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Beep, beep…Cars Come to America’s National Parks.The growth of automobile traffic that has no signs of slowing down

Among the letters in the Stephen Mather archives is one from Neal Begley, President and General Manager of Hertz Driv-Ur-Self Stations in San Francisco…the company that become Hertz Car Rental and grew from twelve Model T Fords in 1918 to over 500,000 cars by 2017.


In the 1929 letter, Begley writes: “It was with great regret that we all read of your illness, and your consequent resignation from the direction of the National Parks.  Your unfailing courtesy and consideration through the two years I have known you have left a very pleasant recollection with me…”


By 1929, it was not surprising that Neal Begley would know Stephen Mather.   An entry from the National Parks website states that in 1916 Stephen Mather wrote:

 “Taking everything into consideration, no policy of national park management has yielded more thoroughly gratifying results than that which guided the admission of motor-driven vehicles to the use of the roads of all of the parks.”


The number of private automobiles entering the National Parks grew from 197,105 in 1922 to 689,945 in 1929 with the not-far-from San Francisco Yosemite jumping from 19,583 to 132,903!


With more than 325 million National Park visits in 2023, the NPS must wrestle with its own    success to reclaim and reaffirm Stephen’s vision of what a National Park visit should be. 

In his 1920 report to the Secretary of the Interior he wrote:


A visit inspires love of country; begets contentment; engenders pride of possess-ion; contains the antidote for national restlessness. It teaches love of nature, of the trees and flowers, the rippling brooks, the crystal lakes, the snow-clad mountain peaks, the wild life encountered every-where amid native surroundings.  He is a better citizen with a keener appreciation of the privilege of living here who has toured the national parks.


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