Singing out of tune: Cultural perceptions and national park history on the American Great Plains
While the purpose ot my study is to examine the national parks and monuments on the Great Plains, I do not propose to write a travel guide to those parks and monuments. Nor will I attempt to compile a complete history of each park and monument on the Great Plains. Using the Great Plains national parks and monuments as a focus, this dissertation, instead, examines the changing perceptions and attitudes of the public, the government, and the National Park Service toward nature preservation in one large biotic province of the American West--the Great Plains. The selection of Devils Tower as the first national monument, and the subsequent rejection of Palo Duro Canyon as a national park or monument, is an example of the government's inconsistent legislative policies in regards to site selection. Historians and other people interested in the national park movement have posited several theories that attempt to explain the vicissitudinous attitudes in the selection policies for national parks. Alfred Runte (1987) suggests that the commercial non-value of surrounding land influenced the selection of national park sites. Yet, as other historians are quick to point out, once the government designates an area as a national park, adjacent property values usually increase rather than decrease. These same proponents point out that tourism also provides a national park region with additional economic potential. While Runte's theory of "national park sites as wastelands" remains controversial, he offers a second argument that historians have been more apt to accept. His stance is based on the contention that National park site selection rested on spectacular, or "monumental," scenery that would eclipse or outshine European cultural artifacts. Indeed, Runte's belief that America's national parks served as America's cultural "crown jewels" does have some merit when one examines the park selection policies in the first three decades of the NPS.