National Parks – Past, Present and Future | 5 Oldest Parks and a New One Coming?

Katy Shipley | | Featured ArticleFeatured Article
National Park
Explore your parks! Image: NPS

For over 100 years, the National Parks Service has been striving to protect and manage our national parks, monuments and reservations.  From Yellowstone to Yosemite, the NPS preserves our natural wonders for the future generations. Some of the first parks established remain the most iconic.

“[the Service] purpose is 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.” – Organic Act of 1916

National Parks, Muir
Roosevelt and John Muir go camping. Image: NPS

National Park Service History

  • 1872: Yellowstone is established by U.S. Congress, sparking the National Park Movement
  • 1916: President Woodrow Wilson signs an act creating the National Park Service which is designed to manage U.S. parks and monuments.
  • 1933: The Executive Order in 1933 transferred 56 national monuments and military sites from the Forest Service and the War Department to the National Park Service.
  • Today: More than 400 areas are protected and cared for by 20,000 National Park Service employees.
National Parks, photographer
George Grant Alexander was the first hired photographer for the National Parks Service. Image: NPS

First National Parks Established in the U.S.

#1 Yellowstone National Park 

  • Established March, 1st, 1872
  • Idaho, Montana, Wyoming
National Park, Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park. Image: NPS

#2 Sequoia National Park

  • Established September 25th, 1890
  • California
Sequoia, National Parks
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park. Image: NPS

#3  General Grant National Park (now Kings Canyon NP)

  • Established October 1, 1890
  • California
Kings National Parks
Kings Canyon & Seqoiua National Park. Image: NPS / D. Jeffcoach

#4 Yosemite National Park

  • Established October 1st, 1890
  • California
Yosemite, national parks
Yosemite National Park. Image: NPS

#5 Mt. Rainier National Park

  • Established March 2nd, 1899
  • Washington
Rainier, National Park
Mt. Rainier National Park. Image: NPS

What Does it Take to Become a National Park?

According to the National Park Service, there are a few steps to becoming a National Park.  The first step is usually a reconnaissance survey to collect basic information and assess the resource’s significance.  Park boundaries are then proposed and studies are sent to Congress and the Department of the Interior.

Congress has the final say.  Studies by the National Park Service provide information to help the Secretary of the Interior develop a position to present to Congress. They also help Congress decide what action to take.

National parks
For the enjoyment of the people. Image: NPS

The Next Potential National Park

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

White sands National Parks
White Sands National Monument. Image: NPS

White Sands has seen an increase in visits in the last several years, which has sparked interest in this New Mexico treasure.  A section of these vast white gypsum dunes was established as a national monument in 1933.  In a report from the NPS, the park saw 612,468 visitors to the National Monument in 2017.  These visitors spent $31,709,200 in communities near the park.  The spending supported 450 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $35,729,700.  It’s safe to say White Sands makes a good candidate for becoming a national park.

Sunset national parks
White Sands National Park Sunset. Image: NPS

Martin Heinrich the U.S. Senator of New Mexico introduced a new legislative bill in May which designates White Sands National Monument as New Mexico’s newest national park.  In a recent study of 8 other national parks that were previously national monuments, the change in title can prove to be very beneficial to the surrounding areas.

Within the first 5 years of becoming a national park, visits increase by an average 21% and receive better resource protection, interpretation, and visitor services.  This would mean around $7 Million in new spending, 100 new jobs, and $3 Million in new labor income for White Sands.

Historical National Monuments Redesignated as National Parks

#1 Petrified Forest National Park

  • Founded in 1906 as a National Monument
  • The oldest national monument redesignated as a National Park in 1962
  • Arizona
Petrified National Park
Petrified Forest National Park. Image: NPS

#2 Pinnacles National Park

  • Founded in 1908 as a National Monument
  • Redesignated as a National Park in 2012
  • California
Pinnacles national park
Pinnacles National Park. Image: NPS

#3 Acadia National Park

  • Founded in 1916 as Sieur de Monts National Monument
  • Redesignated in 1929 as a Acadia National Park
  • Maine
Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park. Image: NPS

#4 Bryce Canyon National Park

  • Founded in 1923 as Bryce Canyon National Monument
  • Redesignated in 1928 as a National Park
  • Utah
Bryice national park
Bryce Canyon National Park. Image: NPS

#5 Carlsbad Caverns National Park

  • Founded in 1923 as Carlsbad Cave National Monument
  • Redesignated in 1930 as a National Park
  • California
Carlsbad National Park
Carlsbad National Park. Image: NPS/ Dustin Baker

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