Designing wilderness...

I was able to watch Ken Burns’ video series on “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”, in which he documents the genesis of many of our historic and cherished parks. One of the themes that I would like to comment on is his presentation of the physical creation of each of the parks and how they have come to present their characteristics to us today. He tipped his hat to the Landscape Architects and their sage placement of roads so that they did not resemble the logging and mining roads of the day that were so ferociously ravaging the land of our adolescent nation. This was a brief acknowledgement however, as his main focus was on that of the benevolent generosity which the government so often found itself the recipient. Families like the Rockefellers often purchased large tracks of land only to hand them over to the government for appropriation into the National Monument/National Park system (which had not yet been created). Also, Ken Burns was sure to spend the majority of his time highlighting the desire and passion of a few key individuals who spent their lives rallying support and fighting opposition for the protection of these lands. Everyday people, whom happenstance brought near, saw value in these lands beyond commercialization and industry.

As happenstance would have it, I also read Fredrick Law Olmsted’s 1868 writing “Address to the Prospect Park Scientific Association.” In this address he ruminates over the nomenclature that is widely accepted by those of his time and a large misunderstanding and difference in the term ‘public park’ and those similar. He then lists six characteristics which he finds common to most when looking to enjoy natural public space. He relates these details through an anecdote of his travels in England with his brother by pack-mule. He proposes that parks, from his understanding, would seek to mimic these six desired traits which were commonly found by early settlers who sought ease of life near their place of dwelling. He states, “That is to say, we must study to secure a combination of elements which shall invite and stimulate the simplest, purest and most primeval action of the poetic element of human nature, and this tend to remove those who are affected by it to the greatest possible distance from the highly elaborate, sophistical and artificial conditions of their ordinary civilized life.”

My next reading of similarity was that of Henry V. Hubbard “The Designer in National Parks: Preservation and Enhancement of Natural Scenery.” A 1948 printing in Landscape Architecture Magazine. Hubbard’s main belief was that knowledge of or ability to design public parks was not something that could be learned in school. Rather, as he quoted Confucius, “We do not learn a definition to understand a subject; we have to learn the subject to understand the definition.”

So, considering these men’s thoughts, who does design a park? More to the point, who designs a naturalistic park? I would tend to agree that it is the man who truly sees the wilderness for what it is and what it provides in its most raw and wild state. This does not mean that one cannot place trail and road systems upon the park. But the one who can see how to place these constructs in context, avoiding detracting from what creation is saying.

I recall some wisdom from one of my favorite movies. Indiana Jones is in the library and comes across a book worm that seeks to understand archeology, but doesn’t seem to have the ability to leave the library. Indiana tells him if he wants to be a good archeologist he needs to leave the books and get out there.

So let’s be like the people who first discovered Yosemite Valley and value the land for how we have found it, preserving it for those generations to

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Newfound Gap Road (Hwy 441)