National Park Service

Coordinates: 38°53′40″N 77°02′33″W / 38.8944°N 77.0426°W / 38.8944; -77.0426
Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

National Park Service
United States government
EmployeesAbout 20,000 (2022)[1] (279,000 volunteers in 2019)[1]
Annual budget$3.265 billion (FY2022)[2]
Agency executive
Parent departmentDepartment of the Interior Edit this at Wikidata

The National Park Service (NPS) is an

U.S. Department of the Interior. The service manages all national parks; most national monuments; and other natural, historical, and recreational properties, with various title designations.[3][4] The United States Congress created the agency on August 25, 1916, through the National Park Service Organic Act.[5] Its headquarters are in Washington, D.C.
, within the main headquarters of the Department of the Interior.

The NPS employs about 20,000 people in 429 units covering over 85 million acres (0.34 million km2) in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.[6][4][7] In 2019, the service had more than 279,000 volunteers.[7] The agency is charged with preserving the ecological and historical integrity of the places entrusted to its management and with making them available for public use and enjoyment.


In 1916, a portfolio of nine major parks was published to generate interest. Printed on each brochure was a map showing the parks and principal railroad connections.
In 1934, a series of ten postage stamps was issued to commemorate the reorganization and expansion of the National Park Service.
NPS Preliminary Survey party, Great Smoky Mountains, 1931

Artist George Catlin, during an 1832 trip to the Dakotas, was perhaps the first to suggest a novel solution to this fast-approaching reality. Indian civilization, wildlife, and wilderness were all in danger, wrote Catlin, unless they could be preserved "by some great protecting policy of a magnificent park... A nation's Park, containing man and beast, in all the wild[ness] and freshness of their nature's beauty!"[8] Yellowstone National Park was created as the first national park in the United States.[9] In 1872, there was no state government to manage it (The state of Wyoming did not exist at that time), so the federal government managed it directly through the army, including the famed African American Buffalo Soldier units.[9][10]

The movement for an independent agency to oversee these federal lands was spearheaded by business magnate and conservationist Stephen Mather.[11] With the help of journalist Robert Sterling Yard, Mather ran a publicity campaign for the Department of the Interior. They wrote numerous articles that praised the scenic and historic qualities of the parks and their possibilities for educational, inspirational, and recreational benefits.[12]

This campaign resulted in the creation of the NPS. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Organic Act that mandated the agency "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife 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".[13][14] Mather became the first director of the newly formed NPS.[15]

On March 3, 1933, President Herbert Hoover signed the Reorganization Act of 1933. The act gave the president the authority to transfer national monuments from one governmental department to another.[16] Later that summer, the new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, made use of this power after NPS Deputy Director Horace M. Albright suggested that the NPS, rather than the War Department should manage historic American Civil War sites.[16]

President Roosevelt agreed and issued two executive orders to implement the reorganization. These two executive orders transferred to the NPS all of the War Department's historic sites as well as national monuments that the Department of Agriculture had managed and parks in and around Washington, D.C. that an independent federal office had previously operated.[17]

The popularity of the parks after the end of the

Conrad Wirth became director of the NPS and began to bring park facilities up to the standards that the public was expecting.[18] In 1952, with the support of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Wirth began Mission 66, a ten-year effort to upgrade and expand park facilities for the 50th anniversary of the Park Service. New parks were added to preserve unique resources and existing park facilities were upgraded and expanded.[17]

In 1966, as the Park Service turned 50 years old, emphasis began to turn from just saving great and wonderful scenery and unique natural features to making parks accessible to the public.

National Recreation Areas

Resource stewardship policies

1963: The Leopold Report

A 1963 report titled "Wildlife Management in the National Parks" was prepared by a five-member advisory board on Wildlife Management, appointed by United States Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall.[20] This report came to be referred to in later years by its chairman and principal author, A. Starker Leopold. The Leopold Report was just fourteen pages in length, but it set forth ecosystem management recommendations that would guide parks policy until it was revisited in 2012.

The Leopold Report was the first concrete plan for managing park visitors and ecosystems under unified principles.

Giant Sequoia with catastrophic wildfires. The report also established a historical baseline that read, "The goal of managing the national parks and monuments should be to preserve, or where necessary to recreate, the ecologic scene as viewed by the first European visitors." This baseline would guide ecological restoration in national parks until a climate change adaptation
policy, "Resist-Adapt-Direct", was established in 2021.

2012: Revisiting Leopold: Resource Stewardship in the National Parks

National Parks director Jonathan Jarvis charged the twelve-member NPS Advisory Board Science Committee to take a fresh look at the ecological issues and make recommendations for updating the original Leopold Report. The committee published their 23-page report in 2012, titled, "Revisiting Leopold: Resource Stewardship in the National Parks".[22] The report recommended that parks leadership "manage for change while confronting uncertainty."

"... New and emerging scientific disciplines — including conservation biology, global change science, and genomics — along with new technological tools like high-resolution remote sensing can provide significant information for constructing contemporary tactics for NPS stewardship. This knowledge is essential to a National Park Service that is science-informed at all organizational levels and able to respond with contemporary strategies for resource management and ultimately park stewardship."

2021: Resist-Accept-Direct (RAD): A Framework for the 21st-century Natural Resource Manager

The "Revisiting Leopold" report mentioned

U.S. Department of Interior

The report's Executive Summary, points to "intensifying global change."

