Course Syllabus

Environmental Studies 308: National Parks:
The History of an American Innovation
Syllabus #1533
4 credits

Wendy Walker
Professor Emerita
Environmental Studies
Phone: (360) 393-6092

Full Course Syllabus:  Env Studies 308 syl 1533 WPs.doc

Course Designed by: Dr. Robert Keller



ENVS 202 or permission of instructor


What is the history, purpose, and meaning of our national park system? In this study you will address problems and questions. Here are some examples: How do national parks differ from other parks? What environmental dilemmas exist in their management, funding, use, and access? Who determines park policy? Who and what is the National Park Service, and why did Congress establish the NPS fifty years after creating the first park at Yosemite? How do large federal bureaucracies work, and is it possible to influence them? Why should there be federal instead of just state and county parks? Why do some people passionately hate the Park Service? Is the 1916 (NPS) Mandate out of date? Why did the Park Service oppose the Wilderness Act? How and why does the Park Service cooperate with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers? What is the difference between a park, monument, and historic site? What is the significance of the NPS being located within the Department of the Interior? What do parks reveal about American culture and attitudes toward nature? Why do so many foreigners love our parks?

NOTE: ENVS 308 is not repeatable for credit. This course was previously numbered ESTU 317m and ESTU 341. Students who have received credit for these courses are not eligible to repeat the credit in ENVS 308.  The course fulfills WP3 requirement for writing proficiency and requires rewrites of the first six papers after instructor edit of rough draft.


Complete 6-8 critical essays as assigned (see section on grading) plus a take-home final exam. The course will involve reading at least three books and writing the equivalent of a 30-page paper. If you are unfamiliar with critical reviewing, consult the New York Times Book Review, the New York Review of Books, magazines such as The Atlantic, or scholarly journals such as American Historical Review, Journal of American History, or Western Historical Quarterly. All assignments must be in print.  All essays will be submitted first in draft form and then revised and resubmitted in an improved final form that reflects changes suggested by the instructor's comments and writing edit.

I encourage you to think your own thoughts and reach your own conclusions in light of what you discover. You will not be graded on your opinions but on how well you support them.


  • Runte, Alfred E., National Parks: The American Experience, 4th edition, University of Nebraska Press, 2010 ISBN: 9781589794733
  • Sax, Joseph L., Mountains Without Handrails, Reflections on the National Parks, University of Michigan Press, 1980 ISBN: 9780472063246
  • Keller, Robert, “Lac La Croix: Rumor, Rhetoric and Reality in Indian Affairs,” Canadian Journal of Native Studies VIII No. 1 (This article is in Module 2.)

Students selecting the “B” grade option (see the section on “Grading”) will need the following text:

  • Keller, Robert H., and Michael F. Turek, American Indians and National Parks, University of Arizona Press, 1998 ISBN: 9780816520145

Students choosing the “A” grade option should select two of the following:

  • Miles, John C., Guardians of the Parks, Taylor and Francis, 1995 ISBN: 9781560324461
  • Chase, Alston, Playing God in Yellowstone, Harcourt Brace, 1987 ISBN: 9780156720366
  • Sellars, Richard West, Preserving Nature in the National Parks, Yale University Press, 1997 ISBN: 9780300075786
  • Lankford, Andrea, Ranger Confidential: Living, Working, And Dying in the National Parks, Globe Pequot Press, 2010 ISBN: 9780762752638


The textbooks may be obtained online through a price comparison website such as Plan on purchasing your textbooks early and always be sure you are purchasing the correct edition of the book for this syllabus.


Assignment Four requires that you view programs from the Ken Burn’s series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

These are available at most video rental stores, Netflix and if you are in the Bellingham area they are available in Wilson Library.


I prefer the pass/fail grading system. Letter grades are misleading, inaccurate, an annoyance, and a distraction from study. If you need a letter grade, it will be quantified: completing lessons 1-6 brings a “C”; adding Lesson 7 earns a “B”; and doing Lesson 8 means an “A” for the course. I reserve the right to award a lower grade if your work is of inadequate quality. All students will be required to complete the final exam, regardless of the grade selected.

In both cases, whether you have chosen to receive a letter grade or are taking the course on a pass/fail basis, you will receive a grade of “S” or “K” on each lesson. A grade of “S” means you have completed that lesson satisfactorily; proceed to the next assignment. If you receive a grade of “K”, this means your work is incomplete and you must revise and redo that assignment. Please read the instructor’s comments carefully when you receive a “K”.


Most of the textbooks have excellent introductory reading lists and bibliographic essays. If you need advice on a specific park or problem, ask me or consult the University of Arizona Web site ( under my name.

