National Park Service Celebrates Centennial - Ignores Hetch Hetchy (Almost)

Park Service all but ignores Hetch Hetchy; Rangers know better 


Google's NPS Centennial "Doodle"

As we explained in an editorial opinion published in the Sacramento Bee last Sunday, the unprecedented nationwide outcry over the damming of Hetch Hetchy Valley was a pivotal factor in the passage of the 1916 National Park Service Act:

"Three years later, a remorseful Congress passed the once controversial Organic Act, creating the National Park Service to ensure that our parks would be managed as a single system for national benefit. Subsequent proposals to build dams in Yellowstone in the 1930s and the Grand Canyon in the 1950s were defeated. Since Hetch Hetchy was dammed 100 years ago, no significant development has been allowed in any of our national parks."

This story has been told often. See, for example, "Outrageous Evil" by Clark Bunting, former president of the National Parks Conservation Association. Anyone interested in the entire fascinating but detailed story should read Robert Righter's The Battle over Hetch Hetchy: America's Most Controversial Dam and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism (2006).

Yet politics within the National Park Service seems to prevent rangers from even speaking out about Hetch Hetchy's seminal role in its history, let alone voicing support for restoration. In my experience, a discreet question to a ranger about Hetch Hetchy is usually followed by a furtive turning of the head to ensure no eavesdropping followed by a request for anonymity - all before an admission that Hetch Hetchy should never have been dammed and in fact should be restored. 

Restore Hetch Hetchy is fortunate that retired rangers are often not so reticent about expressing their opinions - see for example Hetch Hetchy: Congress should undo the destructive Raker Actby former Yosemite Superintendents David Mihalic, B.J. Griffin and Robert Binnewies. 

The only acknowledgement of Hetch Hetchy's role in the creation of the NPS appears to be a little-noticed talk at O'Shaughnessy Dam this evening titled "Hetch Hetchy - Where it all began! 1 hr. Celebrating 100 Years of the National Park Service." They expect about a dozen people.  


Ranger Shelton Johnson is known for writing "Yosemite Through the Eyes of a Buffalo Soldier, 1903". Battalions of African-American "Buffalo" soldiers often guarded national parks before the park service was created.

Photo: Associated Press

Yosemite Ranger Shelton Johnson did, however, provide a nice quote in an article about Google's "doodle" on CNET: "No longer were rivers a force to be dammed, virgin forests a source for board-feet, or mountainsides blasted for gemstones or coal," Johnson told Google. "The idea of parks has the power to transcend culture, a currency whose value speaks of something profoundly human."

It's not too hard to guess what Shelton was talking about.