent in the crust of the earth.

John Muir, who followed these early students, maintained that ice had accomplished nearly all the Yosemite sculpturing.

H. W. Turner, on the other hand, found no reason to believe that anything other than stream action, influenced by the peculiar rock structure, had had an important role in the origin of the valley, although he recognized that it had been the pathway of a glacier.

Joseph LeConte,2 [ 2 Joseph LeConte became a faculty member at the University of California in 1869 and made his first trip to Yosemite in 1870. Of that experience, he wrote, “This trip was almost an era in my life.” For the rest of his life, he devoted much time to Sierra studies. He died suddenly in the valley, July 6, 1901. The LeConte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite Valley, built by the Sierra Club in 1903, commemorates his work (see Sierra Club Bulletin, 1904, 1905; Farquhar, 1926, pp. 30-32). ] W. H. Brewer, M. G. Macomb,3 [ 3 Lt. Montgomery Meigs Macomb, assisted by J. C. Spiller and F. O. Maxson, explored the Yosemite region in 1878 and 1879. Their work was a part of the program of the U. S. Geographical Surveys West of the 100th Meridian, Capt. George M. Wheeler in charge. This program received the general direction of the Chief of Engineers, U. S. Army. Macomb’s field work yielded the data for a map which was standard in the Yosemite region for many years (see U. S. War Dept., 1879). ] George Davidson;4 [ 4 In 1879, the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey sent a reconnaissance party into the Yosemite high country under the leadership of George Davidson. Mount Conness was occupied on that occasion and again in 1887 and 1890 (see p. 72; also Davidson, 1892). ] I. C. Russell,5 [ 5 The United States Geological Survey was organized in 1878 under the direction of Clarence King. In 1882 and 1883, a thorough study was made of the Yosemite high country west of Mono Lake. Israel C. Russell was in charge of this field work. Willard D. Johnson and Grove Karl Gilbert assisted him. These men confirmed some of the original work done by Muir and Joseph LeConte (See U. S. Geological Survey, 1883-84, pp. 31-32, 303-328; 1886-87, I; 261-394; I. C. Russell, 1897, pp. 37-54; Farquhar, 1926, p. 42). ] George F. Becker, Willard D. Johnson, E. C. Andrews, Douglas W. Johnson, F. L. Ransome, J. N. LeConte, A. C. Lawson, Eliot Blackwelder, Ernst Cloos, John P. Buwalda, M. E. Beatty, and George D. Louderback have all studied the geology of the Yosemite Valley or the Yosemite region and have published the results of their work. The influences of the topography of the Sierra Nevada upon meteorological conditions were studied and reported upon by W. A. Glassford in the early ’nineties.

Prior to 1913, however, no one had made a comprehensive study of the geology of the entire Yosemite region. Ideas regarding the origin of the valley and related features were still hazy. In 1913, at the instance of the Sierra Club, the U. S. Geological Survey sent out a party of scientists to begin a systematic and detailed investigation. These men were Franšois E. Matthes and Frank C. Calkins. The former was to study especially the history of the development of the Yosemite Valley; the latter to study the different types of rock. In the years that have elapsed, Matthes has carried his investigations over the entire Yosemite region and into the areas to north and south. Thus he has worked out quite definitely, back to its beginning, the story of the origin of the Yosemite and of the other valleys of the same type in the Sierra Nevada. His conclusions, published by the government, have stood the test of criticism by other members of his profession.

An extensive bibliography of the geology of Yosemite appears in A Bibliography of National Parks and Monuments West of the Mississippi River, Vol. I, 1941, pp. 95-106. The list of Matthes’ contributions to Yosemite literature is long. Probably the most significant and generally useful item is Geologic History of the Yosemite Valley. This is a thorough report on the author’s study and also contains a paper by Frank C. Calkins on the granitic rocks of the Yosemite region.

Indians provided the motive for the first penetration of the whites into Yosemite Valley, but the ethnology of the region received scant attention during the first years of contacts with the aborigines. Lafayette H. Bunnell, a member of the “discovery” party of 1851, has provided satisfying accounts of the primitive Ah-wah-nee-chees in the valley, and Galen Clark, who was intimately acquainted with members of the original band, recorded their history, customs, and traditions many years after his early contacts with them. In the early ’seventies, Stephen Powers gave to them the attention of a professional ethnologist, and Constance F. Gordon-Cumming studied them in the ’eighties.

