The National Park System Name Game

Arches National Park - Double ArchesIf you review the National Park System website, you notice that they have many different designations of park areas. Why the difference? Why is one area called a park while another is called a preserve or monument? Let’s look at the history and the park system classification structure.

The National Park Service was created in 1916 when Woodrow Wilson signed the Act designating it as a part of the Department of the Interior (DOI). At the time there were a total of 40 national parks and monuments. The Act, known as the “Organic Act” states, “the Service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of Federal areas known as national parks, monuments and reservations . . . to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life 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.”

Today, the National Park System has a total of 388 areas that cover more than 80 million acres. Every state is included, as well as, the District of Columbia, American Somoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, The Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands.

Any addition to the National Park System are normally made through Acts of Congress. Only National Parks can be created this way. There is a power given to the President where he/she can create a National Monument from land that the Federal Government already has jurisdiction.

In recent years, Congress along with the aid of the National Park Service has attempted to simplify the nomenclature. They have done this by creating criteria as a basis for each classification.

Here are the categories and a description of each:

National Park: These contain numerous resources and encompass a large amount of land or water in order to provide an adequate amount of protection of these resources. There are no authorized consumptive activities that would diminish any of these resources (i.e. logging, grazing, mining or hunting).

Arches National Park - SheepNational Monument: These normally comprise at least one natural resource and are smaller than a National Park. Many of the National Monuments, in recent years, are under the supervision of the Secretary of the Interior and are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The President has the power to declare by public proclamation landmarks, structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest to be National Monuments.

National Preserves: These were created for the protection of specific resources. In contrast to a National Park, these areas may allow consumptive activities as long as the natural value is not jeopardized.

National Reserves: These are similar to National Preserves, but are managed by either the state or local government.

National Lakeshores and National Seashores: These preserve the natural values while simultaneously providing water recreation. Like National Preserves, hunting is allowed at some of these sites. There is a large diversity in development. Some of these are left primitive, while others have been developed. All of the National Lakeshores are currently located on the Great Lakes. The National Seashores are the Gulf, Atlantic and Pacific Coasts.

National Rivers and Wild and Scenic Riverways: These preserve a strip of land along a waterway that has been left in its natural state. There can be no damming, channeling or any other alteration to the waterway. They are also established in order to promote; hiking, canoeing and hunting.

Blue Ridge ParkwayNational Scenic Trails: These are long hiking paths that traverse through areas of natural beauty.

National Historic Site and National Historical Parks: These are areas that preserve places and commemorate persons, events and activities important to the Nation. They range from prehistoric Indian civilizations to modern day Americans. These sites are renovated or restored to reflect the age that they were historically significant. A National Historic Site normally commemorates only one significant historical feature. In contrast, National Historical Parks are a lot larger in scope and size. There is one International Historic Site on the Island of Saint Croix. This is important to both America and Canada.

National Military Park, National Battlefield Park, National Battlefield Site and National Battlefield: All of these designations are given to areas that have American military history significance. In addition, National Monuments and National Historical Parks may have some military history aspects.

National Cemetery: There are currently a total of 14.

National Memorials: These are areas that are mainly commemorative in nature. Like the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

National Capital Region: The National Capital Region is a part of the National Park Service that oversees most of the public parks in the District of Columbia area. They also manage some areas in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

Yellowstone National Park - GeyserNational Recreation Areas: These originally included only areas that were created after building a dam to promote water recreation. Since this designation, areas in urban centers have been added. Some National Recreation Areas are being managed by U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as the Forest Service.

National Parkways: These are roads and the land along side them. These areas were created in order for people to take leisurely drives and enjoy the scenery passing by.

National Park for the Performing Arts: There is only one park with this designation, Wolf Trap in Virginia. However, Ford’s Theatre national Historic Site in D.C. And Chamizal National Memorial in Texas both have performing arts facilities.

Wilderness Areas: These are areas within the park system that are managed to retain “primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation. . . .” The Act goes on to state that, “there shall be no commercial enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area . . . and (except for emergency uses) no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation.” The only use of the land is for Hiking and in some cases horseback riding, primitive camping and similar recreations.

Besides these recognized titles, some of the areas managed by the National Park Service have unique titles. The most famous one being The White House.

There are also three other government groups that work closely, but are not a part of the National Park Service; Affiliated Areas, the Wild and Scenic Rivers System and the National Trails System.

From the very first National Park, Yellowstone, established on March 1, 1872, to the most recent additions, the need has been apparent to set aside and protect areas for future generations of Americans to enjoy.

All Pictures from the National Park Service

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