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National Park System

NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM

NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM. The national park system preserves the natural and cultural resources of the United States for the benefit of present and future generations. A total of 384 units, spanning 83.6 million acres in forty-nine states, fall under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service (NPS), the federal bureau responsible for the protection, management, and maintenance of designated areas. National parks are customarily established by act of Congress on the advice of the secretary of the interior, although the president retains the right to create national monuments under the Antiquities Act. Preserved by virtue of their natural, recreational, or historic value, the national park system encompasses an array of sites including parks, monuments, battlefields, and scenic rivers, as well as structures such as the White House and the Statue of Liberty. Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska represents the largest unit in the system at 13.2 million acres, while the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania comprises the smallest at one-fiftieth of an acre. The first person to describe the reserves under NPS tutelage as part of a system was the service's assistant director Horace M. Albright in 1918, although only in 1970 did Congress officially recognize the individual units and their united purpose as "cumulative expressions of a single national heritage." The national park ideal is regarded by many as America's greatest contribution to world culture; according to western novelist Wallace Stegner, it is "the best idea we ever had." By the end of the twentieth century, a global national park movement predicated on preserving scenic and historic landscapes counted 1,200 reserves worldwide.

The Birth of the National Park Movement

The nineteenth-century artist George Catlin is usually credited as the original exponent of the national park ideal. Concerned at the rapid decimation of indigenous peoples and wildlife brought about by westward expansionism, Catlin proposed the creation of "A nation's park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature's beauty!" during a trip to the Dakotas in 1832. The same year, Congress moved to protect a natural feature for the first time, establishing Hot Springs National Reservation, Arkansas, for the purposes of public medicinal use. The dedication of Mount Auburn rural cemetery, Boston (1831), and New York City's Central Park (1861) attested to a growing perception amongst nineteenth-century Americans of nature as a bucolic refuge from city life. The tenets of romanticism, as manifested in the writings of Henry David Thoreau and the paintings of Thomas Cole, celebrated wild nature as a sublime venue for contemplation and spiritual renewal. From the 1850s onward, cultural nationalists looked to the grandeur of western scenery as a harbinger of national greatness, with pure and imposing vistas evincing a proud heritage to rival the cathedrals of Europe.

A newfound appreciation of rugged landscapes as natural and cultural treasures, allied with a desire to avoid the profligate commercialism that had sullied the natural resplendence of Niagara Falls, underscored the early American national park movement. Mindful of attempts by businessmen to capitalize on the popularity of the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees since their discovery in the early 1850s, Congress ceded forty square miles in the High Sierras to the State of California for "public use, resort, and recreation" in 1864. Eight years later, in 1872, the government withdrew 3,300 square miles of rocky terrain, spouting geysers, and plunging waterfalls in Wyoming and Montana territories to create Yellowstone National Park. The establishment of Yellowstone "as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people" is generally regarded as the formal beginning of the national park system. While the protective ideals encompassed in the Yellowstone Act resembled the Yosemite example, the size of the Rocky Mountain reserve, together with its federal jurisdiction, proved unprecedented. The setting aside of vast swaths of land under the auspices of governmental protection represented a significant exception to the culture of acquisition and conquest that predominated in nineteenth-century American society, although the smooth passage of the Yellowstone bill in part reflected the worthlessness of the high country for extractive or agricultural purposes.

Despite the precedent established in Yellowstone, it took eighteen years for Congress to found another park that endured into the twentieth century, as Mackinac National Park, Michigan (1875), was abolished in 1895. Aided by railroad companies eager to profit from park-related tourism, the movement to furnish additional national parks gained momentum in the 1890s. Yosemite, General Grant, and Sequoia, all in California, attained national park status in 1890, reflecting burgeoning desires to protect grandiose western scenery. Dedicated in 1899, Mount Rainier, Washington, became the first reserve to be labeled a national park in its enabling legislation.