In 1898, the Bureau of American Ethnology investigated the Indians of the Tuolumne country, and William H. Holmes published the findings. Samuel A. Barrett first published on the geography and dialects of the Miwok (of which the Yosemite Indians were a part) in 1908. Barrett’s work with the Miwok continued for many years, and he is credited with several important papers. Alfred L. Kroeber, a leading authority on California Indians, first published on the Miwok in 1907 and since has published extensively on the Ah-wah-nee-chees and all their neighbors. E. W. Gifford, who has been associated with both Barrett and Kroeber in the ethnological work of the University of California, has made important contributions to the published history and culture of the Miwok. His first paper on his work in the Yosemite region appeared in 1916. C. Hart Merriam devoted careful study to the myths, folk tales, and village sites of the Yosemite Indians early in the 1900’s, and his published accounts appeared in 1910 and 1917. Mrs. H. J. Taylor, working in Yosemite Valley, obtained much important data from one of the last members of the Yosemite band, Maria Lebrado, and since 1932 has published several significant items. In 1941, Elizabeth H. Godfrey, of the Yosemite Museum staff, compiled a popular summary of the work done on the Yosemites entitled, “Yosemite Indians Yesterday and Today,” Yosemite Nature Notes, 1941. The Yosemite Museum collections of objects and documents include valuable local Indian materials, which provide a most interesting and convincing story of the Ah-wah-nee-chees.

In the field of biology, the Yosemite forests attracted the first attention of scientists. Botanists generally agree that in the Big Tree, the sugar pine, the yellow pine (ponderosa and Jeffrey), the red and white firs, and the incense cedar of the Sierra is the finest and most remarkable group of conifers in the world. The Big Tree (Sequoia gigantea), of course, is the most phenomenal and claims first place, chronologically, in the scientific literature. In the number of workers concerned with it and in the quantity of their writings, the Big Tree also holds a respected place.

Among the early writers who dealt with the Big Tree groves of the present Yosemite National Park were Hutchings, Whitney, Asa Gray, Isaac N. Bromley, J. Otis Williams, Muir, Bunnell, and Clark. The latter was among the first to study the Sequoia groves of the Yosemite but he did not publish for nearly half a century after he made his first observations. Following the early announcements of the existence of the Tuolumne, Merced, and Mariposa groves, another group of botanists and semiprofessional workers concentrated upon the study of the Big Tree. Walter G. Marshall, Charles Palache, Paul Shoup, Julius Starke, George Dollar, and W. R. Dudley made their contributions at this time, and Muir redoubled his initial efforts. After the turn of the century, botanists and foresters in numbers concentrated upon the Big Tree. Their publications are too numerous to list, but special mention must be made of the work of Willis L. Jepson, George B. Sudworth, Ellsworth Huntington, James G. Shirley, L. E Cook, and the continued inspired writing of Muir. The sequoia, oldest living thing, is now and always will be a fascinating subject for scientific and philosophical study. Until a thorough investigation of the ecology of a grove of giant sequoias has been made and its result published, there remains a practical need for research in this realm.

Botanical studies other than investigations of the Big Tree were limited in the pioneer days to the work of John Muir. In the early 1900’s, Harvey M. and Carlotta C. Hall did important work in the present national park, and their published works continue to be dependable guides for present-day botanists. Enid Michael, long a resident in Yosemite Valley, was untiring in her field studies, and her many published articles about the flora of the park are of importance to all investigators. Carl W. Sharsmith has studied intensively in the high mountain “gardens” of the park. Mary C. Tresidder published a very useful guide to the trees of the park in 1932. Emil F. Ernst has studied the forests and forest enemies in the park for many years. Willis L. Jepson’s work constitutes a substantial basis for all botanical studies in Yosemite as it is for other parts of the state, and the investigations of LeRoy Abrams, 1911, have been important to subsequent workers. The studies of George M. Wright, during his residence in the park in the 1920’s, resulted in significant papers on life zones in Yosemite and were the groundwork for the later important studies by him and his associates in founding and conducting broad biological surveys in the entire national park system—an undertaking briefly described later in this chapter.

