Preserving our History, Culture, and Land: The Vital Mission of the National Park Service

June 17, 2014

US National Park Service LogoNow that summer has arrived, millions of Americans are embarking upon eagerly anticipated summer vacations.  It is a time for being together with friends and loved ones, and for making life-long memories. And this summer, thousands of families will choose to spend their vacations at one of the 400 National Parks and National Monuments throughout the United States.

The National Park System provides outstanding and affordable destinations for recreation, adventure, and historical and cultural education. But it also serves a much greater purpose: to protect and conserve our environment and to preserve our most precious historical and cultural landmarks.  Left unprotected, our national treasures would be lost forever.

The National Park Service Organic Act

In 1872, Yellowstone Park in Wyoming was established as the country’s first National Park,  “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”  Since that time, many more National Parks have been added throughout the country, and today there are 401 National Parks for Americans to enjoy.  Yellowstone, along with all of our other National Parks and National Monuments, is managed by the National Park Service — an agency of the United States Department of the Interior.  The park service was created in 1916 with the passage of the National Park Service Organic Act.  President Woodrow Wilson signed the Act into law, and it is codified in Title 16 of the United States Code.  For almost 100 years, the National Park Service has been charged with carrying out the mission set forth in the Organic Act — 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.” 

The National Park Service has hosted over 11,700,000,000 visitors to our National Parks.  Today, the National Park Service manages:

  • 84,000 000 acres of land
  • 121,603,193 objects in museum collections
  • 4,502,644 acres of oceans, lakes, and reservoirs
  • 68,561 archeological sites
  • 27,000 historical structures
  • 2,461 national historic landmarks
  • 582 natural landmarks

Visits to the National Parks

I have been visiting National Parks since I was child. One of my earliest memories was playing in tide pools at Acadia National Park in Maine.  Growing up, my parents and I visited many National Parks, where I climbed mountains, explored caves, saw glaciers, observed wildlife, and developed a permanent appreciation for the incredible beauty and immeasurable value of our land. Years later, I continued to be drawn to visit our National Parks.  I saw grizzly bears running across a valley at Denali National Park in Alaska, and on an early morning outing in Yellowstone Park, my husband and I watched as a pack of grey wolves silently crossed our path in the forest.  When my son was in kindergarten, his young life was transformed by his experience at a Junior Ranger summer camp at Jean Lafitte National Park outside of New Orleans.  He and his friends went “dip netting” in the swamp, and were entirely transfixed by every little critter that came out of their nets.  My son learned about owls and armadillos, and why Louisiana’s wetlands are crucial to the survival of everyone in the state.  He held a baby alligator as it hatched out of its shell, and his love and respect for nature was fixed for life.  In October 2013, the federal government forced the closure of all of the National Parks and Monuments. For over a week, 715,000 people a day were turned away from hiking trails, campgrounds, visitor centers, and park programs. This summer, I will be especially grateful that the National Park Service is back to its vital mission, and that our National Parks are open for more fun and adventure. If you are interested in visiting one of the National Parks, You can find a park here.