National parks in the United States are not just great places to visit; they also hold a significant historical and cultural value. They have a rich history that dates back to the late 19th century, when in 1872, the first national park, Yellowstone, was established. While hundreds of millions of people have enjoyed these parks, the people who helped create them are often unknown.
So, if you’re wondering who created the national parks system, you’re in the right place!
Who created the national parks?
The creation of national parks was a collaborative effort involving various individuals and groups. One of the key figures in the establishment of national parks was President Ulysses S. Grant, who signed the legislation that created Yellowstone National Park in 1872. Grant’s support for the preservation of natural areas set a precedent for future presidents and helped pave the way for the creation of more national parks.
Another important figure in the creation of national parks was John Muir, a Scottish-American naturalist and conservationist. Muir’s advocacy for the preservation of wilderness areas played a crucial role in the establishment of Yosemite National Park in 1890. His writings and activism brought attention to the beauty and importance of these natural areas, inspiring others to join the conservation movement.
Finally, a man named Ferdinand Hayden led an 1871 exploration of the land that would become Yellowstone. The expedition, and reports of it, were crucial in gathering support for conservation in the federal government. Because of this expedition, the lands were excluded from auctions, set aside to become the world’s first national park the next year.
The Sierra Club sets the stage for conservation
Founded in 1892 by conservationist John Muir, the Sierra Club has been a leading advocate for the preservation of wilderness and the establishment of national parks. The club’s early efforts were instrumental in the creation of several iconic national parks, including Yosemite, Sequoia, and Mount Rainier. Over the years, the Sierra Club has continued to champion conservation initiatives, lobby for environmental legislation, and promote public awareness of the importance of protecting natural landscapes and wildlife, contributing to the growth and protection of the national park system.
Conservationists who contributed to the founding of the national parks system
Several other conservationists made significant contributions to the founding of the national parks system. George Bird Grinnell, a journalist and naturalist, was instrumental in the establishment of Glacier National Park in Montana. Grinnell’s efforts to protect the region from overhunting and development led to its designation as a national park in 1910.
Another notable conservationist is Stephen Mather, who served as the first director of the National Park Service. Mather’s leadership and advocacy helped expand the national parks system during his tenure from 1917 to 1929. He played a key role in the creation of several national parks, including Grand Canyon, Zion, and Acadia.
Conservationists played a crucial role in advocating for the creation of national parks. They recognized the importance of preserving natural areas for future generations and worked tirelessly to protect these lands from exploitation and development. Conservationists like John Muir and George Bird Grinnell used their writing, activism, and political influence to raise awareness about the value of wilderness areas and the need for their protection.
Their efforts were not without opposition, as there were those who saw the potential economic benefits of exploiting these lands for resources such as timber and minerals. However, the conservationists’ dedication and passion for preserving natural areas ultimately prevailed.
Women who influenced the development of US national parks
While often left out of books, documentaries, and blog posts, there have been several women who played crucial roles in the history of US national parks, contributing to their establishment, preservation, and management. These park pioneers were and are dedicated advocates for conservation, outdoor recreation, and the protection of natural and cultural resources. Here are a few notable women who left a lasting impact on the national park system:
Marjory Stoneman Douglas: Although she is most well-known for her work in preserving the Florida Everglades, Marjory Stoneman Douglas also played a role in broader conservation efforts, including national parks. Her influential book “The Everglades: River of Grass” (1947) brought attention to the importance of preserving this unique ecosystem and ultimately contributed to the establishment of Everglades National Park in 1947.
Margaret “Mardy” Murie: Known as the “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement,” Mardy Murie was an ardent conservationist who advocated for wilderness preservation. Her efforts were instrumental in the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964. Mardy and her husband Olaus Murie, a renowned wildlife biologist, were also involved in conservation efforts that led to the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Clara Hodges: In 1913, she became one of the first female park rangers in the United States. She served as a ranger at Yosemite National Park when there was a shortage of rangers during World War I. Her appointment as a park ranger was groundbreaking and opened doors for women in the National Park Service.
The expansion of the national park system under President Theodore Roosevelt
President Theodore Roosevelt is often referred to as the “Conservation President” due to his significant contributions to the national parks system. During his presidency, Roosevelt helped five national parks, including Crater Lake, Wind Cave, and Mesa Verde. He also signed the Antiquities Act in 1906, which allowed the president to designate national monuments to protect areas of historical, cultural, or scientific significance.
Roosevelt’s passion for conservation was deeply rooted in his love for the outdoors and his belief in the importance of preserving natural areas for future generations. His efforts to expand the national parks system helped solidify its place in American society and set a precedent for future presidents to continue protecting and preserving these lands.
The Establishment of the National Park Service (NPS)
The National Park Service (NPS) was established on August 25, 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Organic Act into law. The act was passed by the United States Congress and laid the foundation for the NPS as a federal agency responsible for managing and preserving the country’s national parks and monuments.
The establishment of the National Park Service was championed by several notable individuals and groups who played significant roles in advocating for the conservation of natural and cultural resources. One of the key figures was Stephen Mather, a wealthy businessman and conservationist, who became the first director of the NPS. Mather’s passion for nature and national parks led him to advocate for a centralized federal agency to manage and protect these precious landscapes for the enjoyment of future generations.
Another influential figure was Horace M. Albright, who served as the assistant director and later the second director of the NPS. Albright worked alongside Stephen Mather and played a crucial role in expanding the NPS and enhancing its organizational structure.
The story behind the creation of the National Park Service can be traced back to the early conservation movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There was growing concern among conservationists, environmentalists, and advocates for the preservation of natural wonders and historical sites that many of these areas were being exploited for commercial purposes or falling under the control of private interests.
The idea of a centralized agency to oversee and protect these national treasures gained momentum, and on August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Organic Act into law. This act established the NPS as a bureau within the Department of the Interior and tasked it with the “conservation of the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein” in the national parks.
The role of Congress in creating and protecting national parks
Congress has played a crucial role in the creation and protection of national parks. The Antiquities Act, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, gave the president the authority to designate national monuments. This legislation allowed for the protection of areas with significant cultural, historical, or scientific value, paving the way for the creation of future national parks.
Another important piece of legislation we have discussed is the National Park Service Organic Act, which was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. This act established the National Park Service as a federal agency responsible for managing and protecting national parks. It also outlined the mission of the National Park Service to preserve the natural and cultural resources of these areas for future generations.
Without congressional action, it is likely that most of the land we now enjoy would have gone into private hands, and countless iconic lookouts, trails, and scenic drives would be paved over for another swimming pool subdivision. If only the 21st century congress could unite around a good idea!
The creation of national parks in the United States is a testament to the efforts of conservationists, Native American tribes, and government officials who recognized the importance of preserving natural areas for future generations. There is more than just one person to thank for the millions of acres we are able to enjoy today, and each of the men and women Understanding the origins of national parks allows us to appreciate the historical and cultural significance of these protected lands. It also reminds us of the ongoing need to protect and preserve these areas for future generations to enjoy. National parks are not only beautiful natural areas, but they also serve as a reminder of our responsibility to be good stewards of the environment.