Wouldn't It Be Nice If the National Park Service Resumed the Distribution of Park Window Stickers?

Should the National Park Service return to the habit of passing out commemorative window stickers? Top photo, NPS Historic Photograph Collection, bottom image from www.rangerdoug.com

Once upon a time, when you entered a national park you collected a distinctive window sticker that you could attach to your windshield. While you can buy versions of these stickers today, wouldn't it be great if the National Park Service again handed them out when you entered a park?

Already they give you a map and newspaper when you enter a park. But how many visitors view those as collectibles? Not too many years ago you would get a window decal with a national park setting on it when you purchased a National Park Pass. Sadly, those were discontinued because, I've been told, folks would stick them onto their cars and figure that was their entrance pass, not the card itself.

Well, if park entrance fees are going to continue to go up, why shouldn't the Park Service give folks a collectible sticker when they pay the fee at the entrance gate? Whether visitors decide to attach the sticker to their rig, or create a photo album of stickers to show where in the National Park System they've traveled, this sort of retro ephemera likely would be valued more highly than the park newspaper.

Until that day returns, you can purchase the stickers, at $2 a pop, or $20 for all 22, from Ranger Doug Enterprises.

For history buffs, here's a 2001 article from Arrowhead that traces the history of these window stickers.

Remember Zoo Windshields, Anyone?

In the summer of 1922 Professor H. P. Cady of the University of Kansas, with his son and daughter made their annual trip to Yellowstone. Like other visitors of the day they prized the five-inch octagonal decal of the bison given out when they paid their entrance fee. The decal promptly went on the windshield! These popular decals were given out at 12 national parks, each featuring an animal, hence the term “Zoo Windshields,” that appeared in the news articles on the parks at the time. The other 11 parks were Crater Lake (black bear), General Grant (Columbian gray squirrel), Glacier (mountain goat), Grand Canyon (beaver), Mesa Verde (coyote), Mt. Rainier (Columbian blacktailed deer), Rocky Mountain (big horn ram), Sequoia (the American elk or wapiti), Wind Cave (antelope), Yosemite (mountain lion) and Zion (porcupine). Horace Albright wrote “I recall that…we often had people come to the various gateways (of Yellowstone) and ask for a sticker, but refrained from entering….because the entrance fee was $7.5 per car. We issued orders to the rangers to tactfully tell the would-be visitors they could not have the sticker unless they bought an entrance ticket. This caused some trouble both in Washington and in the Park. In 1925 the Yellowstone fee was lowered to $3 and the problem disappeared.” Long-time park naturalist Russ Grater recalls when working on the Grand Canyon Entrance Station in the early 1930’s, the stickers were so popular that visitors often asked if they could have an extra one.

Director Steve Mather was concerned that due to the popularity of the decals and collections appearing on windshields that they constituted a safety hazard. For the 1923 season the size was reduced from five inches to four. That was apparently not enough to reduce the potential hazard. At the 1923 Superintendents’ Conference a committee was appointed to address the issue including the possibility of discontinuing the program. Due to their popularity, however, the decals continued, but were further reduced in size to three inches in 1924, and finally to 2 ¼” in 1930. The decals were so popular that many parks and monuments wanted to hand them out—even parks that did not charge fees. In the mid 1920’s and 1930’s ten more areas were added to the program: Acadia (a seashore scene) introducing something other than an animal, Bryce Canyon (cliffs or breaks), Death Valley (first a prospector and burro and later changed to a covered wagon), Cedar Breaks (cliff or breaks), Devils Tower (naturally, the tower), Grand Teton (mountains), Hot Springs (the springs), Pinnacles (bird), Platt (bird) and Lassen Volcanic (mountain lion).

The first decals may have appeared in 1918 to alert rangers that the visitor had paid their entrance fee. Although not verified, there is some indication this program originated with Supt. W. B. Lewis of Yosemite. The decals came in a variety of colors, and on the reverse of each are safety messages. Throughout their history from 1918 through 1940 only a few design changes on the obverse are noted: Yellowstone did not have the bison in 1918 or 1919, Death Valley (noted above), Lassen (to a scenic view in 1937) and Sequoia (to a tree in 1929). The Yellowstone decals were blank on the reverse in 1918 and 1919 before the bison was added and Yosemite changed the reverse for 1938.

