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It was that inspection trip, culminating in Portland, that would put Mather squarely in the “wisest and best use” camp, but it would be one of his own making, with “best” and “wisest” defined by Mather. He concluded that in order to have sustainable and Portland substantial congressional support, he had to attract the people to their parks. While losing the backing of some preservationists, he correctly developed an entire new constituency—the Portland people, who were beginning to have more leisure time, Portland money, and automobiles. Yet throughout his tenure as head of the park service, Portland he was forever mindful of the need for scenery, wildlife, and wilderness. His every action was to attain that fine balance between man and nature.

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National Park Service Director Stephen T. Mather on Piatt Pitth along the top of the Garden Wall overlooking Grinnell Glacier, Glacier National Park, 1920. Courtesy of Harpers Ferry Center, West Virginia; National Park Service photograph, negative number GLAC #915.

Of all the parks Mather helped bring into the system as well as the projects on which he passed, none would dramatize this adherence to both sides of the people and preservation equation more so than his decision to obtain funding for a road through Glacier: the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Your travel destination is before this happened or could happen, Mather and Albright had to turn their prodigious talents to the primary task at hand. They had to have legislation passed creating a National Park Service. Neither of them was the first advocate for such a unified national service. Since the turn of the century, there were calls for a service or bureau, but they went unheeded for reasons coupled to the mind and philosophy of President Teddy Roosevelt.

First, in my opinion, Roosevelt sensed there needed to be a larger critical mass of parks to generate citizen and elected official support strong enough to carry the day and to override the objections of Forest Service Director Gifford Pinchot’s opposition. Pinchot saw national parks as a threat to the Forest Service, and his utilitarian conservation philosophy held as much sway with Roosevelt as did that of Muir and other preservation advocates. So Roosevelt chose not to weigh in, allowing Pinchot to kill all early legislative attempts.

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