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On This Date: The National Park Service Was Created

by Countable | Updated on 8.25.18

On August 25, 1916 President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Organic Act into law, creating the National Park Service (NPS) to manage U.S. national parks, battlefields, historic sites, and monuments. The bill tasked the NPS with preserving the ecology and history of the places under their stewardship while also making them accessible for the public to use and enjoy.

For the last 102 years, the National Park Service has managed the most breathtaking and scenic destinations in the U.S., so in honor of its centennial we wanted to give you the background on how the national parks came to be.

Why was a national park system needed?

America’s westward expansion during the 1800s exposed the sites that would eventually become national parks to increasing numbers of people who appreciated their beauty and wanted to conserve them for future generations.

The first major step toward the creation of a national park came in 1864 when President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation granting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the state of California so they could be preserved. Eight years later, Yellowstone was established as the first national park and was joined by Sequoia, Yosemite, and Mount Rainier before the turn of the century.

Three more national parks (Crater Lake, Wind Cave, and Mesa Verde) had been created by the time President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act in 1906 to create national monuments with Devils Tower becoming the first. There is a difference between national parks and national monuments — Congress has to approve the creation of a national park and while it can do so for monuments as well, the president can proclaim an area as a monument. (And monuments aren’t just nature like most national parks, they can be historic sites as well).

But there was a problem emerging with all this conservation, as each park was run individually without any common rules or procedures applying to them all. This inefficiency led to calls for a designated federal agency that was focused only managing national parks and monuments.

What did the bill do?

The National Park Service Organic Act created the NPS as an agency within the Dept. of the Interior, which is responsible for managing federal lands. It gave the NPS control over the national parks and monuments and gave the service a clear purpose in caring for the sites:

“To conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife 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.”

In the course of fulfilling that mission, the NPS was authorized to take steps to eradicate animal or plant life that is detrimental to a national park or monument and — if benefits the primary purpose of the park — sell or dispose of timber and allow animals to graze on the land (although the bill banned grazing in Yellowstone).

What impact has it had?

At the time of its creation, the National Park Service consisted of 12 national parks and 19 national monuments. Today, there are 59 national parks and 84 national monuments under its management. By 1918, the NPS developed day-to-day rules for the parks and monuments under its management, ensuring that the sites could remain in pristine condition for posterity.

Today, new national parks are still being created, with four being granted that status since 2000 (Cuyahoga Valley, Congaree, Great Sand Dunes, Pinnacles). The popularity of the national parks hasn’t dimmed over time as there were 307,247,252 visitors to national parks in 2015 alone.

Enjoy our video from last year's 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: Ron_Thomas / iStock)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(64)
  • Patty
    08/25/2017
    ···

    On this 101st birthday of the national park system I would urge you to do all you can to preserve them for future generations and not allow the current administration to turn them into private oil and mining enterprises.

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  • Logan
    Voted Excited
    08/25/2018
    ···

    National parks are one of our greatest treasurers. We got to visit a free for free this year because of our 4th grader. Programs like these should continue and be expanded. We should be looking for ways to increase funding and the size and number of national parks, not cutting them back to local control that will inevitably fall into the hands of prospectors and developers that will destroy the natural beauty and majesty of this land.

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  • Catherine
    Voted Angry
    08/25/2018
    ···

    This is a personal issue for me since my grandfather was very involved and instrumental in the Bureau of Land Management in park services. WALTER H. HORNING Lifetime Service Award - 1993 Walter H. Horning Walter H. Horning The Public Lands Foundation has awarded Walter Horning its Outstanding Public Land Service Posthumous Award. This award is given for the purpose of perpetuating and enhancing the proud tradition of dedicated public service in the Bureau of Land Management and in recognition of Walter Horning’s deportment as a Bureau of Land Management role model. Walter Horning, 1892 – 1961 Following the passage of the Oregon-California (O&C) Sustained Yield, Multiple-use Act of 1932, the first such Act in US. history, Walter Horning was directed by the Secretary of Interior in 1938 to become Chief Forester of the O & C Administration in Portland, Oregon. He quickly established an outstanding decentralized organization of dedicated young professionals and challenged his District people and his staff to develop their own solutions and procedures geared to conditions on the ground without traditional top down procedural manuals. He asked his people for initiative, resourcefulness and an all out effort and he got it. Esprit de corps was very high in the O&C administration. In 1946 the O&C administration became a part of the newly formed Bureau of Land Management. Walter was made Regional Administrator with headquarters in Portland, Oregon. In 1952 he became the Forestry Chief in the Washington Office. In 1960, then past 68 years of age, Walter and his wife Ruth retired to Portland where he passed away suddenly in the fall of 1961. Walter was literally the father of BLM’s forestry program, forestry in the most enlightened sense, encompassing all resources found in the forest ecosystem. He had high expectations and high ideals and was respected and looked up to by all those his life touched. The Public Lands Foundation is a non-profit organization of retired but still dedicated BLM employees. The purpose of the Foundation is to foster sound management of the public lands and to encourage high standards of professionalism. The Award was made posthumously at the Foundation’s Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon in September 1993. Please give attribution to the Public Lands Foundation when using materials from our website. Dedicated to Keeping Public Lands in Public Hands! Photo Credits: Bureau of Land Management Website problems or suggestions? Email us at: webmaster@publicland.org Public Lands Foundation

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  • Jill
    08/25/2017
    ···

    Stand up for our National Parks and monuments. These lands should be kept open to the public to enjoy and closed to oil and gas exploration and mining interests. Trump and his administration want to turn these lands over to to mining and oil drilling interests. This cannot be allowed! These lands were set aside to be protected and must continue to be protected!