Congress also acquired an interest in preserving Native American ruins and artifacts during this period. Motivated by concerns over wanton vandalism and looting of prehistoric sites in the Southwest, Congress enacted legislation to protect Casa Grande Ruin, Arizona (1889), and Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (1906). The Antiquities Act, passed in 1906, allowed the president to establish national monuments for the preservation of archaeological sites, historic structures, and features of scientific merit. During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt designated eighteen national monuments, notably Devils Tower, Wyoming (1906), and Grand Canyon, Arizona (1908).

The National Park Service and the Consolidation of a System

By 1916, the United States boasted fourteen national parks and twenty-one national monuments. However, no presiding institution existed to manage them effectively. Lacking national policy directives, superintendents administered preserves independently, rarely coordinating their actions with equivalent officials in other park units. Compromised management in the fledgling preserves allowed poaching and vandalism to proliferate. Flouting of regulations became so acute that the secretary of the interior dispatched the U.S. Army to Yellowstone and the California parks to thwart market and souvenir hunters. The controversial damming of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley in 1913 further revealed the vulnerability of national parks to material interests and demonstrated a need for an institutional framework to ensure their protection. In 1916, a cadre of influential conservationists, including the Chicago businessman Stephen T. Mather, the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., J. Horace McFarland from the American Civic Association, and the publicist Robert Sterling Yard, successfully lobbied for the creation of a federal agency to administer park areas. President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill creating the National Park Service (NPS) within the Department of the Interior on 25 August 1916. The purpose of the bureau, as outlined in its enabling legislation (usually described as the Organic Act), was to "promote and regulate the use of Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations … [and] 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." As only the second agency in the world charged with managing protected environments (the first being Canada's Dominion Parks Branch, founded in 1911), the National Park Service articulated an important commitment to conservation in the United States.

Stephen T. Mather was the first director of the NPS (1916–1929) and was assisted by the California lawyer Horace M. Albright. Together, the two men defined the principal tenets and administrative methodology of the National Park Service. Mather and Albright readily endorsed the agency's dual mandate of preservation and use, firmly believing that securing a rosy future for the NPS depended on rendering the parks popular, and economically lucrative, tourist destinations. Lavish publications such as the National Parks Portfolio (1916), guidebooks, and promotional leaflets advertised America's preserves as scenic playgrounds. The bureau stressed the role of entertainment


in the national park experience. Vacationers savored the delights of bear-feeding shows, Indian rodeos, outdoor sports, and the famous summer firefall at Yosemite's Glacier Point. Administrators advocated the construction of rustic hotels and forged alliances with railroad companies and the American Automobile Association. By 1919, nearly 98,000 vehicles journeyed through the parks, leading two asphalt enthusiasts to herald the automobile as "the greatest aid" to the parks' "popularity and usefulness."

By promoting national parks as valuable recreational resources, Mather and Albright secured appropriations from Congress and fended off attempts by timber, mining, and grazing lobbies to encroach on protected areas. When Albright retired following a term as director (1929– 1933), the national parks had achieved popular success along with security. However, the focus on entertainment had led early authorities into a series of ill-advised management policies. Styling the parks as idyllic resorts, staff engaged in programs of fire suppression, vista clearing, exotic species introduction, and predator control. Early administrators failed to anticipate the problems inherent in promoting preservation alongside use, and subsequent park managers struggled with an array of thorny management issues deriving from the contradictory nature of the dual mandate.

Expansion, Ecology, and Wartime Retrenchment

The 1930s represented a dynamic period of expansion for the national park system. Following a pivotal meeting between Horace Albright and Franklin D. Roosevelt in April 1933, the president signed a decree transferring authority for fifty-six parks and monuments under the auspices of the Agriculture and War Departments to the National Park Service. The reorganization of 10 August 1933 significantly expanded the size and the range of the national park system, conferring authority on the NPS to manage historic as well as natural features. Progress in the realm of historic preservation continued under the direction of Arno B. Cammerer (1933–1940), who presided over an exhaustive survey of nationally significant buildings mandated by the Historic Sites Act (1935). The NPS also broadened its responsibilities for recreational provision with a series of newly designated parks, including Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina/Virginia (1933), and Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina (1937). Extant national parks received investment in infrastructure as part of New Deal public relief programs. Thousands of unemployed workers attached to the Civilian Conservation Corps serviced the preserves, leading to the construction of roads, trails, and visitor facilities.

