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National Park Service
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National Park Service Arrowhead
Agency overview
Formed August 25, 1916
Jurisdiction Federal Government of the United States
Headquarters 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240
Employees 15,828 permanent, 1,256 term, 2,984 seasonal (2007)
Annual budget $2.924 billion (2009)
Agency executive Jonathan Jarvis, Director of The National Park Service
Parent agency US Department of the Interior

The National Park Service (NPS) is the U.S. federal agency that manages all national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties with various title designations.[1] It was created on August 25, 1916, by Congress through the National Park Service Organic Act.[2]

It is an agency of the United States Department of the Interior, a federal executive department whose head, the Secretary of the Interior, is a Cabinet officer nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Most of the direct management of the NPS is delegated by the Secretary to the National Park Service Director, who must also be confirmed by the Senate.

The 21,989 employees of the NPS oversee 394 units, of which 58 are designated national parks.[3]


Main article: History of the National Park Service (United States)
Natlparks and RRs 1916

In 1916, a portfolio of nine major parks was published to generate interest. Printed on each brochure was a map showing the parks and principal railroad connections.

National parks and national monuments in the United States were originally individually managed under the auspices of the Department of the Interior. The movement for an independent agency to oversee these federal lands was spearheaded by business magnate and conservationist Stephen Mather, as well as J. Horace McFarland. With the help of journalist Robert Sterling Yard, Mather ran a publicity campaign for the Department of the Interior. They wrote numerous articles that praised the scenic qualities of the parks and their possibilities for educational, inspirational, and recreational benefits.[4] This campaign resulted in the creation of a National Park Service. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill that mandated the 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."[5] Mather became the first director of the newly formed NPS.[6]

On March 3, 1933, President Herbert C. Hoover signed the Reorganization Act of 1933. The act would allow the President to reorganize the executive branch of the United States government. It wasn't until later that summer when the new President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, made use of this power. Deputy Director Horace M. Albright had suggested to President Roosevelt that the historic sites from the American Civil War should be managed by the National Park Service, rather than the War Department. President Roosevelt agreed and issued two Executive orders to make it happen. These two executive orders not only transferred to the National Park Service all the War Department historic sites, but also the national monuments managed by the Department of Agriculture and the parks in and around the capital, which had been run by an independent office.[7]

USPS National Park Service 1934

In 1934, a series of ten postage stamps were issued to commemorate the reorganization and expansion of the National Park Service.

In 1951, Conrad Wirth became director of the National Park Service and went to work on bringing park facilities up to the standards that the public expected. The demand for parks after the end of the World War II had left the parks overburdened with demands that could not be met. In 1952, with the support of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, he began Mission 66, a ten-year effort to upgrade and expand park facilities for the 50th anniversary of the Park Service. New parks were added to preserve unique resources and existing park facilities were upgraded and expanded.[7]

In 1966, as the Park Service turned 50 years old, emphasis began to turn from just saving great and wonderful scenery and unique natural features to making parks accessible to the public. Director George Hartzog began the process with the creation of the National Lakeshores and then National Recreation Areas. By the end of the Twentieth Century, numerous National Heritage Areas were spread across the nation, preserving local parks for local people.[8]


NPS DirectorandStaff

Stephen Mather (center) and his staff, 1927 or 1928

Jon Jarvis Older 2009

Jon Jarvis, NPS Director

Name[9] Term of Office
Start End
1 Stephen Mather May 16, 1917 January 8, 1929
2 Horace M. Albright January 12, 1929 August 9, 1933
3 Arno B. Cammerer August 10, 1933 August 9, 1940
4 Newton B. Drury August 20, 1940 March 31, 1951
5 Arthur E. Demaray April 1, 1951 December 8, 1951
6 Conrad L. Wirth December 9, 1951 January 7, 1964
7 George B. Hartzog, Jr. January 9, 1964 December 31, 1972
8 Ronald H. Walker January 7, 1973 January 3, 1975
9 Gary Everhardt January 13, 1975 May 27, 1977
10 William J. Whalen July 5, 1977 May 13, 1980
11 Russell E. Dickenson May 15, 1980 March 3, 1985
12 William Penn Mott, Jr. May 17, 1985 April 16, 1989
13 James M. Ridenour April 17, 1989 January 20, 1993
14 Roger G. Kennedy June 1, 1993 March 29, 1997
15 Robert Stanton August 4, 1997 January 2001
16 Fran P. Mainella July 18, 2001 October 15, 2006
17 Mary A. Bomar October 17, 2006 January 20, 2009[10]
18 Jonathan Jarvis September 24, 2009 incumbent[11]

National Park System[]

National Park Service sample pictographs svg

Sample National Park Service pictographs

National Park System is a term that describes the collection of all units managed by the National Park Service. The title or designation of a unit need not include the term park; indeed, most do not. The system encompasses approximately 84.4 million acres (338,000 km²), of which more than 4.3 million acres (17,000 km²) remain in private ownership. The largest unit is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. At 13,200,000 acres (53,000 km²), it is over 16 percent of the entire system. The smallest unit in the system is Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, Pennsylvania, at 0.02 acre (80 m²).

The National Park System (NPS) includes all properties managed by the National Park Service (also, confusingly, "NPS"). The System as a whole is considered to be a national treasure of the United States, and some of the more famous national parks and monuments are sometimes referred to metaphorically as "crown jewels".[12]

In addition to administering its units and other properties, the National Park Service also provides technical and financial assistance to several "affiliated areas" authorized by Congress. The largest affiliated area is New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve at 1,164,025 acres (4711 km²). The smallest is Benjamin Franklin National Memorial at less than one hundredth of an acre.

