Our National Park Service Turns 100!


By Gay A. Christensen-Dean

In 1832, the artist George Catlin travelled in the west and started worrying about the spread of civilization and its threat on the wilderness areas he was traversing. He called for some kind of government protection. Other romantic types, such as James Fenimore Cooper, Henry David Thoreau, and the landscape painters Thomas Cole and Frederick Edwin Church, brought a picture of the west to eastern audiences, which further enlightened people and instilled a need of protection.

In 1864, by an act of Congress signed by President Abraham Lincoln, the Yosemite Valley was transferred to the state of California, to be held solely for public use. The first official National Park was Yellowstone National Park in 1872, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. In 1881, the U.S. Army built a fort in the area and began protection of it. The second National Park was Mackinac National Park on Mackinac Island, Michigan in 1875, supervised by another fort. National Parks are established by an act of Congress. Criteria include natural beauty and recreational opportunities.

The Antiquities Act of 1906, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, authorized the President of the United States to establish National Monuments to protect areas of historic or scientific interest. Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, a 600-foot high tower of rock, was the first National Monument, in 1906. It is visible for almost 100 miles; it was a landmark and a religious site. The second National Monument was El Morro in New Mexico. It was used by Indians and settlers as a watering hole and a place to leave inscriptions, which many have including 17th century Spanish explorers and 19th century settlers.

The many protected areas were governed by different agencies: Department of the Interior, War Department, Department of Agriculture Forest Service. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act, creating the National Park Service under the Department of the Interior, to govern the National Parks. On June 10, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an order to combine all National Parks and National Monuments, and the National Military Parks, like Gettysburg; National Cemeteries; National Memorials like the Washington Monument; National Parkways like the George Washington Memorial Parkway; and National Capital Parks (the oldest parks in the National Park System) into one National Park System. Since 1872, the National Park System has grown to over 450 parks, including the above-mentioned and also National Historic Sites, National Recreation Areas, National Seashores, National Scenic Riverways, National Scenic Trails, etc.

Twenty-seven states have National Parks, as well as American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico. The most visited National Park is Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Happy Birthday to the National Park Service!


Sources: www.nps.gov, www.en.wikipedia.org