On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Organic Act which Congress passed to create in the Department of the Interior the National Park Service. The aim of the law was “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.”
When the law was enacted, there were already 35 national monuments and parks including Yosemite National Park established in 1864 and Yellowstone National Park established in 1872. Today, the National Park Service has 140 national monuments and parks, 128 historical parks or sites, 25 battlefields or military sites, 19 preserves, 18 recreation areas, 10 seashores, four parkways, four lakeshores, and two reserves. The biggest park is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska established in 1980 containing 13.2 million acres. It is the same size as Yosemite, Yellowstone and the country of Switzerland combined. The smallest site is the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia established in 1972 sitting on 0.02 acres. The highest point in the system is Denali (or Mount McKinley) at 20,320 feet. The lowest accessible point is Death Valley National Park, at 282 feet below sea level. The newest National Monument is Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine which President Barack Obama designated this week for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. See NPR web page In Maine, Land From Burt’s Bees Co-Founder Is Declared A National Monument discussing the controversial designation of the woods as protected territory especially from locals concerned about federal oversight of lands that used to be central to the regional economy.
With an annual budget of $2.6 billion, the National Park Service has about 20,000 direct employees and supports 240,000 local jobs generating $27 billion for the U.S. economy. More than 307 million people visited Park Service locations in 2015 compared to 1920 when NPS sites were visited by 1 million people. Brooklyn does not have a national park but this week Brooklyn Bridge Park hosted a National Park Service celebrating the100th anniversary of its founding. Nearby sites such as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are both part of the NPS. Other NPS locations in New York City include the African Burial Ground National Monument, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site and Castle Clinton National Monument.
Brooklyn Law School Library users can explore OneSearch to find a large set of articles about the history of the National Park Service such as the National Parks: America’s BEST Idea? from Parks & Recreation Aug 2016, Vol. 51 Issue 8, page 44.