The Yosemite fauna elicited no particular attention from pioneers other than James Capen Adams, who in 1884 captured grizzly bears for exhibit purposes, and John Muir, who applied himself to certain bird and mammal studies quite as enthusiastically as he did to botany and geology. In the opening years of the twentieth century, a few bird students, among them W. Otto Emerson, W. K. Fisher, Virginia Garland, C. A. Keeler, M. S. Ray, and O. Widman, published on their observations in the present park, but not until Joseph Grinnell initiated his publication program in 1911 did Yosemite zoology find reasonable representation in scientific journals. Grinnell and his staff from the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology of the University of California began formal field work in Yosemite in the fall of 1914 and continued through 1920 in making a complete survey of the vertebrate natural history of the region. Grinnell, Tracy I. Storer, Walter P. Taylor, Joseph Dixon, Charles L. Camp, Gordon F. Ferris, Charles D. Holliger, and Donald D. McLean participated in the work. The results of this survey, Grinnell and Storer’s Animal Life in the Yosemite, published by the University of California Press in 1924, constitutes an exhaustive and most useful reference on the subject. David Starr Jordan considered it the best original work on life histories published in the West. This study, like the geological work by Matthes, was endorsed and facilitated by the Sierra Club.

After the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology paved the way, wildlife studies in the park increased, and Yosemite found better representation in the biological literature. Most of the workers who had participated in Grinnell’s survey published extensively. Others who made notable contributions are Charles W. and Enid Michael, Barton W. Evermann, A. B. Howell, Vernon Bailey, J. M. Miller, John A. Comstock, E. O. Essig, and Edwin C. Van Dyke.

After 1920, when the National Park Service instituted a park-naturalist program in Yosemite, the regular and seasonal employees of the Naturalist Department made many contributions to the scientific knowledge of the park. Among the permanent park naturalists who conducted biological investigations are Ansel F. Hall, Carl P. Russell, George M. Wright, C. A. Harwell, C. C. Presnall, A. E. Borell, M. E. Beatty, James Cole, C. Frank Brockman, M. V. Walker, Harry Parker, and Russell Grater. D. D. McLean, who participated in the Grinnell Survey, also made further contributions as a regular employee of the Naturalist Department. Dr. H. C. Bryant, first as a seasonal employee and later as a regular member of the Director’s staff, published extensively on his studies in the park and was influential in starting many other workers on investigations of biological nature.

One important development in biological research in Yosemite had an influence on the wildlife program of the entire National Park Service. George M. Wright, ranger and Assistant Park Naturalist, during the late 1920’s sensed the dangers of the uncoordinated wildlife policy of the National Park Service and determined that there should be better administrative understanding of the normal biotic complex of Yosemite and all other national parks. In 1929, Wright was placed on a field status in order that he might organize a central unit of wildlife investigators to survey the wildlife problems of the National Park Service and recommend a broad Service-wide policy of wildlife management. Joseph S. Dixon and Ben W. Thompson were employed by Wright to assist him in this undertaking. Their work during the next several years was conducted from headquarters in Berkeley, California, and from Washington, D. C. It demonstrated that a Wildlife Division was an important administrative adjunct in the Director’s organization. In 1936, Wright lost his life while in the course of his significant work. Such progress had been made in establishing policy and procedure that the program persisted. It holds a strategic place in the regular administrative set-up of the Director’s office and reaches all field areas with its guidance.

The bibliography of scientific work done in Yosemite National Park since World War I is too extensive to be included here. A goodly part of it is contained in A Bibliography of National Parks and Monuments West of the Mississippi River. References to research projects published since the appearance of that bibliography appear in the publications of the Yosemite Natural History Association, particularly the monthly journal, Yosemite Nature Notes. Especially significant items dealing with wildlife policy and trends in park management are included in the references appended to the present volume. In brief, it may be said that the wildlife problems of Yosemite National Park are now fairly well defined and that administrative and technical practices are so aligned as to assure preservation of the faunal and floral characteristics of the reservation within the concept of “public enjoyment and use” of today and tomorrow. As Director of the National Park Service, Newton B. Drury has said, “It is national park policy to display wildlife in a natural manner. The normal habits of animals are interfered with as little as possible, and artificial management is refrained from except for protective purposes and then only as a last resort. The pauperizing or domestication of the native animals is avoided, as is also the herding or feeding of these animals to provide ‘shows.’ Under this policy the park is a wildlife refuge but it is neither a circus or a zoo.”

