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Archive for August 25th, 2008

National parks have been a part of our history since 1872, when Yellowstone National Park was first created.  Back then, there was no centralized administration of the Parks.  Each was managed separately from the rest and there were no standards for staffing (some used civilians, others the military), oversight, conservation, or disaster response.  Some kind of order was needed.

Enter Stephen Tyng Mather, who possessed the somewhat dichotomous labels of “industrialist” and “conservationist”.  Based on Mather’s methods of persuasion, I’m guessing he was a big fan of The Federalist Papers (as we all should be).  After presenting his case for an independent agency to the government, he (like Madison, Jay, and Hamilton) took his case to the newspapers, publishing (with the help of a journalist) a series of articles praising the parks and advocating an agency to oversee them.

Mather got his wish when, on August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill into law that created the National Park Service as a federal bureau within the Interior Department.  And who better to sit as it first head than its biggest supporter…Mather himself.  In 1933, the Park Service was expanded to include not just the National Parks, but also memorials, monuments, and other places of historical importance.

Today’s Park Service watches over nearly 60 National Parks and an additional 390 preserves, monuments, historical sites, military parks, and scenic trails.  And they’re not just in the 50 states, but in the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and elsewhere.  In total, more than 84 million acres are under NPS supervision, from the 13+ million acres in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve to the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial’s .01 acre.

All of this takes lots of resources.  The National Park Service employs about 20,000 staff, assisted by 145,000 volunteers.  The United States spends more than $2 billion annually for park maintenance, education, advertising, programs, and salaries.

So visit a National Park.  I’ve mentioned Rocky Mountain National Park before, and it’s my favorite spot.  A close second is Grand Canyon National Park, which I visited once years ago.

Recommended Reading: Our National Parks

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