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Great American Park

early November 2023, home

Trying to get used to a new 'normal', without the weight of 'the next parks' hanging over me. I still have to post my blog of my final adventure - I'm working on it! - but took a few days off to cover a little unfinished business.

In the early days of the challenge, before I took my first trip, I had grand ideas for theme songs of the trip. I quickly came up with new lyrics for the Paul Simon song that became 60 Ways For National Parks (available on YouTube at ). The notion of a greater lyrical challenge soon popped into my head:

What if I took the song American Pie (which related the history of rock'n'roll) and tweaked it to tell the history of National Parks?

It took me a bit of time and research to develop lyrics (including losing some work and having to re-create a passage) to come up with a song that satisfied me. By that time, I had started visiting parks, so it sat in a folder, and I occasionally pulled it out to show people. With the distraction of traveling, and the knowledge that my voice could not do the song justice, it festered. (With a song that long, it would take many hundreds of dollars to hire freelancers for it.)

Fast forward to the present. I ended my parks with a cold that degenerated into acute bronchitis. A surprising side effect was that my singing voice went from unlistenable to merely grating. Riding with the delusion that I could actually get through it, I tackled the song. Let me say that I consider this a demo only, with a notion to revisit it in the future with a better plan.

I have posted it to YouTube at .

Just like in American Pie, the lyrics require interpretation - especially since most people don't know the history of the parks. Thus, I am including the lyrics below, interspersed with footnotes to explain further. I would love to hear your impressions!


A long, long time ago

I can still remember

of those days when the west was wild

and I knew of those pioneers

traveling for many years

and telling stories that other men reviled 1

But in the 1870s

Those pioneers said, "Congress, please!

Set aside this great land

Far from the huckster's hands!”

"Let us profit!" the hucksters cried 2

Instead the nation could take pride

Something touched us deep inside

The day the parks took flight 3


1. In the latter half of the 19th century, fur traders and explorers wandered throughout the uncharted west. An occasional person would happen by the geysers and mudpots of the Yellowstone basin, and return with wild stories of the surreal land. Those stories of "fire and brimstone" were generally met with skepticism and passed off as delirium or myth.

2. In 1870, the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition explored the Yellowstone region for a month, detailing what they found. Cornelius Hedges, a writer and lawyer and member of the expedition, wrote articles about the unique area, and suggested it should be protected. In 1871 Ferdinand Hayden led the Hayden Geological Survey to the area, and the group included Thomas Moran and William Henry Jackson who produced paintings and photographs of the land. The railroad companies and others saw how they could profit from such attractions, and schemed to develop it for their profit.

3. The visual artifacts produced by the survey convinced Congress to withdraw the area from public auction, and established the park on March 1, 1872.


So, Hello, great American park

Drove my Chevy on vacation, it truly was a lark

Fantastic views and wildlife from dawn until dark

In the nighttime skies the stars give a spark

Good night, great American park


Did you really save the land

and will it stay safe from greedy hands 4

if your conscience tells you so?

And do you believe it plays a role

can nature save your mortal soul

and can it teach me how to take life real slow?

Well I know there's more lands we can save

Of Mackinac they really rave 5

they made it "Park rev. 2"

in 20 years, it was through

I heard that soon they had a park down under 6

and then came Banff, it was a wonder

Those great lands, man could not plunder

The day the parks took flight


4. In the late 19th century, the conservation movement had barely begun. Prior to this, it had seemed as if the West had limitless land, available for plundering and profit. In the 1880s John Muir began agitating for public protection for many of the wonderful landscapes of the West.

5. Due to the politicking of US Senator Tomas W. Ferry, Mackinac Island was named Mackinac National Park in 1875, the world's second national park. The army, which had a garrison on the island, administered the park. However, when the garrison was decommissioned in 1895, the park reverted to state control and became Michigan's first state park.

6. Australia established Royal National Park in 1879, today the world's second oldest National Park. Banff became Canada's first National Park in 1885.

So, Hello, great American park...


Now for 18 years we've been on our own

and the army is ruling Yellowstone 7

but that's not how things need to be

The moneyed men want to rape the land 8

Claim mining rights is what they planned

Steal the land away from you and me

Our national pride, it was at stake 9

Foreigners said, "Your culture's fake!"

but we confirmed the parks

Kept them from the sharks

Other eyes a-glimmer with thoughts of timber 10

The big trees' future was looking dimmer

but two new parks made the land limber 11

More parks, they did take flight


7. With little official protection in the early years, poaching, mining, and grazing went unchallenged in Yellowstone. In 1886, the Army established a post at Mammoth Hot Springs and protected the park for 22 years.

8. In the early years, local opposition to the park flourished. People wanted those lands open for mining, logging, and hunting.

9. In some ways, the national park ideal was a reaction to Europeans looking down at the young U.S. nation. The country had no culture, they proclaimed: no magnificent castles, cathedrals, or concert halls - and any special lands they had (think Niagara Falls) were debased by trinket sellers and charlatans. By saving these magnificent landscapes, they hoped to instill national pride is this upstart country.

