US National Park Service turns 100 on August 25, 2016 - Here's What You Need to Know

“There is nothing so American as our national parks, and the idea behind the parks is that the country belongs to (you) the people.” President FDR

America’s National Park System turns 100 this year, and they’ve become so woven into the fabric of American life for so many generations that it’s hard to imagine the nation without them.  So in anticipation of a big year, the National Park Service and their non-profit counterpart, the National Park Foundation, kicked off the Find Your Park movement to inspire people to connect with, enjoy, and support America’s national parks.

find your park

“We are excited to use the Centennial to invite every American to get to know their National Parks and to understand how our one hundred years of conservation experience translates into… revitalization projects in their neighborhoods,” said NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

The Early Days:

Inspired voices, like that of naturalist Henry David Thoreau, brought a literary influence of America’s beautiful places to those who had never seen them. Thoreau’s prolific writings stressed how such wild places were necessary for the soul, and inspired more modern advocates like John Muir and President Teddy Roosevelt, later becoming driving forces behind the creation of several national parks.

Responding to such calls, Congress and President Abraham Lincoln took the first baby steps towards the preservation & conservation of natural places by putting Yosemite Valley under the protection of California during the Civil War.  Soon thereafter, President Ulysses S. Grant (Lincoln’s former general) made Yellowstone, America’s first National Park in 1872.  More parks followed suit and, beginning in the late 19th century, cultural sites like Arizona’s prehistoric Casa Grande were set aside for preservation as well.

Beside being a naturalist and “adventure-ist” in his own right, President Theodore Roosevelt was one of the Park System’s greatest advocates. During his administration (1901-09) five new parks were created, 18 national monuments, four national game refuges, 51 bird sanctuaries, as well as over 100 million acres (40 million hectares) of USFS National Forests.

But even as the number of parks swelled, there was no centralized organization that existed to manage them. Consequently, many of those early Parks lacked funding and support. In the early 20th century the future character of the parks remained very much in doubt.

Private commercial interests, including hoteliers, railroads, ranchers, and sawmills, all saw great commercial potential in the parks and began to exploit their resources, sometimes subversively oftentimes completely unchecked.

Some in government, like the nation’s first USFS forester Gifford Pinchot, espoused a “utilitarian” vision for the National Parks that was modeled more like his Forest Service lands.  Pinchot and others suggested that the Parks become part of a Forest Service and be seen as a resource that could be managed for their timber and other resources to serve “the greatest good for the greatest number.” This philosophy led to the damming, in 1913, of Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchey Valley for the San Francisco water supply.

Enter the National Park Service

In the face of Gifford’s resource-management view, others preached stricter preservationist desires for the National Parks and lamented the lack of an overarching federal management agency that could make this vision possible. In 1915 a millionaire industrialist named Stephen Mather began a crusade to establish a distinct National Park Service dedicated to the preservation ideal. Mather garnered support from titans of industry, as well as schoolchildren and the media.

Stephen’s efforts succeeded and the National Park Service was created in 1916 with Mather becoming its’ first director and began work with a mandate to protect the parks “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations,” and to promote their use by all people.

National Park Service Ranger - Death Valley.  Photo: NPS

National Park Service Ranger – Death Valley. Photo: NPS

Keep up to date on the NPS’ Celebrations with Basin and Range Magazine

There are hundreds of ways to celebrate the NPS’ Centennial year and B&R will be bringing you all the best information about how to go out and get involved.  Whether you plan on attending events at a National Park itself, or by supporting some of the companies venerating the centennial through special creations, stay close and we’ll keep you looped in.


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More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more at:


The National Park Foundation is the official charity of America’s national parks and nonprofit partner to the National Park Service.  Chartered by Congress in 1967, the National Park Foundation raises private funds to help PROTECT more than 84 million acres of national parks through critical conservation and preservation efforts, CONNECT all Americans with their incomparable natural landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history, and INSPIRE the next generation of park stewards.  Find out more and become a part of the national park community at