The wildlife of Yosemite, like its forests and wildflower displays, its renowned cliffs and waterfalls, its glacial pavements, its meadows and valleys, and its spectacular mountaintops, has enthralled its lay visitors quite as it has galvanized the scientist and technician. When Stephen T. Mather assumed the directorship of the national parks in 1916, he determined at the outset to provide park visitors with the information on the natural and historic features which they wanted. Educational endeavors were made a part of his projected program even before a staff had been organized. Surveys of outdoor educational methods and nature teaching as practiced in several European countries had been made in 1915 by C. M. Goethe, and his reports of the success of this work had inspired a few Americans to establish similar educational work in the United States. The California Fish and Game Commission in 1918 sent its educational director, Dr. Harold C. Bryant, into the Sierra to reach vacationists with the message of the conservationist. Yosemite National Park and the playground areas about Lake Tahoe witnessed the introduction of “nature guiding” several years prior to the inclusion of the work in the broad field program of the National Park Service.

In 1920, Mr. Mather and some of his friends joined in supporting this nature teaching in Yosemite, and Dr. Bryant and Dr. Loye Holmes Miller were employed to lay the foundation of what has continued to be an important part of the program of the Branch of Natural History.

A personal letter from Dr. Miller, University of California, Los Angeles, provides a firsthand account of his pioneering in interpretive work in Yosemite:

I think John Muir was the first Yosemite guide (see A Son of the Wilderness, by L. M. Wolfe). We smaller folk could only strive to emulate. My first experience in the valley involved a six-week period during the summer of 1917 under private auspices. Professor M. L. Maclellan (geology) and I (biology) held a summer school for public school teachers who were largely from Long Beach, California. The work consisted of lectures and field trips about the valley floor and the trails to the rim and to Merced Lake.

During the summer of 1919 I was doing similar work at Tahoe when Mr. Stephen T. Mather came through on a flying trip. He asked me to confer with him on the subject of Nature Guide work in Yosemite and urged me to come at once to the valley and begin the work there. It was late in the season and I had spent most of my free time for the year. Furthermore, it seemed to me that there should be some preparation made for the work, including a measure of publicity in the park guidebooks. I therefore urged Mr. Mather to wait until 1920 for the inauguration of an official Nature Guide service. He agreed and we parted with a definite plan for 1920.

In the meantime Mr. C. M. Goethe of Sacramento had become interested in the movement and had engaged Dr. H. C. Bryant in a tour of certain summer camps. I also urged the appointment of Dr. Bryant for the Yosemite work in 1920. My University schedule was such that Dr. Bryant was able to report earlier than I. He therefore gave the first official work in the valley. We cooperated in it after my arrival. I knew that I could not devote many summers to the service because of other duties as an officer of the University. Furthermore, it seemed to me that Dr. Bryant was just the man to carry on to a larger field of development. I therefore urged repeatedly that he make a full-time activity of the movement. This end was ultimately realized. Bryant made all the official reports of our work (with my endorsement). Those reports are in the files of the Superintendent’s office in the park.

During the month of January, 1921, Dr. Bryant and I gave our services to the cause in an extended lecture tour through the eastern and middle western states. This effort was underwritten personally by Mr. Mather. The purpose and theme in this series was to publicize and stimulate interest in the natural history values of the park and the appreciation of nature through an increased knowledge and understanding.

I returned to Yosemite in the summer of 1921—again in cooperation with Dr. Bryant. The movement seemed to be well on its feet so I withdrew at the end of that summer. We were appointed as temporary rangers with duties informally defined. Each morning a field trip was conducted by one or the other of us alternately, the alternate holding office hours for questions by visitors. (Questions averaged 45 to the hour). In the afternoon a children’s field class was held. In the evening we alternated with talks at Camp Curry and the “Old Village” near Sentinel Bridge. They were busy days but interest was good. Week ends were devoted to overnight trips by one or the other of us.

At the urgent request of Mr. Ansel Hall I initiated the same type of work at Crater Lake Park, Oregon, in 1926 and continued it in 1927. My son, Alden Miller, was associated with me and two students, Miss Leigh Marian Larson and Miss Ruth Randall, acted as volunteers in charge of wildflower display. Reports of this work should be in the Crater Lake files. During the summer we were visited by Mr. Mather, by Dr. John C. Merriam, and by Mr. John D. Rockefeller and family. The interest of these men was immediate and finally bore material fruit in improvement of Crater Lake Park and the whole Nature Guide movement in America. Just as had been the case at Yosemite, we were appointed as rangers. My duties at Crater Lake included nature guiding, directing traffic, comforting crying babies, rounding up stray dogs, and a wild drive down the mountain to Medford Hospital with a writhing appendicitis patient and his distracted wife in the rear seat.

