The Big 100
Birthdays are always fun to celebrate, and some milestones hold more weight than others. This year, the National Park Service celebrates its centennial. While the agency has undergone its share of change over the past century, its fundamental mission remains the same. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act into law, creating an 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.” The idea of national parks and protected spaces was hardly a new concept at this time, but the creation of a single agency to oversee these lands was indeed a breakthrough. Many parks already existed in some form at this time (Yellowstone, the first national park in the world, was already 44 years old), but the management of the parks often fell to groups such as the US Army. Now a dedicated agency, the National Park Service began to expand its mission and create new areas such as national historic parks, battlefields, and seashores to protect the natural, historical, and cultural diversity of this country.
Today, there are 409 units in the National Park Service system, and 59 of these are designated as National Parks. Writer and historian Wallace Stegner proclaimed that America’s national parks were “the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” Last year, over 300 million people experienced our national parks, from hiking the Grand Canyon to marveling at the monuments on the National Mall. We have the foresight of early conservationists such as John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and Stephen Mather to thank for the creation and protection of these incredible parks, but it’s largely up to us now, all of us that believe in the ideals of the National Park Service, to continue to protect these places for future generations.
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