Friday, May 25, 2007

Parks, Monuments, and other National Sites

In 1872, President Ulysses Grant set aside a remarkable region of canyons, geysers, hot springs, and other natural wonders, known as Yellowstone, for the enjoyment of the public. Although Yellowstone was the first National Park, over the next century it was to be followed by thousands of other sites across the country.

First National Park, Yellowstone, 1872
Located in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, Yellowstone National Park is home to a large variety of wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and elk. It also contains approximately one-half of the world’s hydrothermal features, over 10,000, including over 300 geysers. Now Yellowstone is just one of nearly 400 National Parks, although it is still among the most visited every year.

First National Military Park, Chickamauga and Chattanooga, 1890
In 1890, Congress began taking steps to protect historic battlefields. Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park on the Georgia-Tennesse border, became the first National Military Park. It contains two major battlefields, Chickamauga, scene of the last major Confederate victory of the Civil War, and Lookout Mountain, where Union troops finally took control of Chattanooga. The Park was followed with designations of other famous Civil War sites, including Shiloh, Gettysburg, and Vicksburg. Today, in addition to the National Military Park designation, battle sites are also classified as National Battlefields, National Battlefield Parks, or National Battlefield Sites, with about two-dozen total in the system.

First National Monument, Devils Tower, 1906
The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the President to designate landmarks, structures, and other objects as National Monuments, without approval from Congress. The first was Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, created by President Theodore Roosevelt. A massive rock formation, rising 867 feet from its base to the summit, it can be seen from many miles away. This site, like others that followed, remains controversial because American Indians consider the monument sacred. Today, there are almost 100 National Monuments.

National Park Service, 1916
The 1916 National Park Service Organic Act established the modern National Park Service, which oversees the various parks, monuments, and other sites that make up the National Park System. In 1970, Congress elaborated on the original Act, saying all units of the system have equal legal standing, regardless of their designation within the national system. In addition to the NPS, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (under the U.S. Department of the Interior), and the U.S. Forest Service (under the U.S. Department of Agriculture) also manage national sites.

First National Historic Site, Salem Maritime, 1938
The Historic Sites Act of 1935 allows the Secretary of the Interior to establish National Historic Sites that have national historical significance, usually because they are associated with a famous individual or event. The first was Salem Maritime National Historic Site, in Salem, Massachusetts, designated in 1938. The Site consists of 12 historic structures and land along the waterfront, as well as a visitor center. It highlights the maritime history of New England, whose shipping played an important role in the early economic development of the United States. Today, there are 78 National Historic Sites in the National Park System.

First National Seashore, Cape Hatteras, 1953
National Seashores were authorized in 1937, and the first, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, on the "Outer Banks" of North Carolina, was established on January 12, 1953. There have been only ten national seashore designations, scattered along the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts.

First National Historic Landmark, Sergeant Floyd Monument, 1960
In 1960, the Secretary of the Interior was authorized to make another type of designation: National Historic Landmark. NHLs can be individual objects, buildings or other structures, sites, or entire districts. Unlike other national sites, more than half of the approximately 2,500 National Historic Landmarks are privately owned. All NHLs are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The first National Historic Landmark was the Sergeant Floyd Monument in Sioux City, Iowa, which honors the only member of the Lewis and Clark expedition who died on the journey.

First National Lakeshore, Pictured Rocks, 1966
Nearly thirty years after authorizing the designation of seashores, Congress turned to the Great Lakes, and created Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior, near Munising, Michigan, in 1966. There are now four National Lakeshores, all on Lakes Michigan and Superior.

First National Scenic Trail, Appalachian, 1968
In 1968, in order "to provide for the ever-increasing outdoor recreation needs of an expanding population," Congress authorized the creation of National Scenic Trails. The first was the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, which stretches through 14 states from Maine to Georgia. In addition to Scenic Trails, National Recreation Trails and National Historic Trails also are part of the National Trails System.

First National River, Buffalo, 1972
A century after the creation of Yellowstone, another designation was created, and the Buffalo river in Arkansas became America's first National River in 1972. Although some development is allowed on designated rivers, the goal is to preserve their original "character."

To learn more about the various national site designations, see the National Park Service's Designation of National Park System Units.

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