Robert Sterling Yard
Furthermore, we believe that the great majority of careless and casual enjoyers of the out-of-doors (and what American does not enjoy his out-of-doors?) would join heartily in preservation if only he realized the exquisiteness of primeval nature, the majesty of much of it, and that once destroyed, it can never be returned to its thrilling sequence from the infinite.
- Robert Yard, "A Summons to Save the Wilderness" (p. 1)
With those words, Robert Sterling Yard ushered in the first issue of The Living Wilderness, the magazine and mouthpiece of his beloved Wilderness Society.
Robert Sterling Yard spent his long life advocating for the wise use and preservation of wild American places. Yard was born not in the wild backwoods of the country, but in the settled and civilized town of Haverstraw, New York on February 1, 1861. Yard graduated from Princeton University in 1883 and began his newspaper career first as a reporter for first the New York Sun, and later as the editor for the New York Herald. In 1900, Yard left journalism for work in the publishing industry. He worked for various publishing houses, including as editor-in-chief for Moffat, Yard and Co. He later returned to the Herald as the Sunday editor.
Yard was well respected as a journalist, an editor, and a publisher. However, these jobs merely foreshadowed his second, and more notable, career as a wilderness advocate. While working at the Sun in 1887, Yard met fellow reporter Stephen Mather. The two men maintained a lifelong friendship that grew from the newsrooms of New York to the wild open spaces of the United States. At first their forays into the natural world were merely as "casual enjoyers of the out-of-doors," but soon they found themselves in positions to spread their passion for wild places to the greater public.
In 1915, Mather became the Assistant Secretary of the Interior. His charge was "to manage the national parks and to bring about the establishment of a single permanent agency to administer and protect them," (Albright, 1945). Effectively, Mather needed to create the National Park Service (NPS). While the logistics of this were mind-boggling, the most pressing concern was to drum up public support for the parks and a national park service. If the public was interested in protecting their parks, then Mather felt that Congress would be much more willing to fund his endeavor.
Fortunately, Mather knew someone who had a knack for communicating efficiently and effectively with the general public. Better, the man he had in mind for the job was an enthusiastic, if inexperienced, enjoyer of the out-of-doors. Mather asked Yard to leave his fairly prestigious job as an editor in New York City and move to Washington D. C. to work for the Department of the Interior helping the American public understand what treasures the national parks were. Mather's call came in January; by February the Yard family had resettled, happily, in Washington.
Yard brought with him to Washington his wife, Mary Belle. The Yards were married in 1895 and had one daughter, Margaret. Yard's devotion to the cause of wilderness was understood and supported by his family.
Mr. Yard thought it over and decided if he could make the country love the wilderness and see the beauty of Nature and know how to read the handwriting of God in these beautiful parks he would feel that his life had been worthwhile. He gave up his work in New York City; and we moved to Washington. He was very happy with his work. Nothing gave him greater happiness than to write or talk about the glory of the great quiet places in the woods by the streams. His whole life was one of song and praise of these wonders.
- Mary Belle for The Living Wilderness in December 1945 (p. 2)
Margaret provided the etched cover of that issue as a memorial to her father-wilderness was a family interest.
Yard began his career under Mather by heading west. Speaking at a conference in Berkley, after visiting national parks of the West, Yard demonstrated his characteristic combination of humor and persuasive drive for preservation. Upon arriving in Berkley, all conference participants had been required to write the name of the park they were representing, and as Yard related in his comments at the conference, "I entered my park as 'Central Park, New York.' I have been hammering the streets of New York for a good many years. It is a dozen years, at least, since I have cast my fly in any water inhabited by anything of a finny character...I have not qualified for the Rocky Mountains. But I know I shall qualify, because the qualifications for the mountains, as I well know, lies inside of one, lies in the soul, and not in one's accomplishments. So it is that I, treader of dusty city streets, boldly claim common kinship with you of the plains, the mountains, and the glaciers," (Albright, 1945).
From Berkley, Yard went to Europe to study how other countries dealt with natural and historic national sites. Specifically, he looked at why American tourists were being drawn to the wilds of Europe, the Alps or the Dolomites, rather than the Rockies and the canyons of their own country. In the summer of 1915, Yard was sent on a trial trip through Yellowstone National Park. His was the first official car through the Park, and Yard's writing of his experience further served to drum up interest in and support for the creation of the NPS.
Yard spent the winter of 1915-1916 working on his first major publication for the project, the "National Parks Portfolio." By the spring of 1916, Yard's various articles and essays on the national parks had reached the American people, and support for a unified NPS was growing in Congress. Yard's "Portfolio" had been distributed to every member of Congress, and bills were moving actively forward in both Houses towards the creation of the NPS by early summer. In August of 1916, Yard toured Yosemite with Mather and other officials. When they finished the trip on August 26, Mather received a telegram telling him that President Woodrow Wilson had signed the bill creating the National Park Service, thanks, in no small part, to Yard's tireless work.
Mather became the Director of National Parks, Yard the Chief of the Educational Division. Horace Albright was appointed Assistant Director. Yard's position since coming to Washington had been largely funded by Mather's personal accounts-there had been no official funding for public outreach. This financial agreement between the two men continued even after the creation of the NPS, and Mather again personally financed much of Yard's travel as he continued to create various works celebrating the National Parks, and drawing the public towards these protected wild lands. He came out with "The Top of the Continent" in 1917, reissued his popular "Portfolio" and began work on "The Book of the National Parks," as well as continuing to pull together brochures, pictures, and pamphlets to distribute to any group, business, or organization that expressed interest in supporting the NPS.
