With the centennial of the National Park Service's establishment right around the corner in 2016, Professor Keiter's history is a wonderful summary of how "America's Best Idea" came to be and how it has evolved. Focusing much of the book on the park service's struggle to fulfill its dual mission of nature preservation and public use, Keiter brings in examples from dozens of parks that highlight the tension between providing an engaging visitor experience and preserving landscapes and wildlife for future generations.
Now spanning nearly 400 units made up of 85 million acres, the park system of modern times, Keiter argues, "is not a single idea but rather an amalgam of evolving ideas," that includes an ecosystem approach, holistic wildlife management of biodiversity at all levels, integration of science into management, recognition of Native American treaty-based claims and cultural concerns, and public education efforts.
As we build American Prairie, Keiter's book includes many sage reminders of how to achieve the delicate balance between recreation and preservation. In this new millennium, like in the last, private philanthropy and the dedication of a small group of individuals can still build a park. Most importantly, we can do so in a way that pays attention to the larger landscape, including human activity, from the beginning.