Although all units of the National Park System in the United States are the responsibility of a single agency, they are all managed under individual pieces of authorizing legislation or, in the case of national monuments created under the Antiquities Act, presidential proclamation. For example, because of provisons within their enabling legislation, Congaree National Park is almost entirely wilderness area, yet Yosemite allows unique developments such as the Badger Pass Ski Area and the O'Shaughnessy Dam within its boundaries. Death Valley National Park has an active mine legislated within its boundaries. Such irregularities would not be found in other parks unless specifically provided for by the legislation that created them.

Many parks charge an entrance fee ranging from US$3 to $25 per week. Visitors can buy a federal interagency annual pass, known as the "America the Beautiful – National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass," allowing unlimited entry to federal fee areas (USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation) for $80 per year. This pass applies to entry fees only. Other applicable fees, such as camping, and backcountry access, still apply. U.S. citizens who are 62+ years old may purchase a version with the same privileges for $10, and citizens with permanent disabilities may receive a free version.[13]

National Parks[]

Grand Canyon South Rim Sunset

Grand Canyon National Park, south rim of canyon.


A National Park Service MD 900 helicopter

NPS Survey, 1931

NPS Preliminary Survey party, Great Smoky Mountains, 1931

Gettysburg entrance

Winter at the Gettysburg Battlefield

Since its inception in 1916, the National Park Service has managed each of the United States' national parks, which have grown in number over the years to 58.

Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the world. In 1872, there was no state government to manage it, so the Federal Government assumed direct control. Yosemite National Park began as a state park; the land for the park was donated by the Federal Government to the State of California in 1864 for perpetual conservation. Yosemite was later returned to Federal ownership.

At first, each national park was managed independently, with varying degrees of success. In Yellowstone, the civilian staff was replaced by the U.S. Army in 1886. Due to the irregularities in managing these national treasures, Stephen Tyng Mather petitioned the Federal Government to improve the situation. In response, Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane challenged him to lobby for creating a new agency, the National Park Service, to manage all national parks and some national monuments. Mather was successful with the ratification of the National Park Service Organic Act in 1916.[14] Later, the agency was given authority over other protected areas, many with varying designations as Congress created them.

National Park Service holdings[]

For current specifics and a multitude of information, see the Quick Facts section of the NPS website.

Type Amount
Acres of Land[15] 84,000,000 acres 33,993,594 ha
Acres of oceans, lakes, reservoirs[15] 4,502,644 acres 1,822,155 ha
Miles of perennial rivers and streams[15] 85,049 mi 136,873 km
archeological sites[15]
miles of shoreline[15] 43,162 mi 69,463 km
historic structures[15]
objects in museum collections[15]
Trails 12,250 mi 19,714 km
Roads 8,500 mi 13,679 km


National Parks are established only by an act of Congress. However the president may designate and protect areas as National Monuments by executive order under the Antiquities Act. Most have been established by an act of Congress with the president confirming the action by signing the act into law. Regardless of the method used, all parks are to be of national importance.[16]

A potential park should meet all four of the following standards:

  • It is an outstanding example of a particular type of resource.
  • It possesses exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the natural or cultural themes of our Nation's heritage.
  • It offers superlative opportunities for recreation, for public use and enjoyment, or for scientific study.
  • It retains a high degree of integrity as a true, accurate, and relatively unspoiled example of the resource.

Special Designations[]

Wilderness areas are covered by the US National Wilderness Preservation System, which protects federally managed lands that are of a pristine condition. Established by the Wilderness Act (Public Law 88-577) in 1964. The National Wilderness Preservation System originally created hundreds of wilderness zones within already protected federally administered property, consisting of over 9 million acres (36,000 km²).

Marine Protected Areas - Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the United States began with Executive Order 13158 in May 2000 when official MPAs were established for the first time.[17] The initial listing of U.S. areas was presented in 2010, consisting of areas already set aside under other legislation. The National Park Service has 19 park units designated as MPAs.[17] These are:

  • Buck Island Reef National Monument
  • Cabrillo National Monument
  • Canaveral National Seashore
  • Cape Cod National Seashore
  • Cape Hatteras National Seashore
  • Cape Lookout National Seashore
  • Fire Island National Seashore
  • Gateway National Recreation Area
  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area
  • Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
  • Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
  • Kalaupapa National Historical Park
  • Kaloko-Honokahau National Historical Park
  • National Park of American Samoa
  • Olympic National Park
  • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
  • Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve
  • San Juan Islands National Historical Park
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore


The National Park Services budget is divided into two primary areas, discretionary and mandatory spending. Within each of these areas, there are numerous specific purposes to which Congress directs the services activities.[18] The budget of the National Park Service includes discretionary spending which is broken out into two portions: the direct operations of the National Parks and the special initiatives.[19] Listed separately are the special initiatives of the service for the year specified in the legislation. For Fiscal Year 2010, the service has been charged with five initiatives. They include: Stewardship and Education; Professional Excellence; Youth Programs; Climate Impacts; and Budget Restructure and Realignment.[19]

Discretionary Spending

NPS Budget (2001-2006)

