Lemuel “Lon” A. Garrison (1903-1984) received the Pugsley Medal in 1968. He was one of the giants of the National Park Service (NPS). This status was confirmed by his election to the National Recreation and Park Association's Hall of Fame in 1991. From his first job as a Forest Service fire ranger at the Chugach National Forest in Alaska in 1929; and his start with the NPS as a seasonal ranger at Lodgepole Campground in Sequoia in 1932; to his final NPS position as regional director of the Midwest and Northwest divisions, and as first director of the Albright Training Academy at Grand Canyon National Park, Garrison was the exemplar of an excellent public servant. NPS Director George Hartzog stated, “Lon was my mentor and inspiration. An exemplar of public service, he personified the 'Park Ranger' – the cherished public perception of the National Park Service – serving the lowly and the mighty with equal courtesy and consideration.“ Another of his peers stated:
Lon Garrison was a big, friendly bear of a man who fairly exuded Yellowstone National Park. He knew everyone in the NPS and everyone in the communities where he had lived and served, in addition to the members of national organizations, service clubs, etc., with which he was associated. Lon was a joiner.
Garrison had a love for the national parks and high ideals for public service. He was a personification of the blazing idealism of Stephen Mather and Horace Albright, first directors of the service. Through his years of service as a park ranger, administrator, educator and leader of professional parks organizations, Garrison made the Mather-Albright idealism a reality. He had the ability to instill a profound public service philosophy in those who worked with him. He was universally respected and admired. He was the pre-eminent park professional of his era, who left not only a legacy of outstanding park management, but also a legacy of countless professionals who were either mentored by him or were directly inspired to emulate him.
In his 40-year NPS career, Garrison was a ranger at Sequoia and Yosemite; chief ranger in the Washington D.C. office; assistant superintendent at Glacier and Grand Canyon; and superintendent at Hopewell Village National Historic Site, at Big Bend, and at Yellowstone. Education was a career within a career for Garrison. He guest lectured at nine major universities, and was director of the National Park Service Academy. In his roles as director of the Albright Training Center and faculty member at Texas A&M, he inspired a generation of young people to follow in his tradition of service. From 1969 to 1973, he was a visiting professor at Texas A&M, and when he retired from the NPS in 1973, he joined the parks and recreation faculty full-time at Texas A&M. He settled at Texas A&M University because “the population of graduate students is such that my opportunity to have some academic influence was higher." He taught both graduates and undergraduates. Before his death in 1984, he wrote an anecdotal autobiography, The Making of a Ranger, which offers insight into his remarkably adventurous life, his humility and his humanness. His book describes a commitment to land, stewardship, and idealism, which is inspiring. It also showcases his skills as an erudite, readable, and entertaining writer who published over 250 articles on the outdoors, parks, fishing, youth activities, travel, and humor.
Those with whom he associated also benefited from the wisdom of Garrison's lifelong partner, his wife Inger. Garrison met and married Inger Larsen, a Norwegian girl residing in Juneau, when he was in Alaska in 1929. Inger was a potter and sculptor; active in American and international craft programs; and a consultant with the NPS on Living History programs, especially those related to American Indians.
Lon Garrison was a behind-the-scenes leader who had vision. He inspired people the old-fashioned way through his leadership and personal example. Unlike many senior managers in the NPS, he was a risk taker. He was the primary instigator and subsequently chair of the Mission 66 program steering committee when he was on Director Conrad Wirth's staff in the 1950s. The mandate given to the steering committee by Director Wirth was to "disregard precedents," think imaginatively, and be aware that existing park facilities were based on "stage coach economy and travel patterns." He wanted the committee to "dream up a contemporary National Park Service." This 10-year program was crucial to preserving the NPS and creating the contemporary system. It provided new facilities and more manpower at all levels to a beleaguered NPS. Garrison's political and presentation skills were the key in selling this watershed program to President Eisenhower and congressional committees.
Preservationists opposed Mission 66, but Garrison believed that development of the parks could control where the public went and prevent misuse through what he termed "the paradox of protection by development." Indeed, from the beginning of his career at Yosemite campground, Garrison had pioneered the development of resource protective skills through people management. He observed, "As long as you are going to have use by people, you had better get the development to handle the people, otherwise you destroy the resource."