A sampling:

Albright, Horace The Birth of the National Park Service
  Oh, Ranger!
Catton, Theodore National Park, City Playground: Mt. Rainier
  Inhabited Wilderness: Indians, Eskimos & National Parks
Foresta, Ronald America's National Parksand Their Keepers
Frome, Michael Regreening the National Parks
Ghiglieri, Michael Over teh Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon
Harmon, Rick Crater Lake National Park: A History
Ise, John Our National Park History
Jones, Holway John Muir and the Sierra Club
Kaufman, Polly National Parks and the Woman's Voice
Kaye, Roger Last Great Wilderness: The Campaign to Establish the ANWR
Loure, David Windshield Wilderness: Cars, Roads and Nature
Mark, Stephen Preserving the Living Past
Muir, John Steep Trails
  The Yosemite
  Our National Parks
Ridenour, James The National Parks Compromised
Schrepfer, Susan The Fight to Save the Redwoods
Tilden, Freeman The National Parks

Many more books have been written. For example, there are at least two dozen about the Grand Canyon.


In a self-paced course everything happens in writing, including these instructions. If the writing is unclear, everything suffers. Your written work will take the place of classroom interaction and discussion, so you must express opinions, disagree, debate, and become involved with history through sound writing.

Your work must move beyond reporting, or mere recapitulation, to analysis and evaluation. Suggestions on how to do this follow below.

Papers must be typed and double spaced. Sources of information must be cited.  The final drafts must reflect thoughtful changes made in response to the instructor's edits and comments.

Be sure that your writing is thoughtful, revised, edited, and meets the same good standards of writing as work prepared by conventional means.  First six papers will be submitted in draft form and then rewritten after instructor edits and comments.


You can assume I have read any assigned book and need not be informed of its contents. I do, however, require evidence that you have read the book. This is best done by being specific in illustrating your points.

A good book review answers questions: Is the book clearly written? What are the authors’ attitudes, biases, assumptions, purpose, and style? The major theses, interpretations, and conclusions? What new material/information did you learn about parks? Where did you agree or disagree? Why? How does the book compare with your previous knowledge? How well is the book documented? Does the author consider conflicting evidence, and do so fairly?

Did the reading change your mind about national parks, the NPS, or how we can (or should we?) protect and preserve natural reserves? For whom is the book written? To whom would you recommend it? Does the publisher help readers by printing, maps, charts, photos, source notes?

A good book review is a trialogue between you, the author, and me.


ALWAYS make a copy of your work BEFORE submitting it. If lessons are lost, it is far easier to resubmit a copy than to rewrite an entire assignment. All assignments must be completed in order to receive credit for the course. Unless given special permission by the instructor, submit only one lesson at a time. Under no circumstances may you submit all, or even most, lessons at one time. All work must be submitted in Canvas.

Time Considerations (a message from the Western Online office) - Organize your time so that you spread the work out over 10 to 12 weeks, just like a regular academic quarter. Treat your Self-paced course as the serious learning experience that it is. True learning takes time: time for reading, time for processing new information, time for reflection. When students get into trouble in a Self-paced course it is most often when they try to rush through a large part of the work at the end of the quarter or right before their own deadline.

Plan your schedule for completing your work. At least six assignments and a final must be completed in order to receive credit for the course.  This includes submitting rough drafts for the first six assignments.


Your instructor, Professor Walker, would be glad to discuss your questions with you.  You may include a note with your assignment,  call her at 360-393-6092 or e-mail  at


Wendy Walker taught environmental studies at WWU for 25 years until her retirement from full time teaching in 2018 and status as Emerita faculty. Her courses have included Introduction to Environmental Education, Environmental Interpretation, Outdoor Education, Curriculum for Education and Sustainability, Timberline Ecology, Leadership in Outdoor Education, Natural History for Outdoor Education, Ecotourism, Environmental Hope and Environmental Communication. She has written two books and numerous articles related to environmental issues. She continues to teach intermittently and consults with national parks, national forests and other resource management agencies.


Robert Keller, Professor Emeritus, taught history at Western Washington University for over forty years. He taught teaching distance learning students for more than two decades before his death in 2018.

Professor Keller received magna cum laude honors as a Bachelor of Divinity graduate of the University of Chicago, M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the same esteemed institution, a National Endowment for the Humanities postdoctoral fellowship. He has also received Western’s Excellence in Teaching Award and the Academic Year Award in recognition of his outstanding teaching methods and devotion to his profession and students. In addition to all this Dr. Keller has published numerous articles, book reviews, study guides and books.

Course Summary:

Date Details Due