NPS Operations of the National Parks budget from FY 2001-FY 2006

Discretionary spending includes the Operations of the National Parks (ONPS), from which all park operations are paid. The United States Park Police funds cover the high-profile law enforcement operations at some of the large parks; i.e., Gateway National Recreation Area, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and the National Mall. The National Recreation and Preservation Program and the Urban Park and Recreation Fund are outreach programs to support state and local outdoor recreational activities.[18]

The ONPS section of the budget is divided into five operational areas. These areas include:

Resource Stewardship: These are funds and people directed towards the restoration, preservation, and maintenance of natural and cultural resources. The resource staff includes biologists, geologists, archeologists, preservation specialists and a variety of specialized employees to restore and preserve cultural buildings or natural features.[19]

Visitor Services: These funds go towards providing for public programs and educational programs for the general public and school groups. This area is commonly staffed by park rangers, who are trained in providing walks, talks, and educational programs to the public. There is an increased number of media specialists, who provide for the exhibits along trails, roads and in visitor contact facilities, as well as the written brochures and web-sites.[19]

Park Protection: This includes the staff responding to visitor emergencies (medical and criminal), and the protection of the park's natural and cultural resources from damage by those persons visiting the park. The staff includes park rangers, park police, criminal investigators, and communication center operators.[19]

Facility Maintenance & Operations: This is the cost of maintaining the necessary infrastructure within each park that supports all the services provided. It includes the plows and heavy equipment for road clearing, repairs and construction. There are buildings, trails, roads, docks, boats, utility pipes and wires, and a variety of hidden systems that make a park accessible by the public. The staff includes equipment operators, custodians, trail crews, electricians, plumbers, architects, and other building trade specialists.[19]

Park Support: This is the staff that provides for the routine logistical needs of the parks. There are human resource specialists, contracting officers, property specialists, budget managers, accountants and information technology specialists.[19]

External Administrative Costs: These costs are bills that are paid directly to outside organizations as part of the logistical support needed to run the parks. It includes rent payments to the General Services Administration for building space; postage payments to the postal machine vendor, and other direct payments.[19]

Functional area FY 2010[19] % of Total
Resource Stewardship
Visitor Services
Park Protection
Facility Maintenance & Operations
Park Support
External Administrative Costs
Total (2010) 2,266,016

Park Partnerships
These funds support the use of partnerships to achieve park preservation. 25 million dollars have been provided for FY 2010. These funds require matching grants from individuals, foundations, businesses, and the private sector.[19]

Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)
The LWCF supports Land Acquisition and State Conservation Assistance grant programs. The 2010 funds are the beginning of an incremental process to fully fund LWCF programs at $900 million. The Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service use these funds to purchase critical lands to protect exiting public lands. Grants will be made to states and local communities to preserve and protect Civil War battlefield sites that are not park of the national park system. The NPS State Conservation Assistance program distributes funding to States for land preservation.[19]

This segment of the budget provides for the construction of new facilities or the replacement of aging and unsafe facilities. Additionally, there are funds in the recreation fees, park roads funding, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that provide for other specific facilities/infrastructure work. Additional funds come from the Federal Land Highway Administration for the construction and repair of Park roads.[19]

Historic Preservation Fund
As the nation's leader in cultural preservation, funds are provided for a variety of programs to meet these needs nationwide. Two specific programs include the Save America's Treasures and the Preserve America. The Historic Preservation Offices makes grants available to the States, territories, and tribal lands.[19]

National Recreation and Preservation
These funds go to local communities to preserve natural and cultural resources. Among the programs supported are the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance programs that promote community links to parks, natural resource conservation and outdoor recreation across America.[19]

Offsetting Reductions and Fixed Costs in Various Accounts
Within this category are a number of one-time events, which are added or removed as the events require. Notably in the FY 2009 and FY 2010 is the removal of the costs for the presidential inaugural. Other savings are identified through reduced operational costs from energy-efficient retro-fitting and the demolition of structures beyond repair.[19]

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
Otherwise known as "stimulus funds", the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides funds to restore and preserve major infrastructures within the national parks.[19]

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, is a $475.0 million proposal included in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‎ budget. The park service will participate through the EPA in restoration activities in those parks that are within the watershed of the Great Lakes. Activities will include such actions as removal of dumps and fuel spills. Park will monitor mercury, lead, DDT, and other contaminants in six parks on the Great Lakes.[19]

Mandatory spending
Mandatory appropriations are those items created by other congressional legislation that must be paid for. They include the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, which requires the distribution and expenditure of fees collected by the National Park Service. Other Permanent Appropriations includes special funding categories to non-profit and state entities, which have been assigned to the National Park Service to manage. Miscellaneous Trust Funds includes funding sources that have been created by the Federal Government or private citizen, where the National Park Service or a specific park have been identified as the beneficiaries. An there is also the L&WCF Contract Authority which is the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a congressionally created source of revenues, managed by the National Park Service.[18]

Budgetary restraint and park closures
It was reported on May 19, 2010, that budgetary restraints could result in the closure of some state parks and historic sites.

Nomenclature of the National Park System[]

The National Park Service uses over 20 different titles for the park units it manages, including national park and national monument.

Classification as of 2003[20] Number Acreage Visitors[21]
National Military Park, National Battlefield Park, National Battlefield Site, and National Battlefield
National Historical Park, National Historic Site, and International Historic Site
National Lakeshore
National Memorial
National Monument
National Park
National Parkway
National Preserve and National Reserve
National Recreation Area
National River and National Wild and Scenic River and Riverway
National Scenic Trail
not available
National Seashore
Other Designations (White House, National Mall, etc.)

