One hundred years ago today, our nation became the first in the world to designate a government agency whose sole responsibility was to protect its precious outdoor spaces. These lands weren’t being set aside for future development, or industry. These spectacular mountains, lakes, deserts, and vistas were being preserved “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” a statement found in the Yellowstone National Park Act of 1872, creating Yellowstone, as well as welcoming guests entering Yellowstone National Park, our nation’s first national park, since 1903.
When the National Park Service was founded, the agency was tasked with managing a somewhat random network of special places, including 14 national parks, 21 national monuments, and the Hot Springs and Casa Grande Ruin reservations. Today, that system has grown to 412 national park units ranging from national parks, monuments, and seashores, to battlefields, historical parks, and memorials.
From Yellowstone’s first 300 visitors in 1872, our national parks now host more than 300 million visitors in parks that stretch from Maine to California, Florida to Alaska, and the Virgin Islands to American Samoa.
As the nation celebrates the centennial of the agency that protects our beloved parks as well as the story of our country, it can also reflect on the story of the agency itself. Giving birth to conservation legends like John Muir, Stephen Mather, Horace Albright, and George B. Dorr, as well as inspiring presidents including Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. The national parks helped to bring the United States out of the Great Depression by creating jobs for unemployed Americans in the Conservation Corps to help improve park infrastructure, as well as giving battle-weary troops places of solace after World War II.
As the world around us has changed, and advances in technology allow us to work harder and stay connected; the national parks, thanks to the National Park Service, allow us to break free and disconnect so that we can truly reconnect with nature.
Because, as John Muir once said, “going to the mountains is going home.”