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Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Stephen Mather Challenge

Mather Lodge in Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas -- and the Stephen Mather Challenge.

Some heroes go out in a blaze of glory as an old rock and roll song says. Some pass quietly but leave behind enormous consequences of their being. Stephen Mather was the latter. He was born into privilege but became a millionaire in his own right. He suffered from what we now call bipolar disorder but despite the highs and lows associated with that condition, he spent his life in the service of our country – not as a soldier, but as a business man, a visionary, and a builder.
Mather made his fortune by making a commodity seem special. Everyone knew his brand – 20 Mule Team Borax. However, his lasting contribution was in the expansion of the National Parks Service. By 1917, Woodrow Wilson was so impressed with Mather's marketing skills on behalf of the service that he appointed him as its first director. It turned out to be the perfect choice for the times.
Mather Lodge on Mount Petit Jean
This was a period of huge change for the country. New products hit the market everyday. People had cars, enough money for the basics – and for family vacations. Not for the first time, America's beautiful landscapes beckoned – and more people than ever wanted to see them. Understanding the needs of these  vacationers, Mather developed some of the United States's most popular destinations. He gave infrastructure -- roads, bridges, walls, and overlooks -- high priority.  He added amenities that provided safety and comfort -- lodges, restaurants, cabins, and public bathrooms. Influenced by his own love of nature, he looked for ways to make the experience positive and people flocked to see amazing features that only a few years before was considered "wild."
Mather was so successful in introducing Americans to America, that many memorials and structures now bear his name -- even though few of us are aware of his legacy. Today, visitors can view Grand Canyon National Park from Mather Point. There's a Mather Pass in Kings Canyon National Park. And of course, there is Mount Mather in Denali National Park.

Evelyn Harless on rock behind Mather Lodge overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon
If you read this post and you know of a building or structure or natural phenomenon named for Stephen Mather, take a picture and send it to with a short description of what we are seeing and any information you might have on why it was named for Mather. Pat or I will post your photo to our blog and try to visit the location to learn more about it.

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