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Interested In NPS History? New "National Park Electronic Library" Offers A Great Resource

Just one example of content on the website is a link to this 1920 publication about Glacier National Park. Image from

The ability of the NPS and other government agencies to maintain some useful websites is proving to be a serious challenge in the face of budget cuts, and that trend seems unlikely to change. Now a pair of private citizens has stepped forward help fill that gap with a new national park history site called "National Park Electronic Library."

Creator of the new site is Dr. Harry A. Butowsky, retired National Park Service Historian and former manager of the invaluable NPS History e-Library Web Site. He's assisted in the project by Randall D. Payne, who "has been a volunteer for the National Park Service for over 30 years and lives in the Pacific Northwest. He has contributed thousands of electronic documents to the National Park Service."

As noted in the comments on a recent story on the Traveler, the NPS History e-Library NPS site has suffered from a lack of staff and funding following Dr. Butowsky's retirement last year, and he hopes his new electronic library will help fill that gap. 

New Site "Continues the Legacy of the NPS History e-Library"

According to Dr. Butowsky, " continues the legacy of the NPS History e-Library and is devoted to those individuals who are passionate about our National Parks and want to learn more about the history, mission and historical archives of the National Park Service."

"Our National Parks present an American history textbook '” a textbook that educates us about the people, events, buildings, objects, landscapes, and artifacts of the American past and about the aspirations and actions that produced those tangible survivors," Dr. Butowsky notes on his website. " is intended to represent all aspects of this history."

"Our goal is to offer a window into the historical richness of the National Park System and the opportunities it presents for understanding who we are, where we have been, and how we as a society, might approach the future," Dr. Butowsky continues. "This collection of special places also allows us to examine our past '” the contested along with the comfortable, the complex along with the simple, the controversial along with the inspirational. We hope, in addition, that these pages will contribute to a national discussion of history and natural resources of our parks and their importance to contemporary society."

The Project Is a Strictly Private Effort

In a message to the Traveler, Dr. Butowsky offered some additional insight into his project. "Please note that this web site is not funded by the NPS and is not affiliated with the NPS. It is just my way to helping the American people understand and appreciate our parks."

Given that philosophy, the new park history website shouldn't be viewed as competition to official NPS sites, but rather a complementary resource that offers the advantages of time and expertise by private citizens who are clearly "passionate about NPS history." You'll find a number of useful links to government sites on the home page for, including a drop-down list to search for park histories and a link to an Internet Archive of NPS publications.

The project is anything but static, and the site continues to grow. "New content includes a large collection of past issues of NPS Courier, In Touch, CRM, and an ever expanding collection of park brochures, with new electronic documents being added weekly."

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Frank "Boss" Pinkley is the "Person of the Month" on the website. NPS Photo, HPC-001702.

An example of the site's reader-friendly approach to NPS history is a "Person of the Month" link which currently features "'Boss' Pinkley, pioneer in the National Park Service." This article first appeared in the April 1981 edition of  Courier, a park-related newsletter which was published from 1956-1998.


Tucked away in those old issues of the Courier is some interesting background on people and places in the parks. The January 1964 edition, for example, reported on recommendations by the National Park Advisory Board concerning some areas "now being considered by the Congress" for addition to the National Park System.

Some of those areas are now part of the NPS, including Assateague Island National Seashore, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and Buffalo National River. Other ideas failed to make the cut, including "Allagash National Riverway" in Maine, which was "strongly endorsed as a new approach to the problem of preserving an outstanding 192,000-acre canoe area," and the "Allegheny Parkway, West Virginia-Virginia-Kentucky, to provide extensive opportunities for recreation travel to people living in the large population centers of the East."

Whether you're a casual fan of the parks or a serious student of NPS history, you'll find plenty to like on the National Park Electronic Library.



Kurt, is there any way articles like this could receive the same sort of headline feature as those above in the Features section? Items like these are simply not deserving the billing they deserve.

I almost overlooked this gem.

Sorry, Lee, we want to train folks to read the ENTIRE homepage for starters....;-)

Kurt, that sounds a lot like my old high school math teacher. She actually expected us to work and read carefully.


But sometimes time is pushing. Perhaps a short summary similar to those included with Features headlines might help those of us who are trying to juggle Traveler with our Raisin Bran in the morning.


I just took what I thought would be a quick look and wound up hooked on reading a rather long -- but very interesting -- article on Frank (Boss) Pinkley. As one who served in some of the southwestern archaeological sites, Boss Pinkley was a legend whose story we heard again and again. Reading this reminded me, again, that the battles being fought today have been going on since the earliest days. Lack of money; lack of Congressional support; good people trying to do good jobs with a minimum of anything with which to work. Thank goodness for people like Boss and all the others since who have had the dedicated spirit to keep our parks operating as best they can.

I found Pinkley's opening remarks at a Southwestern Monuments conference particularly poignant when he said, ""I think that you will all understand that this is one of the red letter days in my life. It was in December 1901, that I started down the lonesome trail which has finally led to today and this room and these co-workers. . . . We grew by leaps and bounds, always under-manned and praying for more help; always getting more work before we got men to do it; always thinking that in another six months, or another year, we would work our way out to where we could begin to look around us and take things easier. That time has not yet come." He then added, "Some of our mistakes may hurt not only ourselves but may go down through the years hurting those who come after us. Let us try hard to make ourselves worthy of these obligations which have been placed upon us.

"May we leave this meeting three days hence with a bigger and broader comprehension of our work and a fixed determination to do it better this next year than it has ever been done before."

Those words are as true to today, unfortunately, as they were then.

(Pinkley died just a few minutes after delivering this talk.)

This website is a treasure! Thanks for introducing me to it.

Thank you so much for this link. As a writer of historical fiction set in the parks, I'm always looking for more information.

Thank you, Jim, for a marvelous piece. Harry and Randall most certainly deserve it. I've watched them--Harry in particular--build this idea over many years. They are outstanding historians and public-spirited civil servants. Every time I went to Washington, D.C., I stopped off at Harry's office in the NPS History Division to see what was "new." He never disappointed me, nor did the Chief Historians under whom he served. Now, if we could just bottle this for the centennial--as Abraham Lincoln said of Ulysses S. Grant, "Send all of my generals a barrel of his whiskey; I can't spare him, he fights"--we would have the makings of a terrific celebration and not just another bureaucratic exercise. Thanks to Harry and Randall, we can still hope. . . .

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