I have not been officially connected with the work since but have sent many graduate students to the Yosemite Field School with what I hope was the right point of view. My own retirement at 70 years leaves me out of the picture except in an advisory capacity. Just last week in conference with my associates here, I urged Park Naturalist activity as one of the public services for which our department should train young men. So you see that my interests are still with the movement. It is a field of infinite horizon.

Sincerely yours,    

Loye Miller

March 18, 1916.

Dr. H. C. Bryant, the coworker referred to by Dr. Miller, became Assistant Director of the National Park Service in charge of interpretive work for all national parks. To Dr. Miller’s statement may be added Bryant’s words about interpretive work:

In the spring of 1921, through a co÷perative arrangement with the California Fish and Game Commission, the National Park Service instituted a free nature-guide service in Yosemite. The aim of this service was to furnish useful information regarding trees, wildflowers, birds, and mammals, and their conservation, and to stimulate interest in the scientific interpretation of natural phenomena. The means used to attain this aim were: trips afield; formal lectures, illustrated with lantern slides or motion pictures; ten-minute campfire talks, given alternately at the main resorts of the park; a stated office hour when questions regarding the natural history of the park could be answered; a library of dependable reference works, and a flower show where the commoner wildflowers, properly labeled, were displayed. Occasionally, visiting scientists helped by giving lectures.

About this same time, a Yosemite ranger, Ansel F. Hall, conceived the idea of establishing a Yosemite museum to serve as a public contact center and general headquarters for the interpretive program. Superintendent W. B. Lewis endorsed the plan, and the old Chris Jorgenson artists’ studio was made into a temporary museum; Hall was placed in charge as permanent educational officer. The same year found a museum program under way in Yellowstone National Park, where Milton P. Skinner was made park naturalist, and in Mesa Verde National Park, where Superintendent Jesse Nusbaum organized a museum to care for the archeological treasures brought to light among the ruins of prehistoric man’s abode. Glacier, Grand Canyon, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, Sequoia, and Zion quickly organized educational programs similar to those established by Yosemite and Yellowstone, and in 1923 Hall, with headquarters in Berkeley, was designated to coordinate and direct the interpretive work in all parks. Working with Dr. Frank R. Oastler, Hall in 1924 organized a comprehensive plan of educational activities and defined the objectives of the naturalist group.

In 1924, C. J. Hamlin was president of the American Association of Museums. The opportunities opened by national park museums were called to his attention by Hall, and the American Association of Museums immediately investigated the possibilities of launching adequate museum programs in the parks. In response to recommendations made by the Association and the National Park Service, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial made funds available with which to construct a fireproof museum in Yosemite National Park. This, one of the first permanent national park museums, became the natural center around which revolves the educational program in Yosemite. Even before the Yosemite museum installations had been opened to the public, demonstration of the effectiveness of the institution as headquarters for the educational staff and visiting scientists convinced leaders in the American Association of Museums that further effort should be made to establish a general program of museum work in national parks. Additional funds were obtained from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, and new museums were built in Grand Canyon and Yellowstone national parks. Dr. Herman C. Bumpus, who had guided the museum planning and construction in Yosemite, continued as the administrator representing the association and Rockefeller interests, and Herbert Maier was architect and field superintendent on the construction projects. It was Dr. Bumpus who originated the “focal-point museum” idea.

When the museums of Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone had demonstrated their value to visitors and staff alike, they were accepted somewhat as models for future work, and upon the strength of their success, the Service found it possible to obtain regular government appropriations with which to build several additional museums in national parks and monuments. When P.W.A. funds became available, further impetus was given to the museum program, and a Museum Division of the Service was established in 1935, embracing historic areas of the East as well as the scenic national parks. It was my privilege to serve as the first head of this unit. The work of the Museum Division has expanded until there are more than one hundred small national park and monument museums and historic-house museums; more are planned for the future.

In order to stimulate balanced development of interpretive programs, Ray Lyman Wilbur,. Secretary of the Interior, appointed a committee of educators under the chairmanship of Dr. John C. Merriam to study the broad educational possibilities in national parks (see Wilbur, 1929). In 1929, this committee recommended that an educational branch, with headquarters in Washington, be established in the Service. It was further recommended that the committee continue to function on a permanent basis as an advisory body, “whose duty it shall be to advise the Director of National Parks on matters pertinent to educational policy and developments.”

Dr. Bryant, who since 1920 had served as a summer employee on the Yosemite educational staff and who had been a member of the Committee on Study of Educational Problems in National Parks, was made head of the new branch on July 1, 1930. Antedating the establishment of the branch by one year was the previously mentioned wildlife survey instituted in national parks by George M. Wright, who began his career in the National Park Service as a park ranger in Yosemite in 1927.