"... The convention of using baseline conditions to define goals for today's resource management is increasingly untenable, presenting practical and philosophical challenges for managers. As formerly familiar ecological conditions continue to change, bringing novelty, surprise, and uncertainty, natural resource managers require a new, shared approach to make conservation decisions.... The RAD (Resist-Accept-Direct) decision framework has emerged over the past decade as a simple tool that captures the entire decision space for responding to ecosystems facing the potential for rapid, irreversible ecological change."

Here, the iconic species of Joshua Tree National Park is a leading example.

The three RAD options[24] are:

  • Resist the trajectory of change, by working to maintain or restore ecosystem processes, function, structure, or composition based upon historical or acceptable current conditions.
  • Accept the trajectory of change, by allowing ecosystem processes, function, structure, or composition to change, without intervening to alter their trajectory.
  • Direct the trajectory of change, by actively shaping ecosystem processes, function, structure, or composition towards desired new conditions.

The "Resist-Accept-Direct" Framework is first described in a July 2020 paper published in Fisheries[25] Eighteen researchers from federal and state agencies and universities collaborated in this effort, which included short case studies of where and how this framework has already been applied.[citation needed]

National Park System

Grand Canyon National Park, south rim of canyon.

The National Park System includes all properties managed by the National Park Service, which have a wide variety of titles or designations. 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 as "crown jewels".[26]

The system encompasses approximately 85.1 million acres (0.344 million km2), of which 2.6 million acres (0.011 million 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 acres (80 m2).

In addition to administering its units and other properties, the NPS 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 0.01 acres (40 m2).

While there are laws generally covering all units of the National Park System, they are subject to management policies of individual pieces of authorizing legislation or, in the case of national monuments created under the Antiquities Act, Executive Order. For example, because of provisions within their enabling legislation, Congaree National Park is almost entirely a wilderness area devoid of development, yet Yosemite allows unique developments such as the Badger Pass Ski Area and the O'Shaughnessy Dam within its boundaries. Such irregularities would not be found in other parks unless specifically provided for with exceptions by the legislation that created them.


Type Amount (2008)[27]
Area of land 84,000,000 acres 340,000 km2
Area of oceans, lakes, reservoirs 4,502,644 acres 18,222 km2
Length of perennial rivers and streams 85,049 mi 136,873 km
Archeological sites
Length of shoreline 43,162 mi 69,463 km
Historic structures
Objects in museum collections
Trails 12,250 mi 19,710 km
Roads 8,500 mi 13,700 km


Most NPS units have been established by an act of Congress, with the president confirming the action by signing the act into law. The exception, under the Antiquities Act, allows the president to designate and protect areas as national monuments by executive order. Regardless of the method used, all parks are to be of national importance.[28]

A potential park should meet all four of the following standards:[29]

  • It is an outstanding example of a particular type of resource.
  • It possesses exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the natural or cultural themes of the nation's heritage.
  • It offers superlative opportunities for recreation, for public use and enjoyment, or for scientific study.
  • It retains a high degree of integrity as a true, accurate, and relatively unspoiled example of the resource.

Before creation of a new unit, Congress typically directs the NPS to conduct a special resource study of a site to determine its national significance and suitability to be part of the National Park System.[30][31]


The NPS uses over 20 different titles for the park units it manages, including national park and national monument.[32]

Classifications (2023)[33] Number (2024) Area (2023)[34] Visitors (2023)[35]
National Park
52,520,984.26 acres (212,545 km2)
National Monument
1,993,636.12 acres (8,068 km2)
National Seashore
810,799.10 acres (3,281 km2)
National Memorial
10,499.77 acres (42 km2)
National Preserve (19) and National Reserve
24,617,971.50 acres (99,625 km2)
National Recreation Area
3,710,771.17 acres (15,017 km2)
National Wild and Scenic River
696,717.08 acres (2,820 km2)
National Parkway
183,952.75 acres (744 km2)
International Historic Site
231,558.77 acres (937 km2)
National Battlefield
85,009.53 acres (344 km2)
National Scenic Trail
255,177.96 acres (1,033 km2)
Not available
Other Designations
38,889.24 acres (157 km2)
85,155,967.25 acres (344,614 km2)

National parks preserve nationally and globally significant scenic areas and nature reserves.

Devils Tower National Monument was the first in 1906. While the National Park Service holds the most national monuments, a monument may be managed or co-managed by a different entity such as the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service

National preserves are for the protection of certain resources and operate similar to many National Parks, but allow limited resource extraction. Activities like hunting, fishing, and some mining may be allowed depending on the site. Big Cypress National Preserve and Big Thicket National Preserve were created in 1974 as the first national preserves.

National historic sites
protect a significant cultural resource that is not a complicated site.

National historical parks are larger areas with more complex subjects. Historic sites may also be protected in other unit types.

National military parks, battlefield parks, battlefield sites, and battlefields 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 the sites of larger actions, such as Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, 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 memorials are areas that officially memorialize a person or event, though unlike a National Historical Site, may or may not be placed at a specific historical location. Several national memorials are on the National Mall, such as the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
, created in 1966, were the first national lakeshores.

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.

National recreation areas originally were units surrounding reservoirs impounded by dams built by other federal agencies, the first being Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Some national recreation areas are in urban centers, such as Gateway National Recreation Area and Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which encompass significant cultural as well as natural resources.

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. They received official protection in 1968. The Appalachian Trail is the best known. National historic trails commemorate the routes of major historic events. Some of the best known are the Trail of Tears, the Mormon Trail, and the Santa Fe Trail. These trails are administered by several federal agencies.

38°53′40″N 77°02′33″W / 38.8944°N 77.0426°W / 38.8944; -77.0426