Top 10: Park Conservationists

April 21, 2010, 3:36 pm

In honor of National Park Week—and Earth Day—we’re saluting those who helped found, create and turn our national parks into what they are today. Here’s a list of ten conservations who have helped make our parks great.

John Muir
John Muir is probably the most famous American conservationist, and Yosemite and Sequoia national parks exist today in large part due to his efforts. An avid writer, and founder of the Sierra Club, Muir used his writings and influence to lobby for the protection of land and resources across the country. Today, John Muir National Historic Site celebrates his legacy and Muir Woods National Monument was one of his favorite places.

Theodore Roosevelt
Along with his good friend John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt was influential in establishing our national parks. Dedicated to conservation, Roosevelt set aside 194 million acres of federal land for national parks and nature preserves. Roosevelt established the first 18 national monuments and was instrumental in establishing the U.S. Forest Service. Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota celebrates the rugged atmosphere that Roosevelt loved.

Stephen Mather
Stephen Mather is most famous for his role as the first director of the National Park Service. As the NPS Director, Mather helped to establish the criterion for which an area could become a national park. He also recognized the need for basic visitor amenities in parks and encouraged responsible development of visitor services. Mather’s model of encouraging visitation and development but at the same time protecting and conserving land for future generations is followed still today.

Enos Mills
When Enos Mills was 15, he climbed the 14,000 ft. Longs Peak in today’s Rocky Mountain National Park. During the trip he fell in love with the region and vowed to later return and fight for its protection. During his time in Colorado, Mills wrote various books on nature and preservation. In 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park was created largely due to his efforts.

Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams was a photographer and conservationist who is most famous for his pictures of the American West. Some of Adams’ most iconic photographs were taken in places like Yosemite, the Grand Tetons and Glacier. Adams’ photographs brought to life areas of the country people had only previously read about. His photographs helped encouraged those who could not travel to the parks to support their protection. Today, Adams’ photographs remain as some of the most well-known photographs of ever taken of the parks.

Marjory Douglas
Marjory Douglas is most famous for her efforts to protect the Everglades. In the 1940s, her book, The Everglades: River of Grass, helped change perceptions of the region from worthless swamp to cherished resource. The first line of the book reads, “There are no other Everglades in the world.” In 1947, shortly after the publication of River of Grass, the Everglades was declared a national park.

George Wright
George Wright first began working for the National Park Service as a park naturalist in 1927. During his time in Yosemite, Wright became convinced of the need for a wildlife survey program. Wright believed so strongly in his program that he was willing to personally pay for the program until its merit was demonstrated. Wright conducted surveys of the status of wildlife in several parks and drew attention to the face that changes in the park had adverse effects on wildlife. Throughout his life he was a major proponent of restoring park wildlife to its original state and his principals and methods remain today. Today, the George Wright Society continues to follow the original principals Wright laid out for wildlife management

Margaret Murie
Margaret Murie is often referred to as the “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement.” After college, Murie began pushing for protection of the region that is now Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Murie was able to recruit then Supreme Court Justice William O’Douglas to help pressure President Eisenhower into protecting the region, and in 1956 Eisenhower set aside 8 million acres as wildlife preserve. Murie continued to survey land in Alaska for protection and even worked on the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which President Carter signed, protecting 104 million acres of land.

George Bird Grinnell
George Grinnell is most famous for his work protecting Yellowstone’s buffalo herd. Grinnell spent years studying the Great Plains and became convinced that only extensive protection could save the buffalo from extinction. In 1894 Grinnell’s efforts were rewarded with the passage of the National Park Protective Act, which essentially saved the buffalo from extinction. Grinnell also spent several years in Glacier National Park where he discovered the glacier named after him. He spent the later years of his life lobbying for the creation of Glacier National Park.


Unless I'm missing the continuation of this list, you only named nine. How about David Rockefeller for his monetary contributions to Grand Teton, Shenandoah and others. After seeing the Burns - Duncan film series, you could easily name 25 who were very instrumental in advocating for individual parks.