Harold C. Bryant (1886 - 1968) was awarded the national level Pugsley Medal "for his outstanding work in guiding people afield, organizing the administrative structure upon which the interpretive program of the NPS is based, and in recognition of his successful pioneering efforts to make the great scenic, scientific, and historic heritage of the country meaningful to its people." He was born in Pasadena, California. He received an undergraduate degree (BS) from Pomona College, majoring in zoology/ornithology, and a MS and PhD in zoology and palenontology from the University of California, Berkeley. He was for a generation one of the country's most active figures in familiarizing people with the great outdoors. As a close friend of Mather and Albright, the "fathers of the NPS," Bryant was one of the principal architects of the development of interpretation in the national parks.
After graduation, Bryant joined the staff of the University of California Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Perhaps Bryant's most essential relationship was that with his mentor, Joseph Grinnell, Professor of Zoology and Director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley. Grinnell's favorable reputation by 1920 had established him as one of the most respected academics in the country. His museum drew praise from coast to coast. Founded in 1909, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology was the premiere zoological exhibition in the state, boasting the most complex inventory of native California species from Humboldt County to San Diego. Grinnell himself had collected most of the specimens, along with Tracy Storer, also of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Bryant saw in Grinnell the perfect professional, someone with solid academic credentials with strong public sympathies.
From 1914 to 1930, as part of his museum responsibilities, Bryant directed the education and research work of the California Fish and Game Commission (CFGC). Bryant first drew attention to himself in the spring of 1914 when he took over as the editor of the new journal California Fish and Game, the official publication of the CFGC. There, Bryant pulled together an impressive list of writers, academics, nature guide professionals, and museum specialists, to write on the state of the environment in California.
It was Grinnell who first encouraged Bryant to consider the logic of Yosemite as a place that was ideal for nature guiding. In 1918, Grinnell had approached Bryant with the idea of staging a series of "interpretive" lectures to be delivered at the various campgrounds in Yosemite Valley, modeled after the ones he designed at the museum. Bryant had been thinking on similar lines. Indeed, in the summer before, in 1917, he and another prominent person in the nature guiding movement, Charles M. Goethe, president of the California Nature Study League (CNSL), had traveled together to Glacier National Park to do just that: organize a potential satellite campus just outside the park for nature guiding activities. The idea to start a program in Montana was largely Goethe's, though Bryant had reasoned that any such program could easily be transferred to Yosemite. Ultimately, however, the plan at Glacier fell through, leaving Bryant and Goethe to consider more seriously the feasibility of local options, Yosemite among them. As it turned out, however, the first of such nature guide satellite campus would be staged at Lake Tahoe.
During the summer of 1919, Bryant delivered what could be considered four interpretive lectures in Yosemite Valley, and the response was quite good, boosting his confidence to try yet again to host a nature guide service somewhere in California. But again, Yosemite would take a backseat to Lake Tahoe. At the time, the park was struggling to transition from its previous military command to a new civilian corps under the NPS. Additional funding to begin a nature guide service was simply not available. The CFGC, though, considered Bryant's success as an invitation to start a program, albeit at Lake Tahoe, with Bryant as its lead nature guide. It was there where Bryant caught the attention of Stephen T. Mather. It was there also that Mather asked Bryant to sponsor a similar program at Yosemite for the summer of 1920 and Bryant was given permission to add a second naturalist when he moved the service south to Yosemite in 1920. Dr. Loye H. Miller of the southern branch of the University of California (now UCLA) came aboard that first summer to help Bryant organize the program. Bryant and Miller had known each other from graduate school, where they both studied for the Ph.D. under Grinnell.
The Yosemite Nature Guide Service which Bryant launched in 1920 was the first "interpretive" program ever sanctioned by the NPS and was done through a cooperative arrangement with the California Fish and Game Commission. Bryant and Miller were housed in tents and furnished with only a table in the chief ranger's office. Field trips, evening campfire talks, and established hours for answering questions from park visitors were introduced and were enthusiastically received.
The political realities that confronted Mather in establishing the NPS demanded that he generate enthusiasm for the parks and promoting their educational potential was a key ingredient in this strategy. Thus, in 1921 Mather sent Bryant and Miller on an extended east coast lecture tour largely to solicit support from prestigious natural history organizations such as the University of Chicago, the New York National History Museum, and the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, whose director Chauncey Hamlin (Pugsley Medal 1932) was later instrumental in helping Mather establish a new state-of-the-art museum in Yosemite Valley in 1924 because he was convinced Yosemite could emerge as a center of museum studies by the end of the decade.
For ten years, Bryant spent his summers in this work and served without cost to the federal government. In 1925, Bryant was named as the first director of the Yosemite School of Field Natural History to train park naturalists. Emphasis was placed on experience in the field, with lectures and books taking second place. This Yosemite experiment in nature guiding became the foundation of today's interpretive programs in the NPS, as the Yosemite School and its graduates trained literally thousands of park naturalists.
In 1930, to permit the NPS to implement a stronger interpretive and educational approach to park management, Bryant was appointed to his first full-time position with the NPS as assistant director of the Branch of Research and Education, serving under NPS directors Albright and Cammerer until 1938. He trained and appointed interpreters in all the national parks during this period. His first task was to develop a plan which called for the appointment of a park naturalist in each park who was responsible for developing an educational program for the park's visitors. The educational program was then included in the master plan for each park. When implementing the plan, Bryant followed four guiding principles:
Bryant trained each of the interpreters and emphasized to them that the educational program had to be developed to fit the average park visitor -- they were not to be primarily "academic in character." He stated that the goal was to "provide opportunities whereby every park visitor may learn about his environment and the laws of life. It is a program that makes education a continuous process that emphasizes vocational pursuits, that stimulates the use of leisure time for the enrichment of life."
Bryant encouraged the development of museums in the parks which were subsequently embraced in the broader notion of visitor centers. Prior to 1924, museum exhibits in the parks were limited mostly to stuffed birds and animals or Indian relics poorly housed and exhibited in the information office. He was a leader with Herman Bumpus (Pugsley Medal 1940) in introducing purpose built museums as part of the parks' educational mission. Mindful of the goal to draw people out to see the real object rather than a museum specimen representing it, Bryant located most museums so they formed a gateway to some interesting trail leading to the places explained in the museum. He was particularly supportive of developing localized roadside exhibits giving the visitor useful explanations while viewing a prominent feature. These simple wayside exhibits protected from the weather proved to be effective and popular.
As consultant to the director, Bryant assisted in the establishment of Olympic National Park during 1938 and was appointed as acting superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park in 1939. In early 1940, King Canyon National Park was established, and Bryant assisted in the organization of that area. He was appointed superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park on August 1, 1941, where he served until his retirement on March 31, 1954. During his tenure at Grand Canyon he identified two new species of birds, two new species of butterflies and a half-dozen plants, one of which, a type of wild buckwheat, was named after him. At Grand Canyon, he developed an interpretation program that was recognized as the finest in the NPS system.
Danz, H. National Park Service: The first 75 years, biographical vignettes: Dr. Harold Bryant, 1886-1968. http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/sontag/bryant.htm
Harold C Bryant (1931) Research and education in the national parks. American Civic Annual Vol III. Washington D.C.:American Planning and Civic Association. Pp. 13 � 17.
Pappas, Jefferey P. (2003) Forest scholars: The early history of nature guiding at Yosemite National Park 1913-1923. Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University.
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