National Monuments preserve a single unique cultural or natural feature. Devils Tower National Monument was the first in 1906.

National Historic Sites protect a significant cultural resource that is not a complicated site. Examples of these types of parks include Ford's Theatre National Historic Site and William Howard Taft National Historic Site.

National Historical Parks are larger areas with more complex subjects. Appomattox Court House National Historical Park was created in 1940. George Rogers Clark National Historical Park was dedicated in 1936. Historic sites may also be protected in national parks, monuments, seashores, and lakeshores.

Template:National Historical Parks of the United States National Military Parks, Battlefield Parks, Battlefield Sites, and Battlefields preserve areas associated with military history. The different designations reflect the complexity of the event and the site. Many of the sites preserve important Revolutionary War battles and Civil War battlefields. Military parks are the sites of larger actions, such as Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Vicksburg National Military Park, Gettysburg National Military Park, and Shiloh National Military Park—the original four from 1890. Examples of battlefield parks, battlefield sites, and national battlefields include Richmond National Battlefield Park, Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site, and Antietam National Battlefield.

National Seashores and National Lakeshores offer preservation of the national coast line, while supporting water–based recreation. Cape Hatteras National Seashore was created in 1937. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, created in 1966, were the first national lakeshores. Template:SeashoreLakes National Recreation Areas originally were units (such as Lake Mead National Recreation Area) surrounding reservoirs impounded by dams built by other federal agencies. Many of these areas are managed under cooperative agreement with the National Park Service. Now some national recreation areas are in urban centers, because of the recommendations of a Presidential commission, the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC). These include Gateway National Recreation Area and Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which encompass significant cultural as well as natural resources. Template:USNRAs National Rivers and Wild and Scenic Riverways protect free-flowing streams over their length. The riverways may not be altered with dams, channelization, or other changes. Recreational pursuits are encouraged along the waterways. Ozark National Scenic Riverways was established in 1964.

The National Trails System preserves long-distance routes across America. The system was created in 1968 and consists of two major components: National Scenic Trails are long-distance trails through some of the most scenic parts of the country. They received official protection in 1968. The Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail are the best known. National Historic Trails commemorate the routes of major historic events. Some of the best known are the Trail of Tears, the Mormon Trail, and the Santa Fe Trail. These trails are administered by several Federal agencies. Template:TrailSystem National Preserves are for the protection of certain resources. Activities like hunting, fishing, and some mining are allowed. Big Cypress National Preserve and Big Thicket National Preserve were created in 1974 as the first national preserves.

National Reserves are similar to national preserves, but the operational authority can be placed with a local government. New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve was the first to be established in 1978.[22]

Visitors to the National Parks[]

The National Park System receives over 270,000,000 visits each year throughout the 392 units.[23] Annually, visitors are surveyed for their satisfaction with services and facilities provided.

The ten most visited units of the National Park System handle thirty percent of the visits to the 392 park units. The top ten percent of parks (39) handle 61.2% of all visits, leaving the remaining 352 units to deal with 38.8% of visits.[24]

Park Rank[24] Visits
Blue Ridge Parkway
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Gateway National Recreation Area
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
George Washington Memorial Parkway
Natchez Trace Parkway
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Lincoln Memorial
Cape Cod National Seashore

Overnight Stays Over 13.8 million visitors spent a night in one of the National Park Units during 2008. The largest number (3.59 million) stayed in one of the lodges. The second largest group were tent campers (2.96 million) followed by Miscellaneous stays (on boats, group sites—2.06 million). The last three groups of over-night visitors included RV Campers (2.01 million), Back country campers (1.80 million) and users of the Concession run campgrounds (1.22 million).[24] Over the last 30 years the largest change has been with RV users.

Park 2009 Rank[24] 1994 Rank[24] 1979 Rank[24]
RV Campers
Tent Campers
Concession Campers

Services Consistently, the highest ranked service has been Assistance from Park Employees (82% very good, 2007).

Facilities Among facilities, the park Visitor Centers obtain a consistent 70% very good rating (73% in 2007).

Youth programs[]

The National Park Service offers a variety of youth oriented programs. They range from the Web Ranger on-line program to many programs in each National Park Unit.[25] The primary work opporunities for youth are through the Youth Corp networks.

The oldest serving group is the Student Conservation Association (SCA). It was established in 1957, committed to conservation and preservation. SCA's goal is to create the next generation of conservation leaders. SCA volunteers work through internships, conservation jobs, and crew experiences. Volunteers conduct resource management, historic preservation, cultural resources and conservation programs to gain experience, which can lead to career development and furather educational opportunties. SCA places volunteers in more than 350 national park units and NPS offices each year.[26]

­The Corps Network, formerly known as the National Association for Service and Corps (NASCC), represents 136 Service and Conservation Corps. These groups have programs in 42 states and the District of Columbia. Corpsmembers are between the ages of 16-25. Service and Conservation Corps are direct descendents of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) of the 1930s that built park facilities in the national parks and other public parks around the country. The Corps Network was established in 1985.[27]

