It is an agency of the United States Department of the Interior, which is a Cabinet Office of the executive branch, overseen by a Secretary nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Most of the direct management of the NPS is delegated by the Secretary to the National Park Service Director, who must now also be confirmed by the Senate. The NPS oversees units, of which 58 are designated national parks.
|Name||Term of Office|
|1||Stephen Mather||May 16, 1917||January 8, 1929|
|2||Horace M. Albright||January 12, 1929||August 9, 1933|
|3||Arno B. Cammerer||August 10, 1933||August 9, 1940|
|4||Newton B. Drury||August 20, 1940||March 31, 1951|
|5||Arthur E. Demaray||April 1, 1951||December 8, 1951|
|6||Conrad L. Wirth||December 9, 1951||January 7, 1964|
|7||George B. Hartzog, Jr.||January 9, 1964||December 31, 1972|
|8||Ronald H. Walker||January 7, 1973||January 3, 1975|
|9||Gary Everhardt||January 13, 1975||May 27, 1977|
|10||William J. Whalen||July 5, 1977||May 13, 1980|
|11||Russell E. Dickenson||May 15, 1980||March 3, 1985|
|12||William Penn Mott, Jr.||May 17, 1985||April 16, 1989|
|13||James M. Ridenour||April 17, 1989||January 20, 1993|
|14||Roger G. Kennedy||June 1, 1993||March 29, 1997|
|15||Robert Stanton||August 4, 1997||January, 2001|
|16||Fran P. Mainella||July 18, 2001||October, 2006|
|17||Mary A. Bomar||October 17, 2006|
The National Park System is a term that describes the collection of all units managed by the National Park Service, and it is not necessary for the title or designation of the unit to include the term "park" - indeed most do not. The system encompasses approximately 84.4 million acres (338,000 km²), of which more than 4.3 million acres (17,000 km²) remain in private ownership. The largest unit is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. At 13,200,000 acres (53,000 km²) it is over 16 percent of the entire system. The smallest unit in the system is Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, Pennsylvania, at 0.02 acre (80 m²).
In addition to "units", and other properties that the National Park Service either owns or administers, it also provides technical and financial assistance to several "affiliated areas" authorized by Congress. The largest affiliated area is New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve at 1,164,025 acres (4711 km²). The smallest is Benjamin Franklin National Memorial at less than one hundredth of an acre.
Since its inception in 1916, the National Park Service manages each of the United States' National Parks, which have grown in number over the years to 58.
Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the world in 1872, there was no state government to manage it, so the federal government assumed direct control. Yosemite National Park began as a state park; the land for the park was donated by the federal government to the State of California in 1864 for perpetual conservation. Yosemite was later returned to federal ownership.
The National Park System (NPS) includes all properties managed by the National Park Service (also, confusingly, "NPS"). The System as a whole is considered to be a national treasure of the United States, and some of the more famous national parks and monuments are sometimes referred to metaphorically as "crown jewels".
At first, each national park was managed independently, with varying degrees of success. In Yellowstone, the civilian staff was replaced by the U.S. Army in 1886. Due to the irregularities in managing these national treasures, Stephen Tyng Mather petitioned the federal government to improve the situation. In response, Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane challenged him to lobby for creating a new agency, the National Park Service, to manage all national parks and some national monuments. Mather was successful with the ratification of the National Park Service Organic Act in 1916. Later, the agency was given authority over other protected areas, many with varying designations as Congress created them.
Although all units of the National Park System in the United States, including National Parks, are the responsibility of a single agency, they are all managed under individual pieces of authorizing legislation or, in the case of national monuments created under the Antiquities Act, presidential proclamation. For example, Congaree National Park is almost entirely wilderness area, yet Yosemite has the Badger Pass Ski Area and the O'Shaughnessy Dam within its boundaries. Death Valley National Park actually has an active mine within its boundaries.
Many parks charge an entrance fee ranging from US$3 to $25 per week. Customers can buy a federal interagency annual pass, known as the America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, allowing unlimited entry to federal fee areas (USDA Forestry Service, National Park Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation) for $80 per year. This pass applies to entry fees, only. Other applicable fees such as camping, backcountry access, etc. still apply. Those U.S. citizens who are 62+ years old may purchase a version with the same privileges, for $10, and citizens with permanent disabilities may receive a free version.
The National Park service uses 20+ different titles for the park units it manages. The best known are the National Parks and the National Monuments.
|National Battlefield, National Battlefield Park, National Military Park, and National Battlefield Site||24||61,648.16|
|National Historical Park, National Historic Site, and International Historic Site||118||200,395.23|
|National Preserve and National Reserve||19||23,742,879.74|
|National Recreation Area||18||3,692,222.58|
|National River and National Wild and Scenic River and Riverway||15||738,089.17|
|National Scenic Trail||3||225,356.57|
|Other Designations (White House, National Mall, etc)||11||39,374.33|
National Parks include a range of superb natural and cultural wonders. The first National Park was Yellowstone National Park, 1872.
National Monuments preserve a single unique cultural or natural feature. Devils Tower National Monument was the first in 1916.
National Historic Sites protect a significant cultural resource that is not a complicated site. Examples of these types of parks include: Ford's Theatre National Historic Site and William Howard Taft National Historic Site. National Historical Parks are larger areas with a more complex subject. Appomattox Court House National Historical Park was created in 1940. George Rogers Clark National Historical Park was dedicated in 1936. Historic sites may also be protected in National Parks, Monuments, Seashores, and Lakeshores.
National Military Parks, Battlefield Park, Battlefield site, and Battlefield preserve areas associated with military history. The different designations reflect the complexity of the event and the site. Many of the sites preserve important Revolutionary War battles and Civil War Battlefields. ‘Military Parks’ are larger actions such as Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park or Vicksburg National Military Park, Gettysburg National Military Park and Shiloh National Military Park, the original four from 1890. Examples of ‘Battlefield Parks’, ‘Battlefield Sites’, and ‘National Battlefields’ include: Richmond National Battlefield Park, Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site, and Antietam National Battlefield. National Seashores and National Lakeshores offer both preservation of the national coast line, while supporting water based recreation. Cape Hatteras National Seashore was created in 1937. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore were the first to be created in 1966.
National Rivers and Wild and Scenic Riverways protect free-flowing streams over their length. The riverways may not be altered with dams, channelization or other changes. Recreational pursuits are encouraged along the waterways. Ozark National Scenic Riverways was established in 1964. Many of these units are not part of the National Park System. The U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other government agencies manage wild and scenic rivers.
The National Trails System preserves long distance routes across America. The system was created in 1968 and consists of two major components. National Scenic Trails are long-distance trails through some of the most scenic parts of the country. Scenic trails received official protection in 1968. The Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail are the best known of these trails. National Historic Trails commemorate the routes of major historic events. Some of the best known trails include: the Trail of Tears; Mormon Trail; and the Santa Fe Trail.
National Preserves are for the protection of certain resources. Activities like hunting and fishing and some mining are allowed. Big Cypress National Preserve and Big Thicket National Preserve were created in 1974 as the first Nat’l Preserves.
National Reserves are similar to National Preserves, but the operational authority can be placed with a local government. City of Rocks National Reserve was the first to be established in 1988.
At many Park Service sites a bookstore is operated by a cooperating association. The largest example is Eastern National, which runs bookstores in 30 states.
Training centers include: Horace Albright Training Center, Grand Canyon; Stephen Mather Training Center, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; Historic Preservation Training Center, Frederick, Maryland; and Capital Training Center, Washington, D.C.