National Park Week is April 19-27, and both April 19 and 20 are "get in free" days! Find a park near you, or plan a trip, by visiting the National Park Service (NPS) online.
The NPS is a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and was created by an Act signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. Yellowstone National Park had already been proclaimed a national park as early as 1872. The Antiquities Act signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, was designed to preserve the prehistoric cliff dwellings, pueblo ruins, and missions of the southwest U.S. Approximately 25% of the current "units" in the NPS system came into being, either partially or completely, under the Antiquities Act.
So it became evident by 1916, with already 14 national parks, 21 national monuments and more, that there needed to be a structured oversight for their operation. Thus the formation of the National Park Service.
Our family, like many, enjoyed the national parks of the west for years each summer in my younger days. Who doesn't enjoy seeing the old black and white photos from travels way back when? Fortunately, with the formation of an organized system, came a stronger focus on encouraging visitors to stay away from the wildlife, stay in cars, and to not feed the wildlife.
I believe that many people probably don't realize the "A-Team" of parks, like Yellowstone, Glacier, Yosemite, etc., are not the only national parks in our country. There are national parks, national monuments, national preserves, national reserves, national lakeshores, national seashores, national memorials, national rivers, national wild and scenic riverways, and national scenic trails. While we usually think of the big parks when we hear "National Park Service," over half of the areas are designated to "preserve places and commemorate persons, events and activities important in the nation's history" (National Park Service web site), like archeological digs, presidential libraries, and memorial monuments. Learn more about the descriptive nature of these designations on the web site.
The NPS comprises 401 areas covering 84 million acres in the 50 states, D.C., Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The largest? Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve - 13.2 million acres!
The smallest? Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, in Pennsylvania - .02 acres!
In Iowa we are proud to boast two national parks:
- The Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch - learn how a young orphaned Iowa boy overcame hardship to become President. His birthplace cottage, museum and Presidential Library, and grave are all here.
- Effigy Mounds National Monument, sacred ground to the 12 affiliated American Indian tribes and many others. You can send a whole day hiking all of the trails to see over 200 ancient American Indian burial mounds built in the shapes of animals and birds. You can also see a handful of mounds and catch the visitor's center if you only have a couple of hours to spare. But, it is all walking trails...no auto tours are available in order to maintain and respect the sacredness of the site.
Iowa also has seven National Natural Landmarks, including the famous Loess Hills on our western border - a geological wind-blown silt formation so unique, the only other known comparable location is in China on the Yellow River.
Are you familiar with what National Park Service areas are in your state? Check out their web site and enjoy our nation's parks...they're OUR parks to enjoy!