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  • NikolaiS
    Voted Excited
    08/25/2018
    ···

    Wilderness is our planets heritage. We must protect it from the short sited.

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  • Kodiwodi
    08/25/2017
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    Pitiful that on the anniversary of the National Park Service we must all be fighting our government to keep the parks and monument pristine and clean, in shrunken, not sold off to private industry, unmixed and unfracked and with its staff what pitifully small stall that there is left unable to speak freely about pollution or climate change. It is sad that these parks and monuments will not be here because of greed and poor ethics by our Congress who failed to do anything to stop it at all.

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  • Ftwchris
    08/25/2017
    ···

    And yet we have a meandering idiot and clown in the Oval Office who threatens the actual climate and now historical national parks the last of the very few things left untouched by this fanatic who would rather screw the American people even those that (to this day I find it hard to understand) voted for him. All in the name of? Profit, cronyism, so-called draining the swamp by a so-called fake president* (*legitimacy is questioned as he appears almost daily to reassert the fraud he is; not just wholly inept but with Russian meddling and the mendacity of lies he used to screw the true winner of the presidency. He's most definitely a * president) clown!

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  • Rusty
    08/25/2017
    ···

    As we observe an anniversary of the National Park Service, it is most distress that the madman that the GOP put up as their best candidate for POTUS has appointed an unqualified idiot who wants national monuments shrunk likely to extract fossil fuels. Why don't you three NC congressman get busy and get Trump out of the WH before we are all living in a barren land with a police state for a government? Or do all of you think Nazi's are ok and that "the us blame on many sides?" Get up off your collective backsides and do something important.

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  • Chickie
    08/25/2018
    ···

    And on this date, the EPA, the HHS and others in this administration, are bent on destroying the National Forests to extinction.

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  • Deirdre
    08/25/2017
    ···

    On today's birthday of the National Parks let's celebrate! The fact that a President signed this bill into effect so many years ago, shows that even back then people wanted to preserve parts of our beautiful land. We now need to stop the maniac who is president from destroying these special parks. The person in office does not care about preserving these lands, all he and his goons care about is destroying or lands and wildlife for fossil fuel. Just to make money, in total disregard of what most Americans want. All the wildlife that would be killed and possibly become extinct for money. All the beautiful lands gone forever. Do not let greed run the show. Stand up for our beautiful National Parks. We need them and we want them.

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  • SouthernGal
    08/25/2017
    ···

    And on this day, 101 years later, trump is trying to destroy the NPS & sell it to loggers and mining companies. This administration is truly disgusting.

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  • Joanne
    08/25/2017
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    On this birthday of the National Park Service we have a POTUS who threatens there existence. The wisdom of past presidents realized the importance of preserving these lands. This president only wants to protect statues of men who wanted to destroy the Union. His only concern is lining his pockets and those like him. He is a disgrace to this nation. His aim is to destroy it. This is one of the saddest times of this nation.

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  • Lynne
    08/25/2017
    ···

    As a nation the National Parks are one of our crowning achievements.

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  • Christine
    08/26/2017
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    I am thankful for the National Park Service.

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  • Pat
    08/27/2017
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    Please do everything possible to support our national parks, forest, and monuments. No funding cuts and no environmental hazards legalized please.

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  • Lizbeth
    08/27/2017
    ···

    DO NOT allow our current President to destroy this legacy. These parks are part of what make America beautiful and fair.

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  • Lori
    08/26/2017
    ···

    This is the only good thing I've seen today. I love our National Parks and hope we protect them for future generations. Don't let Trump screw them up too. Please.

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  • Andrew
    08/25/2018
    ···

    Kudos!! Support the National Park Service!!!

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  • Sherrie
    08/27/2017
    ···

    We have the most wonderful national parks etc. We must save all, they can never be replaced. Do not allow them to be destroyed.

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  • Mindful
    08/25/2018
    ···

    ‘Our National Backyards’ must be preserved for all time.

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  • Michelle
    08/25/2018
    ···

    The National Park Service is wonderful. It preserves our heritage and must be supported. I lived near Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore where the members of the park service worked hard to share the geological, biological, economical, and societal histories, as well as the lore, of the region for generations to study and enjoy in a beautiful, natural setting.

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