Response: Egan’s The Beginning of the End of America’s Best Idea

Jessica M. DeWitt: Editing and Consulting

Hello! Your fave park historian, here.

Today in the New York Times, Timothy Egan published an opinion piece titled “The Beginning of the End of America’s Best Idea.” He writes:

“The national parks, oft-called America’s best idea, were created by people who looked beyond their own lives. Those people made great ancestors — benevolent, farsighted, selfless.” 

I call:


A few points:

  • The American and Canadian park systems were created in order to maximize profit on otherwise “useless” land. As I note in my review of Leslie Bella’s Parks for Profit, “rather than ensuring that these areas remain untouched, the formation of parks guaranteed that these areas would become centers of development.”
  • Yellowstone and Banff were projects backed by railroad companies in order to profit on tourism.
  • This tourism was elite because very few people–before the proliferation of automobile travel–could afford to reach western national parks.
  • Indigenous…

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