On the eve of the National Parks Service's centennial celebration in August, NPS and Clemson University unveiled a new online digital archive of historic photos from the parks.
The Open Parks Network currently holds more than 100,000 high-resolution photos, and continues to grow. The photos date back to the early 20th century and show just how much visitor experiences have changed over the decades. Feeding the animals—including bears—wasn't so much verboten as it was a major tourist attraction. And to look at some of the outfits, you'll be more thankful than ever for microdown and fleece.
At the same time—provided the right Instagram photo filters, photos of people looking in awe at mountain panoramas or sprawled out in camp could have easily have been taken today. And remember those Canadian teenagers who got in trouble for walking up to a geyser in Yellowstone this summer? They weren't the first.
With the help of Rachel Jane Wittmann, the network’s National Parks metadata specialist, we dove into the archive to find some of the very best photos from the collection so far.
Photo: A man identified as Jack Raymon teaches a Boy Scout how to hold a cottonmouth moccasin, also known as a water moccasin, in 1940. The snakes are extremely venomous.Visitors clamber all over Grotto Geyser in Yellowstone in this undated photo.Feeding black bears was considered good sport for decades in the parks. In this shot from 1957, a man feeds crackers to a bear in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.However, the bears could turn on people, as is happening here. Also dated to 1957 from Great Smoky Mountains, this bear may well be the same one shown being fed in the previous photo.This undated photo from Congaree National Park, in South Carolina, shows a couple paddling Cedar Creek. The Cedar Creek Canoe Trail runs 15 miles through primeval old growth forest.A family enjoys a picnic at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, in North Carolina, in 1956. The NPS saw a huge influx of visitors in the 1950s following World War II.Some campers try to dry off their gear in this undated 35 mm slide from Congaree National Park.This photo, titled “Two bicyclists from South Bend,” was taken in 1939 at Mammoth Cave National Park. It shows the kind of gear road bikers were working with in the depth of the Great Depression.A hiker from Two Rivers, Wisconsin, takes a gander at the historic entrance of Mammoth Cave in 1941.This dramatic shot from 1939 shows visitors on a guided boat tour of Echo River in Mammoth Cave. The boat tour was a huge attraction at the park, but was discontinued in 1990 in order to protect aquatic species.A boy considers taking a detour on the “Appalachain Trail” (note the misspelling on the sign) in Great Smoky Mountains.Park Ranger Bill Kloppe leads a group of children on a tour of Gregory Cave in Great Smoky Mountains. The cave is no longer open to visitors.A man rappels “Austrian style” down a rock face in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, 1955. Better known today as “The Dulfersitz,” this style of rappelling doesn't require a harness.From the same photo collection, this shot shows a man using the more common “Swiss seat” method to get down the Lamar Valley rock face.The desire to feed the animals went straight to the top in early Park Service. Here, Stephen Mather, who led the formation of the NPS and served as its first director, feeds a bison in Yellowstone.Not to be outdone, Marian Albright, daughter of Yellowstone superintendent Horace Albright, cuddles up to a fawn near Mammoth in 1924.This 1922 photograph bears an odd caption: “Stoutest visitor of the year, 308 pounds.” While the location of this swimming pool is unclear, you can still soak in the hot waters flowing near Mammoth Hot Springs at the Boiling River, just inside Yellowstone's north gate.In this undated 35 mm slide, a man looks down a massive crevice in Sperry Glacier. The surface area of Sperry Glacier has receded 35 percent between 1966 and 2005.Again with the feeding of the animals. Here a girl feeds a prairie dog in Glacier National Park.