With the park system consolidated, staff commenced a detailed appraisal of traditional management priorities. Influenced by the emergent discipline of ecological science, a new generation of resource managers strongly expressed a need to preserve representative landscapes as well as monumental scenery. Advocates stressed the essential role of parks as scientific laboratories, arguing for areas to be protected in their natural condition. Early park programs such as animal shows and predator extermination came under severe criticism. George Wright, Ben Thompson, and Joseph Dixon, biologists in the employ of the newly created Wildlife Division (1933), emerged as champions of "total preservation." In their influential 1933 report, The Fauna of the National Parks, Wright, Thompson, and Dixon raised pertinent questions about the arbitrary boundaries and biotic sustainability of many parks, and extolled "nature itself" rather than inanimate scenery as "perhaps our greatest natural heritage." Scientific reports by Adolph and Olaus Murie in turn demonstrated the contribution of persecuted species such as wolves and coyotes to healthy ecosystems. Subsequent policy changes reflected the rise of ecological thought in NPS philosophy. Predators earned protection as "special charges" of the parks, while personnel phased out bear-feeding events, caged menageries, and the Yosemite fire-fall. The dedication of Everglades National Park (1934), a flat coastal swamp in Florida, communicated a fresh commitment to the preservation of biological systems irrespective of their scenic splendor.

The appointment of Newton B. Drury, a conservationist with the California-based Save the Redwoods League, as NPS director (1940–1951) signified a departure from the Mather-Albright management tradition. Drury's administration represented an era of retrenchment for the national park system. As a result of wartime exigencies, funding plummeted from $21.1 million in 1940 to $4.6 million in 1944, while personnel faced demands that the national parks be opened to forestry, mining, and grazing. The NPS headquarters relocated from Washington, D.C., to Chicago for the duration of World War II, and only reconvened in October 1947. The park system survived such challenges, although Drury resigned in protest over Bureau of Reclamation plans to dam Dinosaur National Monument, Utah.

Mission 66 and the Environmental Revolution

Faced with a national park system suffering from financial neglect and insufficient facilities, Conrad L. Wirth, a landscape architect who had worked in the preserves during the 1930s as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps, became director (1951–1963) and embarked on a massive program of development and investment. Labeled Mission 66, Wirth's ambitious ten-year plan committed more than $1 billion to improving park infrastructure and visitor resources. Park personnel constructed 2,800 miles of new roads, 575 campgrounds, 936 miles of trails, and 114 visitor centers as part of the scheme. The major overhaul came in response to a vast surge in visitation during the post-1945 era, facilitated by increased affluence, affordable transportation, and rising interest in outdoor vacationing. The number of tourists who visited the parks in 1950 reached 33 million, compared to 6 million in 1942.

The environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s exerted a defining influence on the national park system. Influential staff reports during this period articulated a growing environmental ethic shaped by scientific discovery and citizen advocacy. Concerned at the overpopulation of elk in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall convened an advisory board on wildlife management under the chairmanship of biologist A. Starker Leopold. When the committee delivered its report in 1963, it stated that "biotic associations within each park [should] be maintained, or where necessary recreated, as nearly as possible in the condition that prevailed when the area was first visited by the white man." Advertising the preserves as "vignette[s] of primitive America," the report emphasized the importance of natural regulation allied with the restoration of ecological processes. These findings helped refine official NPS philosophy and contributed to diverse management imperatives, from the reinstitution of natural fire regimes to predator reintroduction schemes. During the 1960s and 1970s, an active public environmental lobby, led by the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association, highlighted the fate of protected areas and their wildlife. Environmentalists pressured the NPS to promote wilderness values and criticized the agency for its historic focus on leisure promotion. In his 1968 book Desert Solitaire, the part-time ranger and radical ecologist Edward Abbey berated the rise of "industrial tourism" and called for the banning of automobiles from national parks, areas that he defined as "holy places."

