A Short History of National Parks in the United States

History of National Parks
Have you ever been to a national park? With over 417 national park sites in the United States, it is likely that you have. These areas, thanks to the many people who have had a hand in preserving them, provide a beautiful space for people to hike, explore, and learn. Visitors come from all over the world to experience these wonders, and to partake in the many activities found inside each of them. However, the efforts to secure and establish these parks should not be overlooked. The history of national parks goes way back, and many people over the years have worked hard to maintain them.

The History of National Parks

Within the national park system, there are 60 sites that include “National Park” as part of their proper name. Many of these are familiar, such as Acadia, Everglades, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite.

The very first national park, however, was Yellowstone, perhaps the best known of all of them. On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed The Act of Dedication law that created Yellowstone National Park in the territories of Montana and Wyoming. Yellowstone was “dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

The founding of this first national park would lead to a worldwide national park movement, and many other national parks would soon be established in the United States.

In the early history of national parks, no one agency was responsible for managing and maintaining them. This would change on August 25, 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson signed an act creating the National Park Service, which would operate under the Department of the Interior. The National Park Service would take on the responsibility of administering the then 35 national parks and monuments.

In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt would sign Executive Order No. 6166, which placed 56 national monuments and military sites under management of the National Park Service. This established a precedent for national parks being more than just beautiful scenic areas. The national park system became a way to also preserve areas of historic, scientific, or cultural importance.

How Are National Parks Established?

Today, most new national parks are established through acts of Congress. In order to decide what national parks should be added, Congress will typically ask the Secretary of the Interior for recommendations. The Secretary will usually consult with the National Park System Advisory Board, which is made up of private citizens, to get a sense for possible additions.

Furthermore, under the Antiquities Act, which was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the President does have the authority to proclaim national monuments on lands under federal control.

The National Parks System Today

Today, the National Park System includes 417 national park sites, spanning across more than 84 million acres. These national parks extend into each state, and territories like Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam. These parks and monuments are cared for by over 20,000 National Parks Service Employees.

National parks continue to be a source of recreation and learning for millions of visitors each year. The next time you visit one of these national playgrounds, you can take pride in the fact that you know some of the history behind them.