PARKS HAVE BEEN AROUND FOR MORE THAN A CENTURY
first visited the Painted Desert in Arizona in 1957. Five years later,
the area we traveled through became officially known as the Petrified
Forest National Park. I saw it all again this summer. The region is
still breathtaking with its colorful landscape of reds, yellows and
purples. The 225-million-year-old fossilized trees are still there.
58 national parks, the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest comprise
the 30th. Yellowstone was the first, in 1872, when President Grant signed
the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act. The protection needed
was from private development, which some foresaw as a threat to the
pristine beauty of the remarkable natural area and wildlife.
President Wilson signed the oddly named Organic Act that created the
National Park Service under the Department of the Interior. Although
more than a dozen locations, all west of the Mississippi River, had
already been named national parks by 1916, the NPS celebrated 2016 as
the centennial year of its formation. The rationale for the act was
"to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and
... wildlife therein."
declares that we now have more than 400 "national parks,"
but these fall under a broad grouping that includes national monuments
and other historic sites. I'm guessing politics is involved. Calling
a national monument a national park means that every state gets to have
one, whereas in reality only 27 states have true national parks within
their boundaries. Nonetheless, all of the 400-plus protected areas are
national treasures, and each has its exclusivity and reason for being.
Find the ones within your state and visit them.
of the certifiable national parks is Hot Springs, Arkansas, with 5,839
acres. Yellowstone National Park, in parts of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming,
encompasses more than 3,400 square miles. Yellowstone is dwarfed by
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska, with more than
20,000 square miles. Some claim that Yellowstone is not really the oldest
park but that Hot Springs is.
set aside Hot Springs Reservation in 1832, the first federal land to
be intentionally protected from commercial exploitation. Hot Springs
did not receive the official national park designation until 1921, but
the habitats were first protected during the presidency of Andrew Jackson,
before Arkansas was a state. The semantics of which was the first is
not what is important. The key issue is that both preserve the integrity
of natural ecosystems in their regions, although extensive commercial
development had already occurred at Hot Springs.
Maine became the first eastern state to have a national park (Acadia).
The Great Smoky Mountains (1934) made North Carolina and Tennessee the
first southeastern states with a national park. Of the 300 million visitors
to national parks last year, the highest number (over 10 million) came
to the Smokies. Shenandoah (1935) in Virginia, Mammoth Cave (1941) in
Kentucky and the Everglades (1947) in Florida were soon to follow. The
Congaree National Park in South Carolina (2003) was the last park in
the Southeast to be officially designated.
of national parks, in the broadest sense, is a magnificent tribute to
the natural beauty and outstanding history of our nation. Yet an alarming
proposal being bandied about by members of Congress and other politicians
is that some or all of the national parks should be privatized. This
is a dangerous proposition that will lead to the degradation of natural
ecosystems and their attendant wildlife. It is in the best interest
of all citizens that the parks remain public lands administered by public
servants. The National Park Service is the epitome of an enterprise
that should be left in the hands of the federal government.
national park on your next vacation. You'll not be disappointed. And
if you make it to the Petrified Forest, it's going to look the same
as I left it.
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