For a century, the National Park Service has protected our nation’s treasures. Every day, it works to ensure that current and future generations can enjoy national parks -- places that belong to all Americans. As we celebrate the National Park Service’s 100th birthday, check out the top moments in the National Park Service’s history.
The origin of the National Park Service can be traced back to 1864 when Congress and President Lincoln set aside Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias -- land that would later become Yosemite National Park in California.This was the first time the federal government protected land because of its natural beauty so that people could enjoy it.
Eight years after Congress protected Yosemite, they drew upon the same precedent to preserve the natural and historic features of Yellowstone. Unable to grant Yellowstone to any state (the land was still federal territory), Congress put Yellowstone under federal protection March 1, 1872, creating the first national park and what many have called America’s Best Idea. The founding of Yellowstone National Park began a worldwide national park movement that today includes some 1,200 national parks or preserves in more than 100 nations.
In the southwest corner of what is today Colorado, Ancestral Pueblo peoples lived and flourished from about A.D. 550 to 1300. Fast forward to June 29, 1906, when President Theodore Roosevelt established Mesa Verde National Park to preserve the nearly 5,000 known archeological sites of this ancient culture. It was the first time a national park was created to conserve man-made objects and established the importance of protecting America’s history.
On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the into law the “Organic Act,” creating the National Park Service. This new bureau was responsible for protecting America’s 35 already existing national parks and monuments and those yet to be established. The National Park Service became the first federal bureau dedicated to conserving landscapes for future generations and connecting Americans to nature.
National parks bring to mind the rugged wilderness of the American West, but there are breathtakingly beautiful landscapes throughout the country worth conserving. Around the same time that the National Park Service was created in 1916, there was a growing movement to preserve Maine’s Acadian landscape of forests and seashore. Eventually it became Acadia National Park, the first east coast national park.
Before there was a National Park Service, monuments and natural and historical areas were managed by the War and Agriculture Departments. That changed in 1933 when 56 national monuments and military sites like Pennsylvania's Gettysburg National Military Park were transferred to the National Park Service. It was a major step in the development of what is today's national park system, which includes areas of historical, scenic and scientific importance.
In 1933, the U.S. was in the depths of the Great Depression. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sought to change that by putting the unemployed to work through the Civilian Conservation Corps, while also conserving the country’s national resources. Groups of men fanned out across the country, planting billions of trees, fighting wildfires and building roads and trails at places like Shenandoah and Glacier national parks. Today, parks continue to be economic powerhouses by driving travel and tourism to the surrounding communities. For every $1 invested in the National Park Service, it returns $10 to the U.S. economy.
A century after the National Park Service was created, it is now responsible for more than 400 park locations covering more than 84 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan and the Virgin Islands. One of the newest additions is Stonewall National Monument -- the first national monument that honors the history of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. It’s another step in telling America’s story and making sure every American sees her or himself reflected in national parks.
As we celebrate 100 years of the National Park Service, we encourage you to get out there and discover (or rediscover) the amazing destinations that tell America’s story. #FindYourPark today!