What is a National Park?

A brief exploration of the U