A Look Back at 100 Years of the National Parks Service

Over 100 years ago, the National Parks Service did not exist in the U.S. No lands were federally protected, and logging companies were increasing their efforts in response to huge demands for lumber. At last, a few key voices catching the attention of the right people changed it all.

Who will speak for the land that cannot speak for itself?

Individuals such as naturalist John Muir, with the backdrop of such unique surroundings as Yosemite Valley, stepped forward to save the land from the growing number of settlers moving westward. Responding to pleas of Muir and others, Congress and President Abraham Lincoln put Yosemite under the protection of California during the Civil War. Later, in 1872, under President Ulysses S Grant, Yellowstone became the world’s first true National Park, along with several other areas later in the 19th century.

In 1903, Teddy Roosevelt was campaigning on a whistle-stop tour around the U.S.  He had arranged to explore the Yosemite wilderness with naturalist John Muir–without his Secret Service personnel–while he was in California. Roosevelt wanted to experience the land as authentically as possible. The result of this 4-day visit and Roosevelt’s subsequent presidency, led to the foundation of five national parks as well as several national monuments, national bird sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, and national forests. Despite this “national protection” designation, no management or organization was in place to oversee the funding and care of these Parks.

President Teddy Roosevelt & Naturalist John Muir in 1903, Yosemite, CA.

President Teddy Roosevelt & Naturalist John Muir in 1903, Yosemite, CA.

 

Establishment of the National Parks Service in 1916

In 1915, backed by millionaire industrialist Stephen Mather and National Geographic Society, momentum grew toward establishing a distinct federal organization dedicated to preserving and controlling protected areas.  The National Parks Service was officially created in 1916, and Stephen Mather became its first director. This moved 14 national parks and 21 national monuments under the management of the NPS.

Stephen Mather and his National Parks Service staff in 1927/1928.

Stephen Mather (Front-center) and his National Parks Service staff in 1927/1928.

The Century that Followed

Mather was the first of 18 NPS Directors the institution has had in its history. Throughout the years, many subsequent Acts have been signed to further protect and provide for the federally protected land areas and expand the scope of the National Parks Service. John Jarvis was sworn in as the current National Parks Service Director on October 2, 2009.  He currently oversees more than 400 national parks, monuments, and refuges. The National Parks Service is supported by approximately 22,000 permanent, temporary, and seasonal employees and 400,000 volunteers. Last year a record number of visitors experienced the national parks, totaling over 305 million guests to the more than 84 million available acres!

Given the continued increase in the number of total annual visitations, interest in these National Parks among the public is at an all-time high. Recently, MacGillivray Freeman Films released a new film called the National Parks Adventure which is now showing in IMAX theaters across the country. Sponsored by Expedia, Subaru, VisitTheUSA.com, and REI, the viewer gets a rarely-seen insight into several incredible parks.

Due to the bold and ongoing efforts of so many people focused on preservation and conservation, these parks and natural experiences will continue to be shared for many years to come.

Sources:

https://www.nps.gov/yose/learn/historyculture/muir-influences.htm
https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/hisnps/NPSHistory/timeline_annotated.htm
http://vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/people/roosevelt.aspx
http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/early-history/
https://www.nps.gov/aboutus/faqs.htm
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