Briefly Noted: ‘Reshaping Our National Parks and Their Guardians’ by Kathy Mengak

Reshaping Our National Parks and Their Guardians: The Legacy of George B. Hartzog Jr., by Kathy Mengak, with a foreword by Robert M. Utley, University of New Mexico Press (April 2012), 336 pp

When Glacier Park’s Centennial Program Committee received the George and Helen Hartzog Volunteer Group Award for promoting the park’s 2010 centennial, many visitors were unfamiliar with the man who led the National Park Service between 1964 and 1972 or with the award established in 1998 (and subsequently supported via a fund created by his wife) to honor those donating time to help the parks.

Published earlier this year, Kathy Mengak’s Reshaping our National Parks and Their Guardians ably tells the story of the highly successful NPS director who added 72 new parks to the system during a contentious political era in American history. In his book review in the Autumn 2012 issue of “Montana The Magazine of Western History,” Craig Rigdon writes that while the author’s “fondness for Hartzog is evident…she provides a fairly balanced review of his career.”

Originating with Mengak’s dissertation at Clemson University, the book draws heavily on twelve years of interviews conducted with Hartzog and other key officials. Hartzog died in 2008.

Kurt Repanshek (National Parks Travler) writes that Hartzog “was a cigar-chewing, Scotch-loving, Stetson-wearing, lover of fishing, hard-charging director who often knew exactly what he wanted and found a way to get it. One way or another.” His review of the book is posted here.

From the Publisher

Wikipedia Photo

This biography of the seventh director of the National Park Service brings to life one of the most colorful, powerful, and politically astute people to hold this position. George B. Hartzog Jr. served during an exciting and volatile era in American history. Appointed in 1964 by Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, he benefited from a rare combination of circumstances that favored his vision, which was congenial with both President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” and Udall’s robust environmentalism.
Hartzog led the largest expansion of the National Park System in history and developed social programs that gave the Service new complexion. During his nine-year tenure, the system grew by seventy-two units totaling 2.7 million acres including not just national parks, but historical and archaeological monuments and sites, recreation areas, seashores, riverways, memorials, and cultural units celebrating minority experiences in America. In addition, Hartzog sought to make national parks relevant and responsive to the nation’s changing needs.

I like Rigdon’s comment that while most people remember the National Park Service’s first two directors, Stephen Mather and Horace Albright, Reshaping Our National Parks and Their Guardians demonstrates that “some of the most critical years in the agency’s history took place during George B. Hartzog’s tenure as director.”


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Bears; Where They Fought: Life in Glacier Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley” and two contemporary fantasy adventures set in the park, “Sarabande” and “The Sun Singer.”

All three books, from Vanilla Heart Publishing, are available on Kindle. “Sarabande” and “The Sun Singer” are also available in trade paperback.


2 thoughts on “Briefly Noted: ‘Reshaping Our National Parks and Their Guardians’ by Kathy Mengak

  1. Smoky Zeidel

    Hartzog was a great man. I don’t think there’s any issue today more important than protecting our wild places.

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