The national park system underwent a major expansion under the directorship of George B. Hartzog (1964– 1972). Congress inaugurated a series of newly created parks, including Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Missouri (1964), Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan (1966), and North Cascades National Park, Washington (1968). The Gateway National Recreation Area, New York City (1972), and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco (1972), satiated demands for open spaces in urban areas.

In 1980, the national park system received a dramatic boost with the addition of forty-seven million acres of Alaskan lands. The dedication of new units under the,

Alaskan National Interest Lands Conservation Act more than doubled the existing park system. Significantly, national preserves allowed the continuance of Native American subsistence activities such as trapping and hunting within their borders, an important recognition of historic indigenous land-use rights in national park territories.

The Challenges of Preservation

By the 1980s, the national park system had grown to encompass a multitude of different units and responsibilities. However, resource allocation failed to keep pace. Funding cutbacks, which proved especially acute under the administration of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, contributed to a $5 billion backlog in park infrastructure improvements and repair projects by the mid-1990s. During the so-called "Sagebrush Rebellion" of the early 1980s, staff dealt with western interest groups and their powerful political representatives who argued for the parks to be opened to commercial and industrial uses. Budgetary constraints and political machinations led to declining morale, evident in the critical appraisal of the system offered by the government-sponsored Vail Report (1991). Resource managers engaged in long-term, and often contentious, strategies for ecological restoration and faced an uphill struggle establishing public-transport systems inside park boundaries. The popularity of national parks as tourist destinations led to concerns over Americans "loving the parks to death." At Grand Canyon National Park, car drivers lined up to catch a glimpse of the famous ravine, while helicopters and light aircraft buzzed overhead. The proliferation of exotic species and encroaching urban development jeopardized the biotic health of many preserves. Sulfur and nitrogen clouds from fossil fuel power plants resulted in declining air quality and the defoliation of native spruce trees at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee. Many park units proved too small to serve as sustainable environments for vulnerable species such as the grizzly bear, while peripheral development rendered many preserves "ecological islands." At the end of the twentieth century, the national park system remained arguably incomplete, with a number of ecological zones, including George Catlin's grasslands, lacking protection.

Despite its shortcomings, the national park system nonetheless received capacious popular support, with the National Park Service consistently rated one of the most respected federal agencies. The intense media attention devoted to the Yellowstone fires of 1988 and the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction scheme of 1995 testified to the cultural allure of national parks. The controversial debates that frequently attended park management issues reflected on issues of governmental power, resource use, national pride, and environmental responsibility. Meanwhile, the preserves retained status as ideal vacation destinations, attracting almost 286 million visitors in 2000.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dilsaver, Lary M., ed. America's National Park System: The Critical Documents. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1994.

Frome, Michael. Regreening the National Parks. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1992.

Ise, John. Our National Park Policy: A Critical History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1961.

Kaufman, Polly Welts. National Parks and the Woman's Voice. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.

Rettie, Dwight F. Our National Park System: Caring for America's Greatest Natural and Historic Treasures. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Runte, Alfred. National Parks: The American Experience. 2d rev. ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987.

Sellars, Richard West. Preserving Nature in the National Parks: A History. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1997.

KarenJones

See also individual entries such asEverglades National Park ; Mount Rushmore ; Yosemite National Park .

