National Park Service Jobs – History of the National Park Service

The National Park Service (NPS), a branch of the U.S. Department of the Interior, was created in 1916 to preserve, protect, and manage certain natural, cultural, historical, and recreational areas put under its jurisdiction.

Today, the National Park system comprises 401 areas or “units” covering more than 84 million acres in every state except Delaware.
There are national parks as far away as the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Perhaps it is the sheer variety that attracts so many visitors. Falling under the National Park Service umbrella are historic sites, lakeshores, battlefields, memorials, monuments, trails, parkways, scenic rivers, recreation areas, and of course, plain old parks – which are anything but plain.

While the Park Service has avoided much of the controversy the Forest Service has had to endure, it too has had to balance conflicting ideas about the utilization of its lands over the years. The Forest Service must weigh lumber and mining industry demands against conservation pressures, while the Park Service must meld the interests of recreation with those of conservation.

Claiming that “parks are for people,” recreational and tourist industry interests have argued for increased access and more concessions catering to visitors. Backing up those interests are the many visitors who expect modern amenities and comforts when they visit park lands. Environmentalists argue that intrusive human impact should be limited in order to best preserve the parks. Pointing to traffic jams and fast-food restaurants in Yosemite and Yellowstone, they argue that unless human impact is minimized, careless visitors will “love the parks to death.”

National parks are created in two ways: through an act of Congress or by a presidential proclamation. Typically when Congress creates an addition to the National Park system, the area has been studied by NPS representatives who have deemed it to have national significance, suitability, and feasibility. The majority of areas considered, however, don’t make the grade to become a National Park unit.

Many park units also find their way into the system as a president’s pet project. Under the 1906 Antiquities Act, the president has the authority to designate national monuments on land currently under federal jurisdiction. The first president to make use of this was Theodore Roosevelt who, shortly after the Act was passed, declared Devil’s Tower in Wyoming a national monument.

Over the years, nearly 100 NPS units were added by this method. Many of these units have since been designed by Congress as national parks or national historical parks, or have been otherwise fully incorporated into the system.

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