Due to the creativity, foresight, and hard work of so many men and women beginning over 100 years ago up until now and hopefully proceeding much longer into the future, we have the opportunity to Explore America through recreation.
As much of a gift as the National Park system is to the American people, that does not mean it is only for us to enjoy. Each year millions of visitors from all over the world travel thousands of miles just to experience our National Parks. Although it is estimated that over 100 countries have areas which are designated as national parks, ours are the most visited. What America lacks in historical sites (compared to the rest of the world) we make up for in wide-ranging, natural beauty which has been preserved for the betterment of the people.
The National Park Service (NPS) was officially created on August 25, 1916, after President Woodrow Wilson signed the act into law. This was known as the Organic Act which placed the National Park Service under the United States Department of the Interior. Since their creation and the aid of additional legislation, they have been given areas which at one point were under the control of other U.S. Federal Agencies such as, the War Department and the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture.
As it stands today, the National Park Services scope of responsibility includes more than 400 areas which is encompassed in the following categories:
Today all of the land that is deemed natural, cultural, historical, and recreational falls under the control of the National Park Service, but that was not always the case. Since America is still relatively young, balance and control of certain areas has been - and still is a work in progress. Before 1916 some state and federal lands were split up amongst several different controlling entities, which made it difficult to manage and protect. Now, it is a more streamlined process which makes it easier for the government to preserve and more importantly, the visitors to enjoy.
To see a full list of units under the control of the National Park Service, please click here: List of the United States National Park System official unites
National Park Service Abroad
Taking it one step further, the United States National Park Service has also assisted in the creation of other counties national parks and protected areas. This has happened more through guidance and consulting help rather than physical or financial aid. Although that may not seem like a lot, to the people who are currently appreciating beauty in their country, that is!
It is all part of a larger picture. The world is filled with amazing areas and due to the efforts of the U.S. National Park Service and people all across the globe, more and more areas are being preserved than ever before in recorded history.
Some of these countries include, but are not limited to:
Yellowstone National Park is the first National Park created in the United States and was signed into existence by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. This was known as the Yellowstone National Park Act and is the foundation of which all U.S. National Parks would be "built" on. It is also considered by many as the first National Park in the world. However, there is some controversy regarding which park or even country holds this distinguished title as the Mongolian government is said to have established Bogd Khan Uul National Park in Mongolia in 1778. Whether it is the first or second National Park, there is no denying that it plays an import role in our nation's history as it helped set a precedence of what would become of America's magnificent natural and man-made wonders.
As mentioned above, Yellowstone National Park is considered the first U.S. National Park. However, the Yosemite area was the first time land was set aside with the intent of preservation. This was known as the Yosemite Grant which was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on June 30, 1864. Although the Yosemite Grant predates Yellowstone by almost a decade, it did not officially receive the National Park designation until October 1, 1890. Therefore, Yellowstone holds that esteemed title while Yosemite technically is the third oldest National Park in the United States.
It should be noted, out of the more than 400 parks in the National Park System, there are only 60 with the designation of "national park". The rest fall into the other categories which were mentioned above.
Here is a list of the 10 oldest National Parks in the United States:
The United States of America, to include its territories is the third largest country by land mass covering approximately 3.8 million square miles (9.8 million square kilometers). Although America does not have as much protected land as other countries, that does not mean it makes the U.S. National Park Services job any easier.
They are responsible for approximately 131,250 square miles (339,935 square kilometers) of land located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, America Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It takes an estimated 20,000 National Park Service employees and several hundred thousand VIPs (Volunteers-In-Parks) to help keep those areas in tip-top shape.
Here is a list of the 10 largest National Park in the United States by size:
If You Build It, They Will Come
In 1983, an American novelist and historian by the name of Wallace Stegner stated this, "national parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst." As someone who has an affinity for our National Park system myself, I could not agree with his statement more.
What started as a bold idea has turned into a lifestyle and one that draws people in from all walks of life, cultures, and locations from around the nation and the world. People are willing to drive or fly thousands of miles just to wait in lines to enter our National Parks and walk with crowds of people just to experience the beauty of America which has been so tirelessly preserved. This speaks volumes and helps to solidify the suggestion that in fact, this was Americas best idea!
It is estimated that in 2017 approximately 330 million domestic and international visitors walked through the gates of our National Park System. This number is up from years past and is expected to be even higher in the years to come. Since recreation visit records started being kept in 1904 up until now (2017), approximately 13,918,617,696 people have visited. In my opinion, the National Park Service does a phenomenal job of accommodating and educating such a large number of people.
At the time of writing this article, the 2018 numbers were not published on the National Park Service website. Once they are, this section will be updated.
Here is a list of the 10 most visited National Parks in the United States:
It's All About The Money
Each year the National Park Service, as part of the Department of the Interior, submits their budget to Congress for their review and approval. Although the National Park Service is funded by the United States Government, that does not mean that is their only source of revenue. They receive additional money through the use of park entrance fees, recreational fees, and partnerships.
The entrance fees can vary based on the Park and other factors to include, per vehicle, per person, per motorcycle, and Park-specific annual passes. To view these fees and options, please click here: Entrance Fees by Park
If you live near or frequently visit National Parks or other areas associated with the National Park System or National Park Service, an annual pass might be right for you. They also offer annual 4th grade passes, senior passes, volunteer passes, access passes, and U.S. Military passes. To learn more about these and other passes, please click here: America the Beautiful Passes
If you time your visit just right, you can take advantage of enjoying the National Parks for free. Typically, these days and dates change yearly so be sure to check before going. To learn more about this, please click here: Free Entrance Days in the National Parks
To learn more about the National Park Service, please click here: NPS
We here at Bourn Adventure have been fortunate enough to visit 20 National Parks (some more than once) and more than 100 of the 418 total other areas associated with the National Park System. The majority of these areas we have visited can be found on our website under the "ADVENTURES" tab. All of them have pictures from our time there and most have a story or stories of the adventure we had during our visit.
With all due sincerity and respect, I thank all the men and women who work for the National Park Service and strive each day to make these areas and this country even better. Without their efforts or the efforts of volunteers, there is no telling what the American people along with those of other countries would be missing.
Our goal is to continue to grow our collection of sites visited within the National Park System and deliver that content to you via our website, social media pages or emails. Although there is a world of information on the internet, it is not always easy to navigate. Our desire is to bring all of our travels, adventures, and experiences together into one, easy to find place, which could help identify locations for a future trip. Our hope is; by using information found on our website it makes your next adventure that much easier to plan, execute, and enjoy.
There is no better time than now to get out there and Capture the Journey as you Explore America and Live Your Freedom!
Sources: NPS.gov | Wikipedia.org | Worldatlas.com | Theculturetrip.com | Budgettravel.com | Tripsavvy.com
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Baker and Ashlie are the owners of Bourn Adventure and together they author the majority of the articles and content found here.