How Master Planning Helped the Development of Our National Parks

The main objective of a national park is to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects.” Among the most famous conservation reserves across the US are Yellowstone, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, Casa Grande Ruins, among so many others. Just like any other thing that’s worth preserving, our national parks and monuments need a great deal of planning and management – which is how the early master plans of our parks came to exist, and how these documents have shaped the future of these places.

How Master Planning Helped the Development of Our National Parks

The Purpose of Master Plans

In the 1930s, the NPS (National Park Service) was going through structural changes and reorganization. The number of national parks has been growing since its establishment in 1916, which called for a change in planning. It was about that time when the first master plan was created. It illustrated the vision of the park planners and it was done beautifully – all by hand. It was an important piece of documentation that featured maps, descriptions of proposed elements, and sketches of roads, visitors stations, parking lots and other elements.

The First Master Plan

How Master Planning Helped the Development of Our National Parks

Hand-drawn in 1929 by Thomas Chalmers Vint, the first-ever master plan of a national park depicted Mount Rainier National Park. Located in Washington, the park spans over 360 sq mi, and it’s regarded as one of the early masterpieces of NPS planning. It would come to be used as a stepping stone for many years and many plans to come.

How Master Plans Changed National Parks

With master planning established as a practice throughout the 1930s, it became clear how this type of park design and development facilitated preservation. It allowed overseeing each of the elements (like facility design and building, developments, and construction of communities) and their roles in the bigger picture. This way, the existing landscape fit seamlessly with the man-made additions, which established the practice of master planning.