10. Logging was threatening the Sequoia groves, as timber companies were entranced by the huge trees. Indeed, Converse Basin - then one of the largest Sequoia groves in the world, was nearly entirely leveled in the 1860s.

11. In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed the bills creating Sequoia and General Grant National Parks. General Grant (which included the General Grant tree, the largest Sequoia) was eventually included in a larger King's Canyon National Park.

So, Hello, great American park...


Teddy's on top, now the parks really pop 12

Added Wind Cave and Crater Lake, don't stop!

But some parks don't fare as well

Sully's Hill was too far away 13

and small Platt Park had no cachet

From the park ranks we soon bade them farewell

But Lacey's Act now gave great power 14

Ted used it first on Devil's Tower 15

Around Congress he could dance

and give those lands a chance

'Cause by naming lands as Monuments

They could serve as testaments

and would then be complements

To the parks that did take flight


12. Theodore Roosevelt signed five National Parks into existence (though two of them were later disbanded).

13. Sully's Hill NP, created in 1904, was in North Dakota. Its remoteness kept people from visiting, and it had no striking landscapes to stir the public. Eventually the land was converted into a National Wildlife Refuge. Oklahoma's Platt NP was only one square mile, and though people flocked there (it hosted more visitors than Yellowstone or Yosemite in 1914), its lack of notable features caused Congress to disband the National Park and merge it into a larger Chickasaw NRA.

14. In 1906, Congressman John F. Lacey sponsored the Antiquities Act, which gave the President the power to set aside public lands for "... the protection of objects of historic and scientific interest." Congress passed it, and Roosevelt signed it into law.

15. Roosevelt first used the Antiquities Act to establish Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. He would use the law 18 times before leaving office - a record which stood until President Obama created 26 during his term. Among others, he established Petrified Forest NM (the second use of Lacey's act) and Grand Canyon NM, establishing a pathway for hose and many other parks to eventually reach National Park status.

So, Hello, great American park...


Then a mulish millionaire complained 16

"Your parks lose luster," he explained,

"combined with a horrid night's rest."

"So if you don't like how the parks are run,"

said Laine, "please come to Washington.

You could help them to be their best."

Joined by a clerk, they worked the hill 17

they knew Congress must pass the bill

Yard wrote such fiery prose 18

the opposition froze

and soon our nation's most special locations 19

for preservation had new foundations

for enjoyment by later generations

Now that the parks took flight


16. In 1914, Stephen Mather - a successful businessman who got started by popularizing "20-mule team borax" - wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane complaining about the state of accommodations in the national parks. What good are natural wonders, he asked, if you have to endure cold food and poor nights' sleep? (There is some controversy over whether such a letter was really written.) Lane responded to the letter by inviting Mather to D.C. to work on legislation to improve the parks. Mather would end up as the first head of the National Park Service.

17. Lane assigned a clerk named Horace Albright to assist Mather in lobbying Congress to pass the legislation. Albright worked with Mather for years, and eventually succeeded him as head of the NPS.

18. Robert Sterling Yard, who had been best man at Mather's wedding, joined Mather and Albright. Yard was a journalist and publicist, and wrote reams of copy to convince Congress to create a National Park Service.

19. The National Park Service Organic Act created the National Park Service "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife 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."

So, Hello, great American park...


The millionaire's gone, and his clerk too 20

But their legacy has carried through

And we can smile at what they built

The 30s saw them adding shores 21

Monuments, history, and much more 22

The lands now formed a giant nation's quilt

Soon came Mission 66 23

with a long list of things to fix

Visitor Centers to repair

and roads to get folks there

in the 70s Jimmy played his hands 24

Made 17 parks of Alaskan lands

Across the country, we understand

The parks, they give us flight


20. Stephen Mather suffered a stroke in January 1929, forcing him to leave the NPS. Horace Albright succeeded him as director, and held that post until stepping down in August 1933.

21. Cape Hatteras National Seashore - the first NPS site protecting a shoreline - was authorized in August 1937, and was established in 1953.

22. In summer 1933, FDR reorganized the park system by transferring the monuments administered by the Department of Agriculture, and the historic sites and battlefield managed by the War Department, to the National Park Service. Eventually the NPS would add National Historical Parks, National Recreation Areas, National Rivers, and more.

23. In the mid-50s, the NPS developed a ten-year program (Mission 66) to modernize the park system in time for the NPS's 50th anniversary. Among other things, it involved new and upgraded roads, new visitor centers and employee housing.

24. In the 1970s, conservationists wanted to preserve majestic Alaskan landscapes. When Congress could not reach a compromise in 1978, President Carter used the Antiquities Act to name 17 National Monuments to preserve 56 million acres in 1978. That unilateral move pushed Congress to compromise, and in 1980 they passed ANILCA, which upgraded seven of those monuments to National Park status, joining Denali National Park (formerly known as Mount McKinley NP).

So, Hello, great American park...

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