  • Youth Conservation Corps (ages 15–25)
    • The Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), bring young people into a park to restore, preserve and protect a natural, cultural, or historical resources. Enrollees are paid for their work.[28]
  • Public Land Corps (ages 16–25)
    • The Public Land Corps (PLC) is a job helping to restore, protect, and rehabilitate a local national parks. The enrollees learn about environmental issues and the park. A dozen non-profit.[29]
  • Programs for Boy Scouts (ages 7–18)
    • The National Park Service works with the Boy Scouts of America. Members can become a Scout Ranger and earn a patch. The Service participates every four years at the BSA Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill, Virignia. Many scouts have earned their Eagle projects in a National Park helping preserve the resources, while furthering the scouting experience.[30]
  • Programs for Girl Scouts (ages 5–18)
    • Girl Scouts can become a Girl Scout Ranger and earn a patch! The National Park Service works with Girl Scout Troops through their Linking Girls to the Land.[31]


Access Pass
The Access Pass offers free, lifetime admission to federal areas of the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Tennessee Valley Authority.[32]

Service Animals
Service animals are allowed in all facilities and on most trails, with the exceptions of stock trails and areas closed by the superintendent to protect park resources. Service animals must always be leashed. Service animals in training and pets are subject to other park regulations . When traveling with an animal, carry water, and allow for stops. Dispose of pet feces in a trash bin.[32]

The National Park System offers numerous accessible camping opportunities. In over 120 units, campgrounds have sites specifically designed for tent camper accessibility. Special camp sites are located near restrooms with paved walkways to and from the restroom and water sources. Sites have hardened tenting sites that provide for easy access, but allow for tents to be erected on soil. Many additional units have pull through trailer sites, providing for motorized use, but may have limited access to the rest of the campground facilities.[33]

Many National Park units have fully accessible trails. Visitors should check the park's web-site to insure that the trail is designed to meet their individual needs. Trails may have a compacted gravel surface, paved with asphalt, or a board walk. Many will have guardrails, others may have a ridge along the edge, detectable by the visually impaired using a cane and capable of stopping a wheelchair. Many have no detectable edge when there is a stable surface.[34]

Parks that are known for their scenic vistas make them available through a variety of designs. Paved overlooks with accessible parking is the most common, and not always identified in written material. Road designs are configured to provide for mountain and landscape visita from a vehicle.[35]

Additional information at The Disabled Traveler's Companion


In an effort to increase visitation and allow for a larger audience to enjoy national park land, the National Park Service has numerous concession contracts with private businesses to bring recreation, resorts and other compatible amenities to their parks. NPS lodging opportunities exist at places such as the Wawona Hotel in Yosemite National Park and the Fort Baker Retreat and Conference Center in Golden Gate National Recreation Area. "Adaptive reuses" like those at Fort Baker, have raised some controversy, however, from concerns about the historical integrity of these buildings, after such extensive renovations and whether such alterations fall within the spirit and/or the letter of the preservation laws they are protected by.

  • Delaware North Corporation at Yosemite National Park
  • Forever Resorts at Big Bend National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, Badlands National Park, North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, Olympic National Park, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Mammoth Cave National Park, Isle Royale National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Xanterra Parks & Resorts at Bryce Canyon National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Death Valley National Park, South Rim Grand Canyon National Park, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Painted Desert at Petrified Forest National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Zion National Park.

Cooperators, i.e., bookstores[]

At many Park Service sites a bookstore is operated by a non-profit cooperating association. The largest example is Eastern National, which runs bookstores in 30 states with 178 stores.

Park specific:

Publisher of National Parks Interpretive Books

Books written by individual National Park interpreters or experts on specific parks are published for each park by:


Main article: Organization of the National Park Service
NPS Employees 12 types of work 08368

Depicts twelve figures, most in NPS uniforms, shown in occupations from left to right: a lifeguard, a Civil War reenactor, fire management, mounted patrol, researcher and/or natural resources with fish, a female ranger with two visitors, a laborer, a climber/rescuer, and a youth with a male ranger.

Headquarters are located in Washington, D.C., with regional offices in Anchorage, Atlanta, Lakewood, CO (Denver), Omaha, NE, Oakland, CA, Philadelphia and Seattle. The headquarters building of the National Park Service Southwest Regional Office is architecturally signicant and is designated a National Historic Landmark.

The National Park Service is a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Director is nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.[36] The Director is supported by six senior executives. They manage national programs, policy, and budget from the Washington, DC, headquarters. Under the Deputy Director of Operations are seven regional directors, who are responsible for national park management and program implementation. Together this group is called the National Leadership Council.[37]

The national office is located in the Main Interior Building, 1849 C Street NW, several blocks southwest of the White House. The central office is composed of eleven directorates: Director/Deputy Directors; Business Services; Workforce Management; Chief Information Officer; Cultural Resources; Natural Resource Stewardship and Science; Office of the Comptroller; Park Planning, Facilities, and Lands; Partnerships and Visitor Experience; Visitor and Resource Protection; and the United States Park Police.[38]

Working in a National Park Unit[]

Employees of the National Park Service[]

By middle 1950s, the primary employee of the Service was the Park Ranger and they did everything that was needed in the parks. They cleaned up trash, operated heavy equipment, fought fires, managed traffic, cleared trails and roads, provided information to visitors, managed museums, performed rescues, flew aircraft, and investigated crime.[39]

By the 21st century, the demands of the service required specialists. Today, there is a broad array of career paths in the service:

  • National Park Service Ranger
    • Interpreter
    • Law Enforcement
  • Park Management (Superintendent/Deputy)
  • United States Park Police
  • Emergency Management (Emergency medical providers, search and rescue specialists)
  • Dispatchers
  • Maintenance (including carpenters, plumbers, masons, laborers, auto mechanics, motor vehicle operators, heavy equipment operators, electricians)
  • Park Planning
    • Architects, Engineers, and Landscape architects
  • Resource Management (including archeologist, biologist, botanist, aquatics, soil scientist, geologist)
  • History (curators, historians, preservation technicians, historic architects, archivists)
  • Fire Management (managers, weather specialist, firefighters, engine chiefs)
  • Public Affairs
  • Administration (human resources, finance, accountants, information technology, budgeting, concessions management)
NPS Staffing(1998-2009)

National Park Service employment levels. Executives: abt 27; Gen Sch: 16-17,000; Others: 6-7,000[40]

In addition, many seasonal workers are hired to handle the increased need for staffing during the busy summer months.

