“The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.”
The National Park Service currently manages over 400 units that include National Battlefields, National Military Parks, National Historic Sites, National Trails, National Wild and Scenic Rivers, as well as National Parks.
The idea for national parks is often credited to an artist, George Catlin, who wrote about his concerns in 1832. However, the idea did not begin to formalize until 1864 when Congress granted Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove to The State of California for protection. The Yosemite Grant did not create a National Park but instead set a precedent for conservation in the face of development.
Yellowstone National Park, created in 1872, was the first; Montana and Wyoming were not yet states and therefore had no state government. The land was to be managed by the U.S. Government under the Department of the Interior.
On the heels of Yellowstone, Congress created several national parks in the following years. Conservationists as well as railroad companies lobbied hard for their protection. But why railroads? Tourism. National Parks have always been viewed as tourist designations. Railroads saw great revenue in transporting tourist to and housing them during their visits to the park. Many of the original chalets still stand; some are still available accommodations.
With no centralized organization, the parks were haphazardly managed. The Army was called to Yellowstone and California to staff the more popular parks while monuments often went neglected. The final blow came in 1913 when Congress gave the green light on the Hetch Hetchy Dam in Yosemite National Park. Preservationist, such as John Muir, saw this as a disaster, others saw it as proper use of public lands for the benefit of all.
Stephen T. Mather, a Chicago businessman, complained about mismanagement and was called to Washington. Mather, along with Horace M. Albright, his principal aide, lobbied for an agency to oversee all the national parks. Their victory came on August 25, 1916 when Woodrow Wilson approved legislation creating the National Park Service. All national parks and monuments now fell under their management. Mather was named director and Albright was named assistant director.
Under this leadership, tourism was promoted as necessary to the parks flourishing. Roads were built, hotel ran by concessionaires were erected, and education was encouraged.
Since then, the National Park Service has continued to grow. Several units have been added, some have been removed. Funding has seen ebbs and flows. Volunteers and private donations have gone a long way to preserving our lands.
For more information on the history of the National Park Service visit: The National Park Service: A Brief History by Barry Mackintosh
For current information the National Park Service or to find a park visit: The National Park Service
To support your National Parks please visit: The National Park Foundation
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Yosemite National Park
- Death Valley National Park
- Golden Gate National Recreation Area
- Kings Canyon and Sequioa National Park
- Point Reyes National Seashore
- Joshua Tree National Park – road tour
- Pinnacles National Park
- Grand Tour: Devils Postpile National Monument, Manzanaar National Historic Site, Yosemite, SF National Maritime Park
- Great Basin National Park
- Dinosaur National Monument
- Grand Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area
- Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks
- Big Bend National Park, Big Thicket National Preserve, Fort Davis National Historic Site
- Glacier National Park