National Park History and Legislation

While reading about National Park Week, I was drawn into National Park history and legislation.

Grand Canyon National Park, ArizonaHistorian 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.”

I agree.

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.

Mountain Goats on Sepulcher Mountain in Yellowstone National Park, WyomingYellowstone Park Act of Dedication 1872

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.

Standing Ovation at Denali National Park, AlaskaWilderness Act of 1964

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 the establishment of a Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) program to aid the National Park Service.

National Park Presidential Executive Orders and Proclamations

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South DakotaMany 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

Environmental legislation has made substantial contributions to protecting and preserving our National Park System. The EPA Laws and Executive Orders web page provide summaries of environmental laws and executive orders.

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National Park Week 2013 – Celebrate the Great Outdoors

Redwood National Park, CaliforniaCelebrate the great outdoors during National Park Week 2013, April 20th – 28th. Admission is free at National Parks Monday, April 22nd through Friday, April 26th. National Park Week is a collaborative effort between the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation.

As a kid growing up in California, I hiked, camped, and visited several of the 26 national parks in California. Being in the midst of nature inspired a lifelong love of trees, birds, and wildflowers.

In honor of National Park Week, I decided to learn more about National Parks.

The First National Park Week in 1994

Junior Rangers at Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaOn April 14, 1994, President Bill Clinton issued Presidential Proclamation 6670 proclaiming the week of May 23 through May 29, as National Park Week. At that time there were 367 national parks, which included historic sites, monuments, parks, lakeshores, seashores, rivers, and scenic trails. In his proclamation President Clinton stated:

“I encourage all Americans to join me in making National Park Week a truly American celebration of our heritage. We are challenged to protect and preserve our parks, to cherish them first, then to teach our children to do the same, so that they, too, can give this gift to their children.”

Every president since has issued a yearly Presidential Proclamation for National Park Week. In 1996, National Park Week moved to the last week in April.

National Park Service

National Park Service Arrowhead Emblem LogoThe National Park Service (NPS), created in 1916 as a bureau of the Department of the Interior, oversees the management of the National Park System. The NPS also helps administer the National Register of Historic Places, Heritage Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, Historic Landmarks, and Trails.

The National Park Service Mission is:

“to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

National Park System

The National Park System covers more than 84 million acres and is comprised of 401 sites which include:

  • Fort Sumter National Monument, South Carolina125 historical parks or sites
  • 78 monuments
  • 59 parks
  • 29 seashores, lakeshores, rivers, or riverways
  • 29 memorials
  • 25 battlefields or military parks
  • 20 preserves or reserves
  • 18 recreation areas
  • 18 parkways, scenic trails, or other designations

President Barack Obama issued Presidential Proclamations in March 2013 establishing 5 new national monuments (included in above figures).

  1. Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument (Ohio)
  2. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument (Maryland)
  3. First State National Monument (Delaware)
  4. Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument (New Mexico)
  5. San Juan Islands National Monument (Washington)

National Park Trivia

  • Bison at Junction Butte in Yellowstone National Park ,UtahYellowstone National Park was the first national park, established in 1872.
  • Every American lives within 100 miles of at least one national park.
  • The smallest national park site is the 1/4 acre Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania.
  • 282 million people visited national parks in 2012.
  • National parks contain 17,000 miles of trails.
  • The world’s largest living things, Giant Sequoia trees, live in California’s Sequoia National Park.
  • Annually, nearly 275,000 people contribute about 6.4 million volunteer hours to national parks.
  • Alaska’s 13.2 million acres Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest national park.
  • National parks provide habitat protection for 421 threatened or endangered plant and animal species.
  • President’s Park in Washington, DC encompasses the White House and its grounds.

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