By 1900, the parks were extremely popular and park accommodations filled to capacity summer after summer. Despite lower fares and appeals to a broader target market in advertising, train travel was still costly. Additionally, all national park, which now included Sequoia, Crater Lake, and Mt. Rainier, were in the West, far from the major population centers. By 1905, visitation in Yellowstone only totaled 13,000, with Yosemite's only slightly higher because of its proximity to San Francisco. Preservationists and railroad executives alike faced a difficult task in defending the profitability and popularity of the parks well enough to convince the government that economic resource exploitation was not a more worthwhile approach to the American wilderness.

For all that men like Muir and Roosevelt had accomplished in bringing the issue of preservation into the national discussion, they were not able to remove the clause leftover from the National Park bill that granted Congress the power to repeal protection from National Parks where economic development was feasible. The preservationists felt vindicated when the Yosemite Valley won National Park Status in 1890 and was given 1500 additional acres of timber and grasslands along the foothills of the Sierras, but in 1905 local timber companies and farmers lobbied ardently enough to reclaim valuable timber, grazing, and mineral areas totalling roughly 540 square miles, one-third of the protected land (Runte, NP 56). This reversal of federal protection did not bode well for preservationists. John Muir and others objected strenuously to park reduction, but they could not defend the foothills from economic exploitation by claiming them as National Monuments; they were not the rugged peaks of the Sierras or the centuries-old antiquities of American history. They were simply not majestic enough to qualify as monuments to America.

Shortly after this strike against Yosemite, the city of San Francisco dealt another blow to the ecological safety of the valley. San Francisco was in search of a fresh water source and after years of looking, the city settled on the Hetch-Hetchy Valley which lay in the boundaries of the National Park. Preservationsits claimed that Hetch-Hetchy was equal to Yosemite in its sublimity and splendor but not many visitors had seen it because access to Hetch-Hetchy was limited to rough trails which most park tourists did not explore. Despite the outspoken protests against the suggestion to dam the valley for a reservoir, the needs of 500,000 San Franciscans took priority over the few hundred tourists who visited each summer. Late in 1905, Secretary of the Interior James A. Garfield approved San Francisco's request and permitted a dam in the gorge.

The contest between the aesthetic and ecological character of Yosemite and the practical needs of 500,000 California residents shows that the railroads may have met with too much success in their efforts to promote travel and settlement in the west. In the early 1900's, the West had been settled. Early rail campaigns and government land rushes drew hundreds of thousands from Europe and the East coast, and cities and towns were arising from the prairies, deserts, and mountains by the moment. Former outposts such as Seattle and Portland developed into powerful Western communities with urgent practical needs. A double standard emerged in the country that still persists. The west had been a place of such cultural importance that its national parks and forest reserves seemed crucial to the protection of an American identity. Even after the burgeoning Western population demonstrated an economic need for resources and land, their need to earn a living and build communities remained secondary to the preservation of an idea of an American past. Eastern land was readily sacrificed for economic development, but the West was more a living museum than a place to live and protection was and is a more prominent question in Western states.

Despite their possible culpability in the matter, rail executives and preservationists worried that the Hetch-Hetchy debacle was the death knell for the parks. Preservationists renewed fears of ecological decimation in the well-preserved West and railroad officials feared massive finanical ruin from the failure to capitalize on the significant investments in park accommodations, advertising, and passenger car upgrades. With the threat of losing the parks to economic devleopment, the railroads and the preservationists cemented their relationship and worked to keep these regions intact. The rails responded accordingly and increased advertising which courted the nature tourist and the society tourist alike to keep the crowds coming. Preservationists continued to lobby for a central park management authority and permanent protection in each park, and the railroads did their part to heighten interest in a wilderness vacation. The "See America First" campaign was devoted to the national park cause, and the appeal to patriotism was one of the most successful marketing strategies the railroads concocted. If the parks were to be protected, the rails reasoned, people had to visit them. "See America First" addressed the pervasive cultural anxiety about America's ability to compete with Europe for visitation and encouraged travel to the American West instead of the Alps or other European destinations.

The advent of the automobile also spurred the railroads into action, since the luxury of the Pullman could hardly compete with the notoriety and novelty of a personal car, at least among the very wealthy clientele long courted by the railroads. Nonetheless, the railroads continued to devote funds to park enhancements. Southern Pacific had recently built the glamorous Del Portal Hotel just outside Yosemite's border and announced plans to make a connection with the newly organized Yosemite Valley Railroad, the first rail line to provide direct access to the valley, thus making the difficult stage journey into the park obsolete. Northern Pacific poured money into upgrading Yellowstone establishments and worked to maintain its association with the park in light of the new competition presented by the arrival of the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul line at the new "Gallatin Gateway" on Yellowstone's west side.

