Ngram nilI’ve watched this short 1930’s film about Minnesota’s state park system several times now and am interested in the term used at the beginning in the title of the article shown and in the narration: “park consciousness.” The term is called a “very definite factor” by the narrator and strikes me as a useful thought exercise for the park/environmental historian, if not even a useful tool for analysis. My initial reaction was that I had never come across the term in any of my readings, and when I put it into Google Ngram it came out with a nil result.

However, upon further inspection, I realized that the phrase is in two books that I have read. The first, The State Park Movement in America by Ney C. Landrum, uses the phrase in passing, referring to increased “national park consciousness” as a factor in increased interest in state park creation.¹ In Everyone’s Country Estate, a book about the history of Minnesota’s state park system, Roy W. Meyer does not mention the use of the term “park consciousness” officially, but he does use the term to describe Minnesota legislators in the 1950s and 1960s and the term is listed in the index. He states:

“It was no doubt true…that legislators were becoming more park-conscious–and, one suspects, so were their constituents. These were, on the whole, prosperous years, and one way for families to spend their increased disposable income was to visit state parks, perhaps camping for a night or two and devoting the days to fishing or swimming. As facilities became increasingly crowded, it was not difficult to justify the expansion of old parks and the establishment of new ones.”²

He concludes the passage by stating:

“With legislators, reflecting public sentiment, becoming more park-conscious and revenue from motor vehicle permits relieving the legislature of part of the burden of providing money for the park system, the future of that system looked bright.”³

In the film, the term “park consciousness” is a pre-war concept and one that seems to be more associated with the recognition of the benefits of the natural world to the psyche. Meyer, however, uses “park consciousness,” in my opinion, more as a symptom of park overcrowding and the necessity to cater to post-war upsurge in leisure time and mobility.

Has anyone else come across this term? Is it a useful term to use as a framework of analysis? Or is it best relegated to a passing paragraph or sentence?

*The feature photo is a still from the film. 

¹ Ney C. Landrum. The State Park Movement in America: A Critical Review (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2004): 49.

² Roy W. Meyer. Everyone’s Country Estate: A History of Minnesota’s State Parks. (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1991): 211.

³ Ibid. 212.

Published by Jessica M. DeWitt

Dr. Jessica M. DeWitt is an environmental historian of Canada and the United States. She is passionate about the use of digital technologies to bridge the gap between the public and researchers. In addition to her community and professional work, she offers various editing and social media consultancy services.

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