In honor of President’s Day this Monday, there’s no better time to take a quick look back at the history of one of America’s greatest treasures, our National Park system. Though the first National Park, Yellowstone, was actually established by an act of Congress in 1872, the Oval Office has long made significant impacts on the system as a whole. While parks continued to be established throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, it wasn’t until 1916 that President Woodrow Wilson, at the height of World War I, established the National Park Service to manage and oversee the ever-expanding system of federally-protected lands. Since that time, dozens of National Parks and hundreds of National Monuments have been added to the list of conserved places, with some 401 distinct areas covering more than 84 million acres across the United States and its territories.
Here’s a quick rundown of the 10 most-visited National Parks, as well as their year of creation and the President at the time:
1. Great Smoky Mountain National Park (Tennessee, 1926, Calvin Coolidge)
2. Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona, 1919, Woodrow Wilson)
3. Yosemite National Park (California, 1890, Benjamin Harrison)
4. Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, 1872, Ulysses S. Grant)
5. Olympic National Park (Washington, 1938, Franklin Roosevelt)
6. Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado, 1915, Woodrow Wilson)
7. Zion National Park (Utah, 1919, Woodrow Wilson)
8. Grand Teton National Park (Utah, 1929, Herbert Hoover)
9. Acadia National Park (Maine, 1919, Woodrow Wilson)
10. Glacier National Park (Montana, 1910, William Howard Taft)
Arguably one of the most interesting things about the National Park system is that it’s never complete. In just the last 35 years, 19 parks have been added to the list, including mainstays like Saguaro National Park in Arizona and Joshua Tree National Park in California (both were upgraded from National Monument status in 1994). In total, 18 different US Presidents have overseen the addition of National Park land to the system, spanning more than 130 years of preservation efforts.
Obviously, no discussion of conservation in the United States would be complete without mention of Teddy Roosevelt, who is widely considered to be America’s most conservation-oriented president. After taking a trip to the Badlands in 1883, Roosevelt became enamored with the beauty of the American frontier while also developing great concern for the damage being done to the land and wildlife through ever-increasing development and hunting patterns. Just over 20 years later, Roosevelt channeled his passion for the great outdoors into the passage of the 1906 American Antiquities Act, which he used to create 18 National Monuments. During the course of his Presidency, “Roosevelt used his authority to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the U.S. Forest Service and establishing 51 Federal Bird Reservations, 4 National Game Preserves, 150 National Forests, [and] 5 National Parks,” conserving some 230 million acres of American wilderness in the process (much of this land was protected under the jurisdiction of the National Forest Service, which was combined with the National Park Service in 1933 through an Executive Order by Franklin D. Roosevelt).
Even to this day, the quest for further conservation continues with President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, which aims to promote a responsible conservation and recreation agenda through the development of closer relationships between outdoors stakeholders at all levels. So on this President’s Day, take some time to appreciate the efforts of those in the White House to protect the incredible natural beauty that exists in all corners of the United States. If you can, head to your nearest National Park, National Monument, National Forest, or any other federally-protected area and enjoy the wonder of the great outdoors! Happy President’s Day, Nashville!
– Matt (Team Green’s Event Coordinator)
Update 2/19/15: President Obama just designated three new National Monuments: Pullman National Monument in Illinois, Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado, and Honouliuli National Monument in Hawaii. Very cool!