George Hartzog, long revered by many in the National Park Service for the way he managed the agency and defended the National Park System from 1964-1972, has died. The seventh director of the agency and the first to be fired, passed away Friday.
Director Hartzog, who early on had worked for the agency in a range of roles, including that of superintendent of Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Historic Site, quit the Park Service in 1962 to head Downtown St. Louis. He was brought back to the agency in 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson named him director.
Interior Secretary Stewart Udall hand-picked Mr. Hartzog for the job, as he was looking for someone who, biographers noted, "would push an expansionist and activist park policy."
Under Hartzog ten new parks were created in 1964 alone. Other notable years included 1965, with fourteen new parks; 1966 and 1968 with ten each; and 1972 with thirteen. In his nine years as director, 2.694 million acres in 78 new park areas were added to the system. Among them were five national parks including Voyageurs, Guadalupe Mountains, North Cascades and Redwoods. The other units consisted of seashores, lakeshore, recreational areas and numerous small historical parks. Hartzog presided over the most accelerated growth in NPS history. The annual visitation to the NPS system more than doubled during those nine years to 213 million people, while the total number of permanent and temporary personnel remained the same level.
Many of these parks were brought in under a new NPS agenda: “Parkscape U.S.A.” In the mid-1960s seeking to maintain the momentum created by Mission 66, he devised this successor program, which had as its principal focus the continued expansion of the system, rather than construction of roads and facilities, as with Mission 66. In Hartzog’s words, Parkscape U.S.A. would “complete for our generation a National Park System by 1972,” the centennial year of Yellowstone. The tremendous surge in outdoor recreation during this era placed added pressure on national park areas and increased the urgency to create new parks.
Among the new parks, the national recreation areas in particular added to the NPS’s involvement in recreational tourism which had been boosted by the roads and facilities emphasis of Mission 66. During Hartzog’s tenure and the Parkscape era, eight reservoirs were added to the system as national recreation areas, among them Bighorn Canyon, Lake Chelan, and Curecanti. Each of these new units marked a continuation of the national recreation area concept initiated in the 1930s with Lake Mead, and each reflected the strength of the recreational tourism surge within the Park Service during the Wirth/Hartzog era.
In 1969, when then-President Richard Nixon cut the Park Service's budget, Director Hartzog closed all national parks for two days a week.
“It was unheard of; even my own staff thought I was crazy,” he later said.
Crazy, perhaps, but the strategy paid off as a large backlash by the public convinced Congress to restore the Park Service funding.
However, Mr. Hartzog pushed things too far in 1972 when he learned a private citizen was using a boat dock at then-Biscayne National Monument for his personal use. The director moved quickly to revoke the permit, which happened to be held by the brother-in-law of Charles “Bebe” Rebozo, a long-time friend of President Nixon. The White House responded by firing Director Hartzog in December 1972.
Though Mr. Hartzog was shown the door, Interior Secretary Udall never lost his respect for the man. This is what he said of his friend in 1988:
One of the most inspiring leaders I worked with during my years in the federal government…In a decade when a president of the United States seeks out opportunities to denigrate the institution we call the federal government and belittle the work of its dedicated civil servants, George Hartzog reminds us of the glories of public service and the legacies our best bureaucrats leave to future generations…Everyone who saw him in action remembers the sense of mission, and the zest and drive, he transmitted to his co-workers…He was a consummate negotiator; he enjoyed entering political thickets, and he had the self-confidence and savvy to be his own lobbyist and to win most of his arguments with members of Congress, governors and presidents…He exuded reasonableness and goodwill. His signature was the greeting he invariably extended to ordinary citizens and senators alike: ‘Hello my friend, what can I do for you?’ As an administrator, he set an exemplary standard for commitment, for candor - - and for fair play.
Director Hartzog is listed in Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, and profiled in Exemplary Public Administrators, Character and Leadership in Government. For an excellent profile of Director Hartzog, follow this link.