Thursday, August 25, 2016

There are national parks, and there are 'national parks' and other similar preserves

With the National Park Service today celebrating its centennial, it's worth pondering what exactly makes a park worthy of national park designation. There are officially 59 national parks, but the service oversees 412 units that fall under 24 designations, including 83 national monuments, 50 national historical parks, 30 national memorials, 19 national preserves and four national parkways, Andrea Sachs reports for The Washington Post. Kathy Kupper, an NPS spokeswoman, told Sachs, "To us, all 412 are equal. People put the national parks on a pedestal, but legislatively they are the same.”

Sachs writes, "The federal preservation movement has roots in the Antiquities Act of 1906, which gave presidents the authority to protect an extraordinary place as a national monument. Congress wields more expansive powers over the landscape. Legislators can name or reassign a site under a wider range of categories." (Size of map dots indicates approximate number of visitors)
"President Theodore Roosevelt, for one, created 18 monuments, including the Grand Canyon; his fifth cousin, Franklin D., was responsible for 11," Sachs writes. "On June 24, President Obama introduced the newest member, the Stonewall National Monument in New York City. Only four POTUSes—Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush—did not christen any monuments." All were or are Republicans.

But national parks are the most popular, right? Actually, no. "Many travelers might assume that the postcard children of the NPS—Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon—attract the largest number of annual visitors," Sachs writes. "Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco and Blue Ridge Parkway flip-flop for the top two spots, with about 15 million visitors each. The Great Smoky Mountains occupies third place with 10 million guests, but it takes first place among the national parks."

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