Thus it is evident that the pioneer interpretive work done in Yosemite projected its influence and its personnel into the wider fields of “nature guiding” and museum programs throughout the National Park Service. It may be shown, also, that the educational work done by the Yosemite staff has been instrumental in advancing the naturalist programs in state parks and elsewhere where out-of-door nature teaching is offered to the public.6 [ 6See Ralph H. Levis, 1941 and 1945; Robert C. Robinson, 1940. ] Some three hundred public areas and agencies in the United States provide naturalist services modeled on the Yosemite plan. Only ten per cent of these are in the National Park System.

One of the far-reaching influences of the Yosemite naturalist department is the Yosemite School of Field Natural History, a summer school for the training of naturalists, where emphasis is placed on the study of living things in their natural environment. The school was founded in 1925 by Dr. H. C. Bryant in answer to a demand for better trained naturalists for the Yosemite staff. There was need for a training not furnished by the universities. The California Fish and Game Commission cooperated with the National Park Service in starting this school program. The staff is composed of park naturalists and the regular Yosemite ranger-naturalist force, aided by specialists from universities and other government bureaus. The last week of the field period is spent in making studies at timberline.

As the name implies, emphasis is placed on field work. The work is of university grade, although no university credit is offered. Graduates of this school are filling positions as nature guides in parks and summer camps throughout the country. Many of the naturalist and ranger-naturalist positions in the National Park Service are held by graduates of this field school.

The Park Naturalist position in Yosemite National Park has been held by Ansel F. Hall, 1922-1923; Carl P. Russell, 1923-1929; C. A. Harwell, 1929-1940; C. Frank Brockman, 1941-1946; and now, Donald Edward McHenry. These men and their assistants have supervised the naturalist activities including the Yosemite Museum program, directed the Yosemite School of Field Natural History, and the activities of the Yosemite Natural History Association, including the editing and publishing of Yosemite Nature Notes. This last-named organization has existed since 1924 as a society cooperating with the National Park Service in advancing the work of the Yosemite Naturalist Department. It is the successor of the Yosemite Museum Association formed by Ansel E. Hall in 1920. On April 24, 1925, members of its advisory council and board of trustees defined these purposes of the Association:

  1. To gather and disseminate information regarding birds, mammals, flowers, trees, Indians, history, geology, trails, scenic features, and other subjects so well exemplified by Nature in Yosemite National Park and elsewhere in the Sierra Nevada.
  2. To develop and enlarge the Yosemite Museum (in cooperation with the National Park Service) and to establish subsidiary units, such as the Glacier Point Lookout and branches of similar nature.
  3. To contribute in every way possible to the development of the educational activities of the Yosemite Nature Guide Service.
  4. To publish (in co÷peration with the National Park Service) Yosemite Nature Notes, a periodical containing articles of scientific interest concerning the matters referred to in this statement of purposes.
  5. To promote scientific investigation along the lines of greatest popular interest and to publish from time to time bulletins or circulars of a nontechnical nature.
  6. To maintain in Yosemite Valley a library containing works of historical, scientific, and popular interest.
  7. To study the living conditions, past and present, of the remaining Indians of the Yosemite region, for the purpose of preserving their arts, customs, and legends.
  8. To strictly limit the operations, business, property, and assets of the association to purposes which shall be scientific and educational, in order that the association shall not be organized, constituted, or operated for profit, and so that no part of the net income of the association shall inure to the benefit of any member or other party thereto.

These objectives in almost every particular are also the objectives of the Naturalist Department of Yosemite National Park. In 1937 the Congress authorized park naturalists and other government employees to devote their regular working hours to the program of the Yosemite Natural History Association and similar “cooperating societies” in national parks which might be designated by the Secretary of the Interior. In effect, the Yosemite Natural History Association is an auxiliary of the naturalist department. For nearly twenty-five years it has adhered to its defined purposes, and the support it has given to the interpretive program has furthered research in the park, enriched the collections of the Yosemite Museum, and promoted the dissemination of the Yosemite story.

The function of the interpreters has been, and their purpose must be, to enrich the mountain experience of the Yosemite traveler and thereby demonstrate that a national park is far more than a tourist’s way station. Upon today’s visitor and his full awareness of national-park values the future of the national-park concept must depend. A public which, in its enjoyment of the parks, comprehends the importance of “the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein,” will insist that they remain unimpaired.


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