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national parks

national parks. Proposals for national parks were first heard in the 19th cent. as industrial towns grew ever bigger and suburbs swelled. But advocates found it difficult to decide whether the parks should be places to which people could resort for relaxation and pleasure, or whether the public should be excluded as far as possible. The National Trust was founded in 1895, the Society for the Protection of Nature Reserves in 1912, and the Council for the Protection of Rural England in 1926. The CPRE obtained from MacDonald in 1929 an inquiry into the need for national parks, which reported in favour and recommended a National Parks Authority. Economic and political crisis then intervened, but the Forestry Commission was persuaded to create a number of national forest parks. The issue was taken up again after the Second World War and a National Parks Commission established in 1949, with power to designate national parks, and to identify areas of outstanding natural beauty, outside the parks, but in need of protection. The commission did not apply to Scotland. It would not own the parks, nor have direct administrative responsibility, but would operate through the county councils. The first parks, established in 1951, were Dartmoor, Snowdonia, the Peak District, and the Lake District, followed by the Pembrokeshire coast (1952), the north Yorkshire moors (1952), Exmoor (1954), the Yorkshire Dales (1954), Northumberland (1956), and the Brecon Beacons (1957). The New Forest and the Norfolk Broads were given ‘equivalent status’. Forty areas of outstanding natural beauty have been recognized, including the Chilterns, Cotswolds, Gower, the Malverns, the Long Mynd and Wenlock Edge, and the Wye valley. In 1968 responsibility was transferred to the Countryside Commission, and a Countryside Council for Wales. There are no national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty in Scotland, but national scenic areas have been designated and afforded some protection. The original predicament continues to cause problems and policy has to balance the interests of visitors and residents, which not infrequently clash over industrial and mining development.

J. A. Cannon

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national park

national park As defined by the IUCN (1975), a large area of land containing ecosystems that have not been materially altered by human activities, and including plant and animal species, landscape features, and habitats of great scientific interest, or of beauty, or recreational or educational interest. It is under the direct control of the state, and the public is allowed to visit it for inspirational, cultural, and recreational purposes. Implicitly, a national park is an area set aside in perpetuity for conservation, within which such public recreational activity is permitted as is compatible with the primary conservation objectives. British national parks do not comply strictly with the IUCN definition, since they comprise areas that have been altered significantly during a long period of human occupation and since they are still actively farmed and occupied, much of the land being owned privately rather than publicly. Land is so designated in order to maintain long-established, cultural landscapes. Similar schemes have been developed elsewhere, but they are often given distinctive and less confusing titles, e.g. parcs naturels et régionaux in France, and ‘greenline parks’ in the USA.

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"national park." A Dictionary of Ecology. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"national park." A Dictionary of Ecology. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/national-park

national park

national park As defined by the IUCN (1975), a large area of land containing ecosystems that have not been materially altered by human activities, and including plant and animal species, landscape features, and habitats of great scientific interest, or of beauty, or recreational or educational interest: it is under the direct control of the state, and the public is allowed to visit it for inspirational, cultural, and recreational purposes. Implicitly, a national park is an area set aside in perpetuity for conservation, within which such public recreational activity is permitted as is compatible with the primary conservation objectives. British national parks do not comply strictly with the IUCN definition, since they comprise areas that have been altered significantly during a long period of human occupation and since they are still actively farmed and occupied, much of the land being owned privately rather than publicly. Land is so designated in order to maintain long-established, cultural landscapes. Similar schemes have been developed elsewhere, but they are often given distinctive and less confusing titles, e.g. parcs naturels et régionaux in France, and ‘greenline parks’ in the USA.

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"national park." A Dictionary of Plant Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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national park

national park As defined internationally, an extensive area of land that has not been influenced significantly by human activities and that is set aside in perpetuity to preserve its landscapes, species, or ecosystems. British national parks are large areas, designated officially on the recommendation of English Nature, the Countryside Council for Wales, or Scottish Natural Heritage, that are preserved for the enjoyment of the public because of the beauty of their countryside and the opportunities they afford for outdoor recreation.

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national parks

national parks Protected areas where restraint on the killing of wildlife is enforced, and forests, waters and other natural environments are preserved from commercial use. The USA was the first country to set aside reserves for conservation and recreation. Yellowstone National Park was the first national park (1872). In Africa, the main purpose of national parks is game preservation.

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national park

na·tion·al park • n. a scenic or historically important area of countryside protected by the federal government for the enjoyment of the general public or the preservation of wildlife.

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"national park." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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