Locations are varied. Parks exist in the nation's larger cities like New York City (Federal Hall Memorial National Historic Site), Atlanta (Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site), and San Diego (Cabrillo National Monument) to some of the remotest areas of the continent like Hovenweep National Monument in southeastern Utah, to Aniakchak National Monument in King Salmon, Alaska.[41]

Volunteers in Park (VIP)[]

Main article: Volunteering with the U.S. Government

The Volunteer-in-Parks program was authorized in 1969 by the Volunteers in the Parks Act of 1969.[42] for the purpose of allowing the public to serve in the nations parks providing support and skills for their enhancement and protection.[43]

Volunteers come from all walks of life and perform many varied and exciting duties. Many volunteers come from the surrounding communities and include professionals, artists, laborers, homemakers and students. Some volunteers travel significant distances to reach the park where they wish to provide services.[43] In the 2005 annual report (most current report available), the National Park Service reported:

"...137,000 VIPs contributed 5.2 million hours of service (or 2500 FTEs) valued at $91,260,000 based on the private sector value figure of $17.55 as used by AARP, Points of Light Foundation, and other large-scale volunteer programs including many federal agencies. There are 365 separate volunteer programs throughout the National Park Service. Since 1990, the number of volunteers has increased an average of 2% per year."[44]

  • FTE = Full Time Equivalency (1 work year)

Across the nation, there are special opportunties for artists (visual artists, photographers, sculptors, performers, writers, composers, and crafts) to live and work in a park. Twenty-nine parks currently participate in the Artist-In-Residence program.[45]


As noted above, numerous Concessions operate lodging, gas stations, restaurants, and gift shops. Each offers an opportunity to work in a national park.

Special divisions[]

NPS Preservation Training Center

Historic Preservation Training Center

The United States Park Police is a distinct law enforcement division of the National Park Service, with jurisdiction in all NPS sites, but primarily used in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, New York City and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, in and around San Francisco. Law enforcement services in other NPS units are provided by commissioned (sworn peace officer) park rangers. Other special NPS divisions include the Archeology Program,[46] Historic American Buildings Survey, National Register of Historic Places, National Natural Landmarks, the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program,[47] the Challenge Cost Share Program,[48] the Federal Lands to Parks,[49] the Hydropower Relicensing Program,[50] the Land and Water Conservation Fund,[51] the National Trails System[52] and the Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers Program.[53]

Park Police

Main article: United States Park Police

The United States Park Police (USPP) is the oldest uniformed federal law enforcement agency in the United States. It functions as a full service law enforcement agency with responsibilities and jurisdiction in those National Park Service areas primarily located in the Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and New York City areas. In addition to performing the normal crime prevention, investigation, and apprehension functions of an urban police force, the Park Police are responsible for policing many of the famous monuments in the United States and share law enforcement jurisdiction in all lands administered by the Service with a force of National Park Rangers tasked with the same law enforcement powers and responsibilities.

The National Park Service operates four archeology-related centers: Harpers Ferry Center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the Midwest Archeological Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, the Southeast Archeological Center in Tallahassee, Florida and the Western Archeological and Conservation Center in Tucson, Arizona. The Harpers Ferry Center specializes in interpretive media development and object conservation. The other three focus to various degrees on archaeological research and museum object curation and conservation.

National Park Service training centers include: Horace Albright Training Center, Grand Canyon; Stephen Mather Training Center, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; Historic Preservation Training Center, Frederick, Maryland and Capital Training Center, Washington, D.C.

The Submerged Resources Center is the unit responsible for the submerged areas throughout the National Park system. The SRC is based out of the Intermountain Region's headquarters in Lakewood, Colorado.

Preservation programs (HABS/HAER)

El Santuario del Senor Esquipula 113804pu

Photograph of El Santuario Del Señor Esquipula, Chimayo, New Mexico

Chicago River Bascule Bridge, LaSalle Street, Chicago

LaSalle Street Bridge, Chicago, Illinois

The oldest Federal preservation program, the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER), produces graphic and written documentation of historically significant architectural, engineering and industrial sites and structures. Dating from 1934, the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) was chartered to document historic architecture—primarily houses and public buildings—of national or regional significance. Originally a New Deal employment/preservation program, after World War II, HABS employed summer teams of advanced undergraduate and graduate students to carry out the documentation, a tradition followed to this day. Many of the structures they documented no longer exist.

