Little Bits of History

National Parks

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 25, 2012

United States National Park Service logo

August 25, 1916: The United States National Park Service (NPS) is formed. The Service sprang from an idea first put into action in 1872 when Yellowstone National Park was established. Back in 1832, George Catlin, an artist, traveled to the Great Plains region of the US. He was concerned about the destruction taking place by the native residents, the animal inhabitants, and the influx of pioneering Americans. He advocated for a system to protect lands from human contamination. This had no immediate success, but authors back East began to take up the topic. Out West, in California, state leaders set up a system to protect Yosemite Valley and this was backed by President Lincoln who signed an Act protecting the land in 1864.

While there is a myth about discoverers asking for a Park system to be set up to protect the lands, in actuality, it was the Northern Pacific Railroad Company who made a big push to conserve the lands and create the parks. They needed customers to use the railway and having these wonderful destinations would encourage easterners to travel westward and visit nature, the likes unknown along the East Coast. The next park to be created was Mackinac National Park in Michigan. This second park came into being in 1875. At first, the military installations in the regions cared for the lands, but eventually, control was given over to federal agents.

The first Director of the Service was Stephen Mather who took office on May 16, 1917 and held it until January 8, 1929. There have been seventeen more directors in the intervening years, most holding the office for several years. Today, Jonathan Jarvis is the Director. The NPS comes under the United States Department of the Interior, whose head is the Secretary of the Interior, a Cabinet post which is an appointment of the President and must be confirmed by the Senate. There are 21,989 employees of the NPS and they oversee 397 units, 58 of them national parks. These cover about 84 million acres.

The NPS also cares for national monuments and memorials as well as military parks. They care for national cemeteries and natural areas, such as wilderness regions. They tend to historical sites, recreation areas, and national parkways. Their current budget is divided into mandatory and discretionary spending, spending about $2.25 million to take care of this precious resource, natural lands. The most visited system is the Blue Ridge Parkway which has over 16 million visitors annually. The entire system sees about 280 million users each year.

The parks do not belong to one state or to one section…. The Yosemite, the Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon are national properties in which every citizen has a vested interest; they belong as much to the man of Massachusetts, of Michigan, of Florida, as they do to the people of California, of Wyoming, and of Arizona. – Stephen Mather

The parks are the Nation’s pleasure grounds and the Nation’s restoring places…. The national parks…are an American idea; it is one thing we have that has not been imported. – Horace McFarland

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst. – Wallace Stegner

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst. – Theodore Roosevelt

Also on this day:

Swimming the English Channel – In 1875 Matthew Webb becomes the first to swim the English Channel.
Men in the Moon – In 1835, the Great Moon Hoax articles first began to see print.
I See – In 1609, Galileo demonstrated his telescope.

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