While reading about National Park Week, I was drawn into National Park history and legislation.
Historian Wallace Stegner called national parks,
“…the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”
Below are a few milestones that mark the 150-year span of national park history and legislation.
Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove Grant Act of 1864
In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation that granted Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove of giant sequoias to California for conservation and public enjoyment. Yosemite became a national park in 1890.
In 1872, Yellowstone became the first national park when President Ulysses S. Grant signed The Act of Dedication “to set apart a certain tract of land lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River as a public park”. The park was placed under the control of the Department of the Interior.
Antiquities Act of 1906
The Antiquities Act of 1906, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, provided legal protection for archaeological sites and artifacts on public land. It also authorized the President to protect landmarks, structures, and objects of historic or scientific interest by designating them as National Monuments.
National Park Service Organic Act of 1916
On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the National Park Service Organic Act which created the National Park Service, a bureau of the Department of the Interior, to manage all sites in the National Park System and protect them from competing interests.
National Park Reorganization of 1933
In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Orders 6166 and 6228 making the National Park Service the sole agency responsible for federal parks, monuments, and memorials. The National Park System was substantially enlarged with the transfer of military sites, historical areas, natural areas, and the National Capital Parks.
Preservation of Historic Sites Act of 1935
The Preservation of Historic Sites Act of 1935, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, provided additional legal support to the National Park Service for preserving historic sites, buildings, and objects.
President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act of 1964 into law which established the National Wilderness Preservation System composed of lands that are designated as wilderness areas and protected from development.
National Park Foundation Congressional Charter 1967
In 1967, the National Park Foundation was created by a congressional charter as a charitable organization to encourage private gifts and donations and support the National Park Service.
Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and National Trails System Act of 1968
In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson, signed two acts into law which expanded the diversity of the National Park System. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act provided protection for and preservation of selected rivers and surrounding land. The National Trails System Act provided for the establishment of recreation trails accessible to urban areas and scenic trails such as the Appalachian Trail.
Volunteers in the Parks Act of 1969
The Volunteers in the Parks Act of 1969, signed into law by President Richard Nixon, authorized establishment of a Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) program to aid the National Park Service.
National Park Presidential Executive Orders and Proclamations
Many national parks, monuments, and other sites as well as National Park Service structure and policy have been created via Presidential Executive Orders and Proclamations. These documents can make interesting reading and one may learn bits of history along the way.
Environmental legislation has made substantial contributions to protecting and preserving our National Park System. The EPA Laws and Executive Orders web page provides summaries of environmental laws and executive orders.
- National Park Foundation
- National Park Service
- National Park Service – Evolution of an Idea
- National Park Service – History of the National Park Service
- PBS – The National Parks: America’s Best Idea: National Parks Timeline