The National Park Service was founded by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. More than 84 million acres of land have been set aside for the national parks, which include the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite.
“No longer were rivers a force to be dammed, virgin forests a source for board-feet, or mountainsides blasted for gemstones or coal,” park ranger and author Shelton Johnson told Google about the creation of the National Park Service. “A wild river was as alive as the fish within it. A forest became a network of plants bound to rock, soil, and sky.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The National Park Service Has Been Celebrating Its Centennial Throughout 2016
The National Park Service has been celebrating the U.S. national parks throughout its centennial year, using the social media campaign #FindYourPark to encourage people to get out and join the celebration.
“National parks reflect the innovative spirit of America, because after all, they embody one of our nation’s most revolutionary ideas – that some of the most beautiful landscapes, iconic historic sites and culturally significant places should belong to every American,” said Jonathan Jarvis, the director of the National Park Service.
You can find a park near you here.
2. Yellowstone Was the First National Park in the United States
There were already national parks in the United States when President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service in 1916.
The first was Yellowstone National Park, which was created by Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, according to the park’s website.
The park is at the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, and is mainly in Wyoming. Parts of the 3,468-square mile park are also in Montana and Idaho.
The Yellowstone National Park Protection Act stated, “the headwaters of the Yellowstone River … is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale … and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
Since Yellowstone, 58 national parks have been created. The most recent park is Pinnacles, which was made a national park in 2013.
The National Park Service also oversees 410 national monuments.
3. More Than 300 Million People Visited National Parks in 2015, Spending Over a Billion Hours There
The National Park Service said a record-setting number of visitors enjoyed the national parks in 2015, according to CNN.
There were 307.2 million visits, with visitors spending more than a billion hours in the parks, the National Park Service said.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee was the most popular.
“That kind of takes your breath away for a second,” National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis told CNN. “But we’re also getting ready to welcome even more people — the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates — in this, the centennial year of the National Park Service.”
4. The Creation of National Parks in the United States Led to Similar Parks Around the World
The creation of national parks in the United States helped spawn similar parks around the world. The U.S. was the first country to create a national park, and there are now more than 150 countries with them.
“The idea of parks has the power to transcend culture, a currency whose value speaks of something profoundly human,” park ranger and writer Shelton Johnson told Google. “Jasper, Guilin, Serengeti, Sagarmatha, Fiordland, Torres del Paine, Kakadu, and Grand Canyon, are now just local names, out of tens of thousands, for planet Earth.”
National parks are often called “America’s best idea,” according to the National Park Service website.
Historian Wallace Stegner said the parks were “the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”
5. The National Parks Service Is Struggling to Make Repairs & Keep Up the Parks Because of Funding Shortages
As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary, it is also fighting for more funding to allow for repairs and upkeep at the parks, according to NPR.
“I need about twice as much money as I currently get to address our maintenance backlog,” National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis told NPR.
President Obama has asked Congress for an additional $1.4 billion in funding to cover the costs, but that still wouldn’t be enough.
“There’s no way that Congress is going to appropriate enough funding to make up this total deferred maintenance backlog,” researcher Holly Fretwell told NPR, saying Congress doesn’t have the $3 billion that is needed. “We have to do something different,” Fretwell says. “There’s no question, because we are losing the quality of our national parks.”
According to Bloomberg, the National Park Service has turned to businesses and other benefactors to make the necessary repairs.
“We are relying more on donations every single year. And what used to be a donation to provide the margin of excellence is now really the margin of survival for a lot of these parks,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told Bloomberg. “I didn’t expect to be a fundraiser in this job, but I have been, from day one.”
Obama administration officials have also said another threat to national parks is climate change, according to Bloomberg.