These posters demonstrate Northern Pacific's dedication to the rail travel cause. The one on the top reminds the viewer that Northern Pacific's line crosses the old frontier of Lewis and Clark and still preserves the essence of that time in a park "reached directly only by this line." Suspending the Northern Pacific logo under Yellowstone's memorial Gateway arch in the poster on the bottom points out that the railroad was instrumental in winning the protection of the first National Park in America.

With new railroads duplicating the Northern and Southern Pacific examples in new parks across the West, establishing a centrally managed and permanently protected National Park System became crucial for protecting railroad investments in advertising and park facilities. The Hetch-Hetchy affair proved that Congress would readily invoke its right to exploit the resources in the park if necessary, and rail officials and preservationists alike feared for the integrity of their parks and profits. The public needed an impetus to champion preservation, and railroad agents and preservationists found their spokesman in horticulturist, printer, and publisher J. Horace McFarland, a Pennsylvanian with a dedicated interest in preservation. He was able to use his position and his pen to elicit support through the popular press. The Ladies' Home Journal, Century, and Outlook magazines featured McFarland's columns which encouraged support for scenic protection based on worst-case-scenario appeals to preserve "America's heritage." In his wildly popular "Beautiful America" column, he wrote in support of preservation by reminding the public again of Niagara Falls, calling it "The Monument of America's Shame and Greed" (Runte, NP 87). McFarland's effectiveness in the matter was his support for profit from preservation, and his approach appealed to economically minded citizens and preservationists alike as he criticized the downfall of Niagara in financial terms by reminding Americans that their scenic wonders brought them millions of dollars in tourist revenues in and out of the park boundaries each year. This reminder of the associative property of park profits in surrounding communities was effective. Even though preservation on environmental grounds was not easily defended at this time, economic appeals guaranteed ready approval from the public.

Because of the publicity in the popular press, along with opinions like McFarland's, scenic preservation gained the popular support it needed and park visitation rose sharply in the the 1909, 1910, and 1911 seasons. Preservationists agreed with McFarland's anti-development stance, and businessmen were inspired by his reminder of the tourist dollars at stake. In 1911, when the first National Parks Conference convened at Yellowstone to discuss the problematic park management policies, the railroads devoted their energies exclusively to the preservation effort. The presence of several rail delegates demonstrated to the preservationists that their cause was about to reach its peak. Thanks to what Secretary of the Interior Walter Fisher referred to as the "enlightened selfishness" of the railroads, an organized and effective National Park System seemed a reality. For the railroads, years of continued profits and free publicity seemed a guarantee. Until the automobile became affordable in the late 1910's, the Railroad and National Park alliance was a win-win situation for businessmen, conservationists, and tourists.

The news about the proposed National Park Service generated new interest in park visitation. By 1905, only 13,000 people had visited Yellowstone since its dedication in 1872. During the summer of 1915 alone, 51, 895 visitors entered the park and 45,000 of them arrived by Northern Pacific to stay in railroad lodges and take advantage of railroad tours (Runte TD 28). Yosemite was more popular during the early 1900's, managing to attract about 5,000 visitors annually, but once the National Park issue reached the public spotlight, its numbers soared to nearly 50,000. Southern Pacific took advantage of the new Yosemite Valley Line, advertising "Pullman Service All the Way" from Los Angeles to El Portal, and the small railway shuttled nearly 15,000 passengers through the Merced River Canyon to the valley (Runte, TD 54).

Throngs of eager tourists crowd the El Portal terminal to board cars bound for the Yosemite Valley.

With figures like these, the profitability of preservation was undeniable. Railroad testimonials during congressional hearings were instrumental in winning governmentally legislated protection of America's scenery. President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Act in 1916, and fifty years of railroad efforts culminated in the largest system of federally protected land in the world. When the automobile arrived to "democratize" long-distance travel in the following years, the new auto tourist had vast public spaces to experience because of the aggressive railway campaigns and the communities which surrounded the National Parks enjoyed stable economic prosperity from the yearly barrage of travelers and their tourist dollars. The railroads could not have imagined their rapid downfall after the automobile's ascent, but their persistence in acquiring and protecting national park lands and the images they implanted in the national consciousness left a legacy that transcends their economic motivations.