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Although the National Park Service officially came into being in 1916, AMC’s involvement in laying the federal bureau’s groundwork stretches back decades, to the twilight of the 19th century.
As early as the 1890s, AMC assisted in crafting proposals for parks that would become some of the nation’s most beloved, including the 1894 call for Mount Rainier’s designation, spearheaded by the club’s corresponding secretary, journalist John Ritchie Jr., and the 1926 expansion of Sequoia National Park, heralded by one-time club president Phillip W. Ayres.
In addition to its work out west, AMC played a visionary role in projects closer to home. In 1900, the club petitioned in favor of the so-called National Appalachian Park, some two decades before the creation of Shenandoah (1926) and Great Smoky Mountains (1934) national parks.
Then, of course, there’s Acadia, first envisioned by the landscape architect and former AMC councillor of topography Charles Eliot as a “refreshing antidote to city life.” The coastal preserve began to take shape when Eliot’s father, Charles W., and George B. Dorr, both AMC members, donated the land that, in 1916, became Sieur de Monts National Monument, then Lafayette National Park in 1919, then Acadia in 1929. (Read more on Acadia, which celebrates its own centennial this year.)
When the Society for the Preservation of National Parks was established in 1909, AMC was there too. With the mission “to preserve from destructive invasion our National Parks—Nature’s Wonderlands,” the society’s advisory council counted luminaries such as Allen Chamberlain, AMC’s councillor of exploration, alongside John Muir.
We also showed support for national parks simply by showing up. From the first decade of the 20th century, AMC members organized club expeditions to the great landscapes of the west—a tradition that continues in August Camp and Adventure Travel. Although predominantly recreational in nature, these early trips often included scientific and exploratory elements. At their heart was a push for preservation, sometimes framed in practical terms of erosion control or water conservation: a marriage of conservation and recreation familiar to present members.
The stunning photos on these pages, taken largely from the AMC Library & Archives, reveal just a fraction of those trips’ wildness, playfulness, and unbridled love of nature, a legacy AMC members continue to live outdoors with enthusiasm today. Click through the slideshow above to see the living history.
FURTHER READING: ACADIA AT 100
Acadia National Park also turns 100 in 2016. Read more about AMC’s century-plus of recreation and conservation on Maine’s Mount Desert Island.
LEARN MORE: FIND YOUR PARK!
To book your spot on any of the AMC trips to national parks listed below, visit activities.outdoors.org.