This week the National Park Service (NPS) will celebrate its 100-year birthday. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Organic Act, more commonly known as the Organic Act, to manage and preserve the United States’ lands. The NPS established as an agency under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior. It was charged with two missions: to conserve park resources and provide for their use and enjoyment “in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for future generations.”
Now, at the cusp of the NPS Centennial, the United States boasts 409 national parks around the country. One of the most famous national parks, Yellowstone National Park was actually established 44 years before the NPS on March 1, 1872. As the first national park, two million acres of land in Montana and Wyoming became protected from settlement, occupancy or sale. It also placed the Secretary of the Interior responsibility for “preserving all timber, mineral deposits, geologic wonders, and other resources.” Yellowstone set a precedent for placing natural reserves under federal jurisdiction and created a blueprint for the establishment of the National Park Service. There are 84 million acres of national park land across the country and territories. The National Park Service also employs thousands of people and more than 200,000 people come out each year to volunteers at the parks.
2015 also saw the highest visitor count in the history of the National Park Service—not a bad way to ring 100 years. Millions of people—305 million to be exact—visited national parks thanks to the National Park Foundation’s “Find Your Park” media campaign which encouraged travelers and communities share their stories of national parks they visit through song, dance, art, pictures or videos. National parks are also free this week so get out and find a park near you!