HABS/HAER produces measured drawings, large-format photographs and written histories of historic sites, structures and objects, that are significant to the architectural, engineering and industrial heritage of the U.S. Its 25,000 records are part of the Library of Congress. HABS/HAER is administered by the NPS Washington office and five regional offices.[54]

Historic American Building Survey
In 1933, the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, established the Historic American Building Survey (HABS), based on a proposal by Charles E. Peterson, Park Service landscape architect. It was founded as a make-work program for architects, draftsmen and photographers left jobless by the Great Depression. Guided by field instructions from Washington, D.C., the first recorders were tasked with documenting a representative sampling of America's architectural heritage. After 70 years, there is now an archive of historic architecture. HABS provided a database of primary source material for the then fledgling historic preservation movement.

Historic American Engineering Record
Recognizing a similar fragility in our national industrial and engineering heritage, the National Park Service, the Library of Congress and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) formed the HAER program in 1969, to document nationally and regionally significant engineering and industrial sites. A short while later, HAER was ratified by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers (AIME). HAER documentation, in the forms of measured and interpretive drawings, large-format photographs and written histories, is archivally preserved in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress, where it is readily available to the public.[55]

Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program
The RTCA program of the National Park Service is designed to assist local communities and the public in preservation of rivers, trails and greenways. Unlike the mainline National Park Programs, these programs take place on non-federal property at the request of the local community. One of their better known programs is Rails to Trails, where unused railroad right-of-ways are converted into public hiking and biking trails.[56]

National Trails System
The National Trails System is a joint mission of the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. It was created in 1968 to establish a system of long-distance National Scenic and National Historic Trails, as well as to recognize existing trails in the states as National Recreation Trails. Several additional trails have been established since 1968, and in 2009 Congress established the first National Geologic Trail.[57]

National Heritage Areas

Main article: National Heritage Area

National Heritage Areas are a unique blend of natural, cultural, historic, and scenic resources. Having developed out of a shared historic, they create a unique whole. Currently (April 2010) there are 49 designated heritage areas. A short listing is shown below.

  • Yuma Crossing, Arizona
  • Cache La Poudre, Colorado
  • Cane River, Louisiana
  • Silos and Smokestacks, Iowa
  • Illinois & Michigan Canal, Illinois - - 1st designated heritage area.
  • Tennessee Civil War, entire State of Tennessee
  • South Carolina, South Carolina
  • Augusta Canal, South Carolina
  • National Coal, West Virginia
  • Shenandoah Valley Battlefields, Virginia
  • Wheeling, West Virginia
  • Ohio and Erie Canalway, Ohio
  • Motor Cities, Michigan
  • Rivers of Steel, Pennsylvania
  • Path of Progress, Pennsylvania
  • Schuylkill River Valley, Pennsylvania
  • Delaware & Lehigh, Pennsylvania
  • Lackawanna Heritage Valley, Pennsylvania
  • Erie Canalway, New York
  • Hudson River Valley, New York
  • Quinebaug & Shetucket Rivers Valley, Connecticut
  • Blackstone River Valley, Massachusetts
  • Essex County, Massachusetts

International Affairs[]

Since 1973, the number of parks and protected areas globally has swelled from 1,200 to more than 100,000. In this leadership role, the Park Service has shared its talents, expertise, and experiences in with many international partnerships. These partnerships were created to establish, sustain and strengthen parks, heritage sites, and other types of protected areas.[58]

Sister Parks
There are 45 sister parks in eighteen countries. Thirty National Park Units are actively involved in these sister park relationships. Twelve of these ‘sister parks’ are in our neighbor to the south, Mexico. Both Canada and Mexico share common natural and historical events. Many of these sister park relations are built on this, as with Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta and Glacier National Park, Montana. The same cooperative design is also being used with Big Bend National Park, Texas; Maderas del Carmen, state of Coahuila, Mexico; and Canon de Santa Elena WPA, state of Chihuahua, Mexico.[59] Other pairings are based on common operational issues, i.e., Kampinoski National Park, Poland with Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana; or the Lake Superior parks of Canada and the U.S.; Pukaskwa National Park, Ontario, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan.

Cooperative Work
The National Park Service provides technical support to numerous intentional partners, beyond the support managed through the ‘Sister Park’ Program.[60] Technical support is provided through programs at the National Park Service training facilities in the United States and at U.S. Parks and through the dispatch of technical teams to a host country.

Canada - In 1998, the Service and Parks Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a program of technical exchange and cooperation. The MOU was renewed in 2003.[61]

Latin America and Caribbean – Years of technical support have created numerous relationships. In 2009, major programs were under way in Argentina, Costa Rica, Chile, and Haiti.[62]

North Africa and the Middle East - In 2008, the National Park Service (NPS) and the Department of the Interior's International Technical Assistance Program (ITAP) brought Two Jordanians and one Bahraini wildlife specialist to US national parks to work with NPS wildlife biologists. Here, they learn and observe how to manage threatened and endangered species.[63]

Asia – Technical teams and sister park relationship allow China, Korea, Japan, and Cambodia to share skills and techniques.[64]

Africa- Since 1995, the National Park Service and South Africa have worked on numerous park projects. Additionally, technical support and training has been provided to eighteen other nations in Africa.[65]

World Heritage Sites

National Park Service US World Heritage tentative map j

World Heritage Sites have enough universally recognized natural and cultural features that they are considered to merit the protection of all the peoples in the world. The National Park Service is responsible for 16 of the 19 World Heritage Sites in the United States.[66]

