Photo History From National Park Lookouts Shows Landscape Changes Over 70+ Years
There's an intriguing page within the vast nps.gov domain that opens a wonderful portal of history, one that allows us to compare today with yesteryear. The site, within the National Park Service Fire and Aviation Management section, compares historic photos taken from fire lookouts in the National Park System with today's landscapes.
The web page tells the story of a photographic project that took place in the 1930s from lookouts and lookout points at 200 locations in national parks across the country for the purpose of mapmaking for wildfire detection. Many of the 1930s photographs taken by Junior Forester Lester Moe still exist today, though some are still hidden away in national park museums, libraries, and archives. They are immediately recognizable due to their unique format.
National parks are recognizing the significance of the photographs in that they can be compared with present-day photographs to understand change over time. Both Yellowstone and Glacier national parks were very important to the project, as they have pursued repeat photography in the same locations as the 1930s project.
Some of the Yellowstone images have been uploaded to Gigapan®, a website that allows interactive viewing of the image. When present-day repeat photography images are viewed side-by-side with the 1930s' images, viewers obtain a clearer picture of changes related to land cover, topography, and human infrastructure in the parks.
The website compiles stories, history, and imagery and tells the story through the use of interactive elements. In addition, it encourages action by the public to participate as citizen scientists in repeat photography projects, or other related projects such as invasive species monitoring.
Now, you can visit this project, which was completed as a Master’s Capstone project for the Quinnipiac University Interactive Media Program, at this page.
Here's a great companion video that looks at some of the history of how the landscape photography project of the 1930s came about:
The interactive attributes of the Fire and Aviation Management page lets you look at the entire "then" photo, the entire "now" photo, or a combo then-and-now photo.
What's interesting about this project is the photos show how landscapes have changed over time. In some instances, the forests below the lookouts had been charred by wildfires shortly before the photos were taken. Today's repeat photography of the same landscapes in some cases show lush forests, others that show vegetation-obscured roads down below that were clear in the earlier photographs.
At the same time, some shots show landscapes with no visible roads...and the updated shots clearly show the roads that have been blazed across the parkscapes. Unfortunately, right now images from just two parks -- Glacier and Yellowstone -- are up for viewing.
This comparison photo matches one taken in 1937 from the Looking Glass Overlook in Glacier National Park with an infared photo taken in 2008. As the Park Service caption points out, "The landscape has become more forested. The road once clearly visible in 1937 is obscured by trees in 2008."
This is a great piece of history worth spending a little time reviewing.