Yard had understood early on that it would be necessary to interest and include businesses in protecting the parks. During the April 1916 Congressional hearings, Yard mentioned the role that businesses should be encouraged to play in public lands, (Albright, 1945).
We do wish our people to go out to the national parks and revel in their beautiful scenery, and we want our children to go there and study nature. That is true; but beyond all that, our national parks-and I have been studying them pretty closely for a year, and have also studied somewhat the operations of other countries in respect to their natural scenery-our national parks constitute an economic asset that we have entirely overlooked; one which, when they are developed in a businesslike way by our business men, as business men would develop businesses of their own, will surely become a national property that on the basis of capitalization may soon be measured only in billions of dollars. This asset has been entirely overlooked.
By utilizing businesses, Yard was, in effect, providing Americans with no excuse to not visit their National Parks. Yard provided the literature that would entice people up from their armchairs and into nature; the businesses provided means to do so.
Yard left the NPS in 1919, at the age of fifty-eight. However, this was not a move towards retirement. Yard maintained for nearly half of his life that his age was forty-seven, and fittingly, had the work ethic and attitude of that age. Yard's departure from the NPS was in part due to financial concerns-it was inappropriate for Mather, as the Director, to continue using his personal funds to pay a fellow Government worker's salary, but at the same time, the NPS budget could not afford to fund Yard's position. Mather gave Yard a final payment, which Yard promptly used to create the National Parks Association (NPA). This organization was created out of Yard's long held belief that: "Sometime there will be born a national parks association which shall consist of private citizens interested in this cause from every state in the country," as he said in 1917 (Ward, 1945, p. 12).
The NPA was a citizen-advocacy group that worked for the continued protection and public support of the NPS. As such, the NPA frequently collaborated with the NPS, while maintaining independence from the politics of the governmental organization. Yard's chief concern always seemed to be that the public be involved in their environments and wild places-it seems entirely fitting that he would create a citizen-based organization to do just that. As Executive Secretary of the NPA?, Yard continued to advocate for the wise use of wild places. He staunchly believed in the wilderness character of the National Parks, and that as much of the parks ought to be left wild, not run over with roads and other markers of human use.
It was in the spirit of this preservation of undeveloped land that Yard was invited to be a founding member of The Wilderness Society in 1935. The masthead of the Society's chief publication, The Living Wilderness, gave the founding date of The Wilderness Society as "Begun to meet emergency, January 21, 1935. Formally organized, April 24, 1937." Since many of the other founding members were previously engaged, Yard assumed the bulk of the preliminary day-to-day responsibilities of the early Society, (Broome, 1945, p. 13).
He continued to use his literary talents to improve the state of primitive wilderness and was the first editor and guiding voice for The Living Wilderness. In the first issue, published in September, 1935, Yard's first article lays out the reason The Wilderness Society came into existence. "Ten years of warfare in Congress saved the National Parks System from water power and irrigation, but left the primitive decimated else where. What little of it is left is passing before a popular craze and an administrative fashion. The craze is to build all the highways possible everywhere while billions may yet be borrowed from the unlucky future. The fashion is to barber and manicure wild America as smartly as the modern girl. Our duty is clear." (Yard, 1935, p. 1).
Yard wrote and worked for The Living Wilderness for the rest of his life. He got a bad case of pneumonia in 1944, and spent the following year bedridden. From his bed, he still managed to pull together the May and September 1944 issues. He died on May 17, 1945, at the age of forty-seven, emotionally, and eighty-four, chronologically. The December 1945 issue of The Living Wilderness is wholly dedicated to his memory and his legacy; a fitting tribute to the everlasting literary influence Yard exerted over the preservation of wilderness.
As he wrote in the 1937 Wilderness Society Creed, "The inherent rights of succeeding generations to study, enjoy and use fine examples of primeval America is a responsibility of this generation." (Yard, 1937, p. 1). The language used in the 1964 Wilderness Act owes a great deal to the words Robert Sterling Yard, as do all those who are "enjoyers of the out-of-doors" in public wild lands. It is unimaginable to picture the NPS, the NPA, and The Wilderness Society, and the public lands and wild places those groups protect, without Yard's contributions.
Albright, H. M. (1945). Making the Parks Known to the People. The Living Wilderness, 10, 5-9
Albright, J. (1990) Robert Sterling Yard. The National Park Service: The First 75 Years.
Broome, H. (1945). The Last Decade, 1935-1945. The Living Wilderness, 10, 13-17
Collier, L. (1945). Mr. Yard As I Knew Him. The Living Wilderness, 10, 18.
Ward, H. B. (1945). Yard, the Dreamer and Builder. The Living Wilderness, 10, 10-13
Yard, R. S. (1920). The Book of the National Parks. New York; Charles Scribner's Sons.
Yard, R. S. (1935). A Summons to Save the Wilderness. The Living Wilderness, 1
Yard, R. S. (1937). Wilderness Society Creed. The Living Wilderness, 3