Designed to stick on windshields, these entrance decals became the ultimate piece of ephemera and a scarce piece of national park history.

Comments

YES! That is a great idea.

Maybe this would be a good idea for the NPS' centennial in 2016. But please don't replace the park's newspaper. Instead encourage visitors to Actually read the paper and learn about all the Cool things they can see and do at the park. Plus keep the map handy so they know where they are. Maybe that's asking Too much.

BTW, do you know anything about the history of the Jr Ranger program. I haven't been able to find anything on Google.

I'm not sure it would fly well here in Washington if one had a number of these nostalgic items on their windshield: State law is very clear - "No person shall drive any motor vehicle with any sign, poster, or other non-transparent material upon the front windshield, side wings, or side or rear windows of the vehicle that obstructs the driver's clear view of the highway or intersecting highway.”

To return to the “good old times” would be really peachy. I would suggest given our current fiscal predicament and our on going wars that we go light on the free goodies. Let “Ranger Doug” earn his – entrepreneurism - it’s the American way.

Great idea! However, as is sometimes the case, the simple ideas are the hardest to implement.

With our national parks struggling to make ends meet with meager budgets, perhaps now isn't the best time to implement another "freebie"...

YES! Remake the stickers with the original art and the year the park became a National Park! If handing them out free with park admitance is a financial strain on the parks service then have an option at entrance for those that are interested to pay extra at admitance to get the sticker. Visiting our wonderful National Parks is an American right of passage and the stickers should once again become a nostalgic badge of honer.

The easy way to solve the visibility problem would be to make them bumper stickers instead of window decals. The real issue at the present is government spending, I'm sure there are many out there who would see this as government waste. Other than these "snags" it would be great to resume handing out stickers.

I just recently went on a road trip with my family and we covered quite a few national parks in Oregon and California. It was almost impossible to even find a bumper sticker at most parks or even in the towns around the parks. In the 70's and 80's you could often find what the park service didn't provide in the way of decals/momentos at local gas stations and curios. You can hardly even find locally owned and operated stations like that any longer. So, sadly, most of us aren't able to pick one up at the time and place of the visit. The park service sure does make and sell a ton of post cards at every Ranger Station/Info Center location. The old Park Service decals from the 20's, 30's and even 40's were great! And they mean a lot more if you don't have to mail order them and can get them at the site.

Yes!!! We need the stickers to come back. We just returned from a wonderful visit to the Grand Canyon and I was disappointed I could not find a stick to put on our truck. We plan to start discovering America and want to collect stickers of all the places we go. BRING BACK THE STICKERS!!!!

Great Idea, even though it is a small act of nostalgia - going back is - comforting.

I trust the lame excuse about people misinterpreting the sticker for a paid admission wasn't the real reason the stickers were discontinued. But it does seem strange that a harmless, wonderful "novelty" such as this would go the way of the dinosaur when so many people actually supported the idea and still seek them out. The park's papers are not quite an even exchange replacement for this piece of memorabilia; not exactly what I'd term "collectible" by any stretch. But in lieu of the free decal it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Now if only I didn't have to pick up so many windblown copies of those papers.....
If and when (mostly when) they are reinstated I truly hope the modern version artwork will warrant the regeneration of the idea. I'd hate to see the whole concept cheapened due to a lack of historical knowledge and understanding of from whence they came.

Great idea! I'll be heading u to Sequioa/Kings Canyon NP in a couple of weeks. Was hoping I would get or find a sticker to start putting on the FJ's back window as I rack up more parks. I guess that's not going to be the case. As neat as the reproductions are I would feel like I kind of cheated having to buy them online. Maybe the guy could alter them to have the current year or the park's inception year?

Excellent idea! I am presently building a teardrop trailer with plans to take it to all of the National Parks. I would pay extra to get a window sticker from each park I visited. I have visions of both side windows covered, just like the pictures I have seen of people covering just about their entire windshields with them, back in the day.