The names of America's great national parks are an engrained part of our rich culture. Shenandoah, Yosemite, the Rocky Mountains, Mt. McKinley -- these are just a few of the gems of the national park system. And when it comes to wildlife, who can forget Yellowstone with its bison and moose, the bears of the Smokey Mountains, and the crocodiles and colorful birds of the Everglades.
Today, the national park system includes fifty-eight terrific parcels, but in the 1800s this was the wild idea of the painter George Catlin, who'd traveled extensively throughout the western United States. Mr. Catlin promoted his idea in Washington, D.C., and later it caught fire when the idea gained the support of naturalist John Muir and became a popular notion in other countries.
In 1832, Andrew Jackston signed a bill that set aside a portion of Hot Springs, Arkansas in what was called the Hot Springs Reservation. This, however, was different from a national park. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln signed an act that ceded the Yosemite Valley and Giant Sequoias to the state of California with the understanding that it would be held for the public use and for recreation, never to be developed.
It wasn't until 1872 to with the creation of Yellowstone National Park that the parks service as we know it got its start. At the time, Yellowstone was on federally governed territory that wasn't part of any state. The U.S. government took on responsibility for its management when it created the park. This was supported by then president Theodore Roosevelt and also by the Northern Pacific Railroad, which rightly guessed that having a tourist destination in Wyoming would benefit their railway business.
In 1916, Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service, and the establishment of national parks took off in earnest. Housed under the Department of the Interior, this agency took over the work of protecting the forty national parks and monuments that had been created up to that time.
The idea of protected lands that are held in trust for all Americans is highly unusual throughout the world. Pulitzer-prize winning writer Wallace Stegner called it - 'America's best idea, - a policy that reflects us at our best, not our worst'. Many people consider a visit to certain national parks, like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, to be something everyone should do at least once in their lives.
If you haven't been to a national park since you were a kid, why not plan to see one this year? Even if you're a regular park visitor, there are always more parks to visit and new places to explore. No matter which one you choose, you're sure to find rich history, gorgeous wilderness, and plenty of open land and wildlife.