National parks are areas that have been legally set apart by national governments because they have cultural or natural resources that are deemed significant for the country.
National parks are developed in order to conserve nature, wildlife, and cultural heritage while allowing people to enjoy the land's natural beauty. They are managed to eliminate or minimize human disturbances, while allowing human visitation for recreational, educational, cultural, or inspirational purposes.
The United States was the first country to establish national parks. The Yosemite Grant of 1864 was the first act that formally set aside land by the federal government for “public use, resort, and recreation.” Twenty square miles (52 km2) of land in the Yosemite valley in California and four square miles (10 km2) of giant sequoia were put under the care of the state of California to be held “inalienable for all time.” In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law the establishment of Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone differed from Yosemite in that it was to be managed and controlled by the federal government, not the state, and therefore has received the honor of being considered the first national park. Years later, Yosemite was turned over to the federal government for federal management. Since 1916, national parks in the United States have been administered by the National Park Service, an agency in the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The concept of national parks has been taken up by countries all over the world and continues to spread. Between 1972 and 1982, the number of national parks in the world increased by 47% and the area encompassed by the parks increased 82%.
Although parks consist of natural resources, they are conceived, established, maintained, and often threatened by humans. Many national parks in both developed and developing countries face threats. The most commonly reported threats are illegal removal of wildlife, destruction of vegetation, and increased erosion. Often there is a lack of personnel to deal with these threats. Management problems also arise because demand for use of park resources is increasing. Many of these uses are conflicting, and virtually all would have significant impacts on the resources that characterize the parks. During the summer of 1962, the first World Conference on National Parks was held in Seattle, Washington. This historic conference and subsequent ones have given people of many nations a forum to discuss threats facing their parks and strategies for meeting the demand for conflicting uses. Additionally, hundreds of organizations around the world, such the International Union for Conservation of Nature and its World Commission on Protected Areas, work to get legislation passed and bring attention to the importance of protecting the world's national parks for future generations to enjoy.
See also Nature deficit disorder .
Duncan, Dayton, and Ken Burns. The National Parks—America's Best Idea. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.
Oswald, Michael Joseph. Your Guide to the National Parks: The Complete Guide to all 58 National Parks. Whitelaw, WI: Stone Road Press, 2012.
National Park Service. “Find a Park.” http://www.nps.gov/findapark/index.htm (accessed October 29, 2012).
“National Parks Around the World.” http://www.nationalparks.gov.uk/learningabout/whatisanationalpark/nationalparksareprotectedareas/nationalparksaroundtheworld.htm (accessed October 29, 2012).
Patry, Marc, and UNESCO World Heritage Centre. “World Heritage at the 5th IUCN World Parks Congress.” http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0015/001508/150836e.pdf (accessed October 29, 2012).
International Union for Conservation of Nature, Rue Mauverney 28, Gland, Switzerland, 1196, 41(999) 0000, Fax: 41(999) 0002, http://www.iucn.org .
National Park Conservation Association, 777 6th St. NW, Ste. 700, Washington, DC, 20001, (202) 223-6722, (800) NAT-PARK (628-7275), Fax: (202) 454-3333, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.npca.org .
National Park Foundation, 1201 Eye St. NW, Ste. 550B, Washington, DC, 20005, (202) 354-6460, Fax: (202) 371-2066, email@example.com, http://www.nationalparks.org .
U.S. National Park Service, 1849 C St. NW, Washington, DC, 20240, (202) 208-3818, http://www.nps.gov .
Ted T. Cable
Revised by Tish Davidson, AM