Born in Pella, Iowa, in 1903, Lemuel “Lon” Garrison would have a significant impact on the National Park Service (NPS) during his 40-year long career with that agency. He attended Des Moines University, the University of California at Los Angeles, Redlands University, and San Jose State College, graduating from Stanford University with the Bachelor of Science degree in psychology in 1932. After graduation he entered the NPS in 1932 as a seasonal park ranger at Sequoia National Park (NP) in California. He became a permanent ranger in 1935 and was assigned to Yosemite NP. In November 1939 he became the first superintendent of Hopewell Village National Historic Site in Pennsylvania. Two years later he became the assistant chief of information at NPS headquarters in Washington, a position that he held until his appointment as assistant superintendent of Glacier NP in 1942.
After four years at Glacier, in 1946 Garrison became assistant superintendent of Grand Canyon NP. In 1952 officials transferred him to Big Bend NP in Texas as superintendent. Three years later he became the NPS’s first chief of conservation and protection. During this time he concurrently served as the chairmen of the NPS MISSION 66 Steering Committee. In 1956 he became superintendent of Yellowstone NP and from there went on to become the NPS regional director in the Midwest Region in Omaha, Nebraska (1964-1966) and then regional director in the Northeast Region (1966-1970). Garrison served as director of the Horace M. Albright Training Center at Grand Canyon NP from 1970 until his retirement from the NPS in 1973. He completed his career as a visiting professor in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration at Texas A&M University.
Garrison was also a successful freelance writer who wrote more than 250 articles on the outdoors, parks, fishing travel, children, and other topics in publications such as Outdoor Life, Journal of Forestry, and Parks and Recreation Magazine. Perhaps best known is the book he published in 1983, called The Making of a Ranger: Forty Years and the National Parks, in which he recorded his experiences as an NPS employee.
Though a gifted teacher and storyteller, Garrison saw himself first and foremost as a park ranger. He received various awards for his commitment and service to the NPS and the parks. Among these awards are the Department of the Interior Meritorious Service award, its Distinguished Service Award, the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society’s Pugsley Gold Medal Award, the National Conference on State Parks Award of Excellence, and the National Society for Park Resources Distinguished Service Award. In summing up Garrison’s contributions, Clemson University noted, “With resourcefulness, a deep intellectual perception, dedicated leadership and a deep love and respect for nature, Lemuel Garrison helped forge a philosophy of outdoor recreation management that became a model for the nation.”