What Is a National Park?

Home & Family, Outdoors
on October 16, 2011

National parks are areas owned by the federal government and, in most cases, are free from development. The land is set aside for animal and environmental protection, in addition to recreation and pleasure. National parks consist of beautiful wilderness areas or historic areas deemed worthy of preservation and memorialization.

Who manages national parks? The National Park Service (NPS), a division of the United States Department of the Interior, oversees the administration of national parks. The National Park Service director, appointed by the president of the United States, heads the organization. According to the NPS, “The director is supported by senior executives who manage national programs, policy and budget in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and seven regional directors responsible for national park management and program implementation.” These individuals make up the National Leadership Council.

When did the National Park Service get started? Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming and Montana, is the oldest national park. It remained a unique entity governed by the Department of the Interior until 1916, when the National Park Service was created. In 1890, Civil War Battlefields at Chickamauga and Chattanooga, in Georgia and Tennessee, become the first national military park. Yosemite National Park, in California, and Rock Creek Park, in Washington, D.C., were established the same year. Devils Tower, in Wyoming, became the first national monument in 1906. The National Park Service has governed the park system since 1916.

National Park Service, by the numbers. The following statistics, as of the end of the 2008 fiscal year, will impress your friends and neighbors:

  • There are 395 national parks, 40 national heritage areas, 27,000 historic structures, 2,461 national historic landmarks and 582 national natural landmarks.
  • They cover 84 million acres.
  • They include 85,049 miles of rivers and streams.
  • They include 4,502,644 acres of oceans, lakes and reservoirs.
  • They contain 43,162 miles of shoreline.
  • They protect 400 endangered species.
  • 11.7 billion people have visited national parks.
  • National parks employ 28,000 people.
  • They employ 2,482,104 volunteers who have worked a combined 97,417,260 hours.
  • National parks support 68,561 archeological sites.
  • They house 121,603,193 objects in museums.
  • The annual budget is $2,750,000,000.

In 2010, more than 281 million people visited a national park. So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your visit now.