The National Park Service (NPS) is a federal agency responsible for managing and preserving the United States’ national parks and historic sites. The NPS was created on August 25, 1916, by President Woodrow Wilson when he signed the Organic Act, a law that established the agency and its mission.
However, the idea of national parks in the United States goes back much further than 1916. In the early 1800s, many Americans began to see the need to protect the country’s natural beauty and resources. In 1832, Congress established Hot Springs Reservation in Arkansas, the first federally protected area in the United States. Later, in 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill granting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to California for “public use, resort, and recreation.” This was the first time the federal government had set aside land for public enjoyment.
The movement to create national parks gained momentum in the late 1800s, thanks in part to the work of conservationists like John Muir and George Bird Grinnell. In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill establishing Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, the first national park in the world. Yellowstone’s creation marked the beginning of a new era in conservation and set the stage for the establishment of more national parks.
Over the next few decades, Congress established a number of other national parks, including Sequoia (1890), Mount Rainier (1899), Crater Lake (1902), Wind Cave (1903), Mesa Verde (1906), and Glacier (1910). By the time the NPS was created in 1916, there were already 14 national parks and 21 national monuments.
The Organic Act of 1916, which created the NPS, was a significant milestone in the history of national parks. The law established the agency’s mission to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” The NPS was also given the authority to manage and protect all existing and future national parks and monuments.
The early years of the NPS were focused on expanding the system of national parks and improving infrastructure within the parks. During the 1920s and 1930s, the agency built roads, trails, campgrounds, and visitor centers, making it easier for people to visit and enjoy the parks. The NPS also began to focus more on interpreting the natural and cultural history of the parks, creating exhibits and ranger-led programs to help visitors learn about the areas they were visiting.
The NPS faced many challenges in the years following its creation, including budget cuts, staffing shortages, and the pressures of tourism. However, the agency continued to expand and improve the national park system. During the 1950s and 1960s, the NPS added many new parks, including Olympic, Zion, Canyonlands, and Redwood. The agency also began to focus more on environmental protection, working to reduce pollution and preserve natural resources within the parks.
Today, the NPS manages more than 400 sites across the United States, including national parks, monuments, historic sites, and other protected areas. The agency’s mission has expanded to include not only the preservation and enjoyment of natural and cultural resources but also the promotion of outdoor recreation and education. The NPS continues to face challenges, including climate change, funding constraints, and maintaining visitor access while preserving park resources. However, the agency remains committed to its mission and to preserving the country’s natural and cultural heritage for future generations to enjoy.