  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
  • Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
  • Everglades National Park, Florida
  • Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
  • Independence Hall, Pennsylvania
  • Kluane/Wrangell-St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek Park, Alaska, U.S./ B.C. & Yukon, Canada
  • Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
  • Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
  • Olympic National Park, Washington
  • Redwood National and State Parks, California
  • Statue of Liberty, New York
  • Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (union of Waterton Lakes (Canada) and Glacier (U.S.) parks), Montana & Alberta, Canada
  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, extending into Montana and Idaho
  • Yosemite National Park, California


  • 24-hr all Taxa BioBlitz: A joint venture of the National Geographic Society and the National Park Service. Beginning in 2004, at Rock Creek Parkway, the National Geographic Society and the National Park Service began a 10-year program of hosting a major biological survey of ten selected national park units. The intent is to develop public interest in the nations natural resources, develop scientific interest in America's youth and to create citizen scientist.
    • 2007: Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C. 661 species[67]
    • 2008: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Los Angeles, California. 1,700 species and more pending.[67]
    • 2009: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, greater Chicago, in northern Indiana. 1,716 species and still counting.[68]
    • 2010: Biscayne National Park, Miami, Florida. 810 species were identified during this 24-hr event. As classification continues, more species will be added to the list.[69]
    • 2011: Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona.[69]
  • Biological Diversity: Biological Diversity is the vast variety of life as identified through species and genetics. This variety is decreasing as people spread across the globe, altering areas to better meet their needs.[70]
  • Climate Change: Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global sea levels. (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007).[71]
  • South Florida Restoration Initiative: Rescuing an Ecosystem in Peril: In partnership with the State of Florida, and the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Park Service is restoring the physical and biological processes of the South Florida ecosystem. Historically, this ecosystem contained some of the most diverse habitats on earth.[72]
  • Vanishing Treasures Initiative: Ruins Preservation in the American Southwest: The Vanishing Treasures Initiative began in FY 1998 to reduce threats to prehistoric and historic sites and structures in 44 parks of the Intermountain Region. In 2002, the program expanded to include three parks in the Pacific West Region. The goal is to reduce backlogged work and to bring sites and structures up to a condition where routine maintenance activities can preserve them.[73]
  • Wetlands: Wetlands includes marshes, swamps, and bogs. These areas and the plants and animals adapted to these conditions spread from the arctic to the equator. The shrinking wetlands provide habitat for fish and wildlife, help clean water and reduce the impact of storms and floods on the surrounding communities.[74]
  • Wildland Fire: Fires have been a natural part of park eco-systems. Many plants and some animals require a cycle of fire or flooding to be successful and productive. With the advent of human intervention and public access to parks, there are safety concerns for the visiting public.[75]

Climate Friendly Park[]

The Climate Friendly Parks Program was created as a collaborative effort between the National Park Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As stewards of the nations important natural and cultural resources, the National Park Service is taking a proactive stance towards climate change. This program is meant to achieve two goals. First, it will measure and reduce greenhouse gases to help slow the effects of climate change. Secondly, it is an example of environmental leadership.[76]

Each park that joins the initiative will move to climate affecting pollution and offers public education programs about how the parks are already affect. The program will provide climate friendly solutions to the visiting public, like using clean energy, reducing waste, and making smart transportation choices.[77] The CFP program has an established framework that can provide technical assistance, tools and resources for the parks and their neighboring communities to protect the natural and cultural resources.[78]

Parks in the CFP program are creating and implementing plans to reduce greenhouse gases through reducing energy and water use. Facilities are being designed and retrofitted using sustainable materials. Alternative transportation systems are being developed to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.[76] • Travel Smart - Walk, bike, carpool, take mass transit, and drive a fuel-efficient car. • Save Energy - Choose energy-efficient appliances and convert lighting to compact fluorescent bulbs. • Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle - Buy products with reusable, recyclable, and reduced packaging and support community recycling.[76]

The large, isolated parks typically generate their own electricity and heat and must do so without spoiling the values that the visitors have come to experience. There is the pollution emitted by the vehicles used to transport visitors around the often-vast expanses of the parks. Many parks have converted vehicles to electric hybrids, substitute diesel/electric hybrid buses for private automobiles. Replacement with electric vehicles would eliminate these (25 TPY) emissions entirely.[79]

External link: NPS Climate Friendly Parks

Photo Gallery[]

Related acts[]

  • Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980
  • Antiquities Act or Lacy Act of 1906
  • Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008
  • Endangered Species Act
  • Endangered Species Act Amendments of 1978
  • Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1934
  • Historic Sites Act of 1935
  • Lacey Act of 1900 (Wildlife preservation)
  • Marine Mammal Protection Act
  • National Park Service General Authorities Act of 1970
  • National Park Service Organic Act of 1916
  • National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA)
  • National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA)
  • National Wild and Scenic River of 1968
  • Redwood Act of 1978, creating one protection standard for the System
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976
  • Wilderness Act of 1964

See also[]


  • Ansel Franklin Hall, first Chief Naturalist and first Chief Forester of the National Park Service
  • Harry Yount, progenitor of the modern national park ranger
  • William Kent (U.S. Congressman), donated early parklands to the government.
  • John F. Lacey, congressman from California.
  • National Park Ranger
  • National Park People


  • List of areas in the United States National Park System
  • List of the United States National Park System official units
  • National Heritage Area
  • National Memorial
  • National Monument (United States)

Related Organizations

  • National Park Foundation
  • National Parks Conservation Association

Other links

  • National Park Passport Stamps
  • National Park Service Rustic, style of architecture
  • United States Senate Committee on Forest Reservations and the Protection of Game
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund
  • National Park to Park Highway


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External links[]

Other sources.