William C. Forrey. History of Pennsylvania's State Parks, 1893-1983. Harrisburg: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Environmental Resources, Office of Resources Management, Bureau of State Parks, 1984. Illustrations, maps. 110 pp. http://paconservationheritage.org/resources/articles/.
William C. Forrey. History of Pennsylvania's State Parks, 1984-2015. Harrisburg: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Office of Parks and Forestry, Bureau of State Forests, 2015. Illustrations. 101 pp. http://paconservationheritage.org/resources/articles/.
Reviewed by Jessica DeWitt (University of Saskatchewan)
Published on H-Pennsylvania (September, 2018)
Commissioned by Allen J. Dieterich-Ward (Shippensburg University)
The first volume of History of Pennsylvania’s State Parks, which covers the years 1893-1983, was written to commemorate the first one hundred years of Pennsylvania’s state parks and was published in 1984. In it, William C. Forrey wrote that a comprehensive history of Pennsylvania’s state park system was not yet written. This assertion was correct. To this day, Forrey’s account of the development of state parks in Pennsylvania remains the definitive historical account. Forrey has especial knowledge of the commonwealth’s park system. He worked within the Pennsylvania state park system for decades and served as its director from 1973 to 1992. The second volume, published in 2015, History of Pennsylvania’s State Parks, 1984-2015, covers the thirty years since the first volume was published. Both volumes were commissioned and published by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Non-national park histories are perennially underserved by academic historiography. The majority of histories about state park systems (and provincial park systems in Canada) are commissioned by state or provincial governments and written by non-academic historians. Forrey’s volumes fall into this category.
Both volumes are set up chronologically. Forrey writes in an accessible manner and the short paragraphs enable for quick reading and allow researchers to easily find pertinent information. Forrey’s use of footnotes, rather than endnotes, also enables the reader to readily discern where he has found his information. The primary strength of the first volume is Forrey’s access to a vast amount of primary documents and statistics that strengthen the narrative and provide information that is unavailable or hard to come by elsewhere. He includes excerpts from many primary sources throughout the main text and more historical information is provided in table format at the end of the book. The main text is also strengthened by a wealth of visuals, including photographs and maps. Ironically, one of the weaknesses of the text is related to its primary strengths. Forrey’s narrative is at times too reliant on the primary sources available to him and is thus often uneven. Some time periods receive a great deal of detailed attention while others are brushed over quickly. Similarly, some parks are discussed in depth and others are not mentioned in the main text at all.
The second volume is similar to the first with a few exceptions. First, the earlier volume focuses a great deal on the creation of parks through time. Because the second volume begins in the 1980s, when park creation in Pennsylvania slowed down significantly, Forrey spends a greater amount of time discussing the details of park management and maintenance, including discussion of facilities, privatization of park services, the development of recreation programs, flood damage, and “green” initiatives. The second volume is at a bit of a disadvantage because it addresses thirty years, rather than one hundred, and thus there is not as much content to cover. Second, the format and layout of the second volume is improved from the first. The principal improvement is the inclusion of color photographs. Forrey’s insider role at the Bureau of State Parks is more evident in this volume, particularly in regard to the fact that he does not cover the continued negation of state park funding in Pennsylvania and the effect that this loss has had on the parks within the park system. He does, however, spend some time discussing park controversies, such as the Bald Eagle Inn controversy of the 1990s.
Both volumes are light on analysis. Forrey presents a straightforward and often detailed narrative of what happens within the park system but rarely provides broader context for these events. It is up to the reader to do further investigation to understand the political, social, and economic contexts within which Pennsylvania’s park system developed. Forrey’s two volumes, however, offer the only concise and wide-ranging history of Pennsylvania’s park system and thus they are indispensable. For the casual reader and park enthusiast, Forrey’s work will likely satiate their curiosity. For professional historians and other researchers, he provides a helpful framework from which to expand, as well as a wealth of primary sources that are ripe for further exploration.
Editor's Note: The two volumes are available as free downloads at http://paconservationheritage.org/resources/articles/.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-pennsylvania.
Jessica DeWitt. Review of William C. Forrey, History of Pennsylvania's State Parks, 1893-1983 and
William C. Forrey, History of Pennsylvania's State Parks, 1984-2015.
H-Pennsylvania, H-Net Reviews.
|This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.|