His degree was in psychology from Stanford University, and throughout his career he emphasized the importance of interpretation programs and the human side of resources management. His colleagues and employees were thought of more as "family," and park visitors were others who also loved the national parks. In Garrison's words, "Our jobs were healthful, natural, and in the public service, and we served a great and select social purpose in our custodianship and management of these 'national jewels.' " Garrison pioneered the development of resource protection skills through people management. In 1935, when he became a permanent ranger in Yosemite National Park, he managed a campground and began to deal with crowding and resource deterioration. With the help of his Stanford psychology professors, he developed a questionnaire to gather hard data on counting the number of visitors and establishing a list of their activities while visiting Yosemite. This technique and practice subsequently became commonplace_
When Garrison arrived at Yellowstone as superintendent in 1956, "he was probably the NPS's most influential park manager." Garrison was renowned for
doing what was right rather than what was popular, and for his political astuteness. These qualities were exemplified during his seven year tenure as superintendent at Yellowstone, during which he made three major decisions which embroiled him in national controversy.
At that time, NPS philosophy was to accommodate every visitor who wanted to come to Yellowstone. After expanding existing campgrounds and building new ones, it was apparent to Garrison that to "meet the forward demand, we would end up with a ring of campgrounds around Yellowstone Lake from Grant Village to Mary Bay, which was about 33 miles, and They'd be full all the time. This was a perversion of the purpose of the park." Thus, he made the controversial decision that no further camping facilities would be constructed.
When Garrison arrived at Yellowstone there were 3,000 motorboat days on Yellowstone Lake, but three years later, this had increased to 10,000. He concluded, "If we were going to have any wilderness left at the head of Yellowstone Lake, we had to do something to restrict motorboats." He proposed zoning the lake so parts were excluded to motorboats; in other segments their speed was limited to 5 mph; and in some designated areas there were no restrictions. The concept of lake zoning subsequently was widely used by resource management agencies, but Garrison's pioneering proposal became a cause celebre. It was opposed by all the national boating organizations and magazines, and congressmen and senators from the area lobbied the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations to overturn them. Ultimately, compromise was agreed, but inevitably, Garrison was fiercely criticized by both sides. Preservationists thought he had "sold out" while motor boaters resented the restrictions on them. The national furor exacted a personal toll as Garrison reflected, "These were brutal times because they lambasted me personally on so many things."
The third major controversy emanated from overgrazing by the elk in Yellowstone, which resulted in the depletion of other species such as big horn sheep, deer, and beaver, and in time, would have led to mass starvation of the elk herd. He perceived that reduction of the herd had to occur in order to adhere to the NPS mandate to leave the park unimpaired for future generations. There were demands by hunting organizations and from state game and fish commissions that hunters be allowed to participate in the kill, and these rapidly expanded into demands to allow hunting at all national parks. The NPS director, Conrad Wirth, initially ceded to these strong pressures, but Garrison vigorously opposed them. He estimated that to reduce the herd by 5,000 would require 20,000 hunters participating. He believed such public hunting would damage the park, and confronted with Garrison's opposition, Wirth made a major policy reversal and opposed it. Immediately, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate authorizing the use of hunters in reduction programs, but it failed. Garrison proceeded to kill 4,500 elk in 1961 using NPS ranger teams who gave the meat to local Indians. He reflected, "We had to do it to live up to the purpose of the park. we're not just protecting elk, we're not running an elk refuge, we had other species of wildlife to consider, so we did it, but it took a lot of guts." There was a national story over the killing of so many animals and unrelenting attacks by animal lovers, hunters, politicians, and the media. The maelstrom was mitigated somewhat by a group of respected rangeland scientists coming forward, endorsing the program and commending Garrison's actions. Garrison recalled:
I even was arrested and taken into court in Cody, Wyoming on this because they claimed that I was acting without authority and so on. The plaintiffs were a group of packers - outfitters who took elk hunters out. The judge confirmed that I had followed procedures.
As a result of this outcry, Garrison experimented with alternate methods of removing elk which led to the development of a procedure for capturing them alive by using two helicopters to drive them into corrals after which they were transported elsewhere. This provided a solution to the public anger over shooting elk, the demands of hunters to participate in the reduction, and a rising concern in Congress.
Dr. Frank Craighead, internationally renowned ecologist, acknowledged Garrison's concern and his appreciation for the value of wildlife research. "Lon realized that such a paradoxical mission (preserve and protect the outstanding unique resources) required all the information and facts he could obtain. For this reason, if for no other, Lon supported and encouraged research." Dr. Craighead felt "this approach to management - one based on and fortified by research - is an outstanding and lasting contribution to the advancement of the park and recreation movement." Garrison was a major influence on the writing of the Leopold Report, which established the mandate for responsible wildlife management in National Parks. The report was used to justify scientific research, a chief scientist's office in Washington D.C. and brought heightened attention to resource management in the regions.
His decisions not to expand camping capacity; to regulate motor boats; and to reduce the elk herd were all good management decisions. However, the regional and national controversy they aroused was sufficient to deny him being considered for the NPS director's position when it became open in 1965.
There were two other major legacies to the NPS which Garrison pioneered at Yellowstone. First, before his appointment, "Yellowstone had been pretty much an island. The philosophy was we'd tell the nearby towns what we were going to do, but would not consult with them." Garrison scheduled regular meetings with local representatives and annual meetings with the governors of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming to solicit input. "I listened to them, and it worked real good. The effectiveness of this outreach approach led to it becoming standard operating procedure in the NPS. A second legacy stemmed from his decision to move most decision-making out of the Yellowstone headquarters office to three districts in the park, each presided over by a district manager who had control of programs and budgets for that sector of the park. "It put decision-making out where the problems were. Subsequently,this model was adopted by all the large NPS parks.
When Garrison was president of the National Conference on State Parks, he conceived the idea of "partnerships." In 1973, he contacted state park directors and proposed closer joint working with the NPS. The initiative was launched at a formative meeting billed as "Common Ground for Common Goals." This partnership notion subsequently gathered momentum in the NPS through the 1980s, 1990s and into the twenty-first century.
Garrison's credo toward the parks profession is summarized in his book, The Making of a Ranger. "We have an obligation to be faithful to our park preservation trust and to the Congress and the citizens who worked to establish it. At the same time, we must be honest with users and politicians about our judgments and decisions. We cannot always win, but we can keep our own integrity and honor." Garrison was a disciple who felt that the American people cannot wander too far from the great outdoors without losing character and strength and orientation. His philosophy is summarized in his book. "The job and inspiration, the uplift of beauty, the song of wonder. This is the essence of the great places of nature and history in the world. Spirits dwell in all of them, and for me they are kindly spirits of environmental completeness and the grace of nature."
At a memorial service soon after his death, a long-time colleague captured the essence of Lon Garrison with the following assessment.
Lon was a very uncommon, common man. He was comfortable with governors, senators, cabinet members, ambassadors, and kings, and equally comfortable and often more impressed with maintenance persons, secretaries, farmers, construction workers, and park visitors. He was fun to be with; he had a delightful wit and of course knew more bear stories than anyone. What set Lon apart was not so much his high intellect, high energy, technical competence, or pleasing personality, but his values and perhaps his perceptions. He was much more interested in intrinsic values than monetary values. Lon had an absolute love affair with the natural world. He saw beauty, and he wanted to share it. He thought the best use you could make of a mountain was to look at it, and the best way to manage it was to leave it alone.
Along with his love of nature was the love he had for his fellow man. He truly enjoyed people. He made the effort to cultivate his friends, and he had more friends than anyone I have ever known. People of all ages loved to visit with Lon as they found inspiration, a caring sensitivity, and encouragement. He had a way of bringing out the best in people -- of encouraging them to reach a little further, to put aside their doubts, to accomplish their goals and to truly enjoy their lives.
It was clear Lon was doing what he loved to do. It was this match between the man and his profession which enabled him to live in such harmony and accomplish so much during his career, not for himself but for all of us who love the natural world and believe in the importance of its preservation. Lon was a complex man. As an administrator he had great influence, and as Harry Lauder has written, "You could tell where the lamplighter was by the trail he left behind him." Lon's trail will never end. He will live on through the thousands of people whose lives he had touched and the people they will influence down through the ages.
Garrison, Lemuel A. (1983). The making of a ranger. Salt Lake City, UT: Howe Brothers.
Heath, E.H. (1991). In memory of Lon Garrison. Unpublished eulogy.
Mebane, Alan. (1973). Interview with Lon Garrison. Unpublished transcript provided byYellowstone National Park Archives .