New Book | To Conserve Unimpaired

To Conserve Unimpaired

The Evolution of the National Park Idea


Washington, DC (April 2013) —  Each year, about 280 million people visit a national park, seeking everything from jaw-dropping beauty to breathtaking excitement, from a vacation to a livelihood. The park system is charged with conserving these special places unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. But what does this actually mean for today’s national parks, which are not, and have never been, isolated nature reserves? In To Conserve Unimpaired: The Evolution of the National Park Idea, Robert Keiter explains how parks are changing to adapt to the environmental, economic, and demographic changes they face today.


While national parks may be “the best idea America ever had,” Keiter argues that the national parks are not just one idea, but a blend of many ideas that have evolved, and are continuing to evolve, over the system’s hundred-year history. National parks can be wilderness areas, recreational playgrounds, tourist destinations, classrooms, native or tribal homelands, and more. By tracing the development of each of these goals over time, examining the controversies connected to them, and exploring what each goal means for parks in the future, To Conserve Unimpaired argues that a more complete understanding of the system and its history is paramount to thinking about what it means to conserve these places.


National parks are largely defined by the controversies that have shaped them, and To Conserve Unimpaired provides detailed case studies of several prominent controversies, including snowmobiles in Yellowstone, restoration in the Everglades, and dam management in the Grand Canyon. By analyzing the conflicts facing  today’s national parks and understanding their role in the context of larger ecosystems, Keiter calls for a new definition of the national park idea that will inspire the next generation to solve our looming conservation challenges.


Arguing that national parks are economically, culturally, and ecologically connected to the communities that surround them, To Conserve Unimpaired takes the detailed and topical approach necessary to present an accurate view of America’s most iconic landscapes. By reassessing the fundamental goal of our national parks, this book seeks to provide a better understanding of what the future may hold for the parks in a world that is being reshaped by climate change and a pervasive human presence.



Robert B. Keiter is the Wallace Stegner Professor of Law, University Distinguished Professor, and founding Director of the Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources, and the Environment at the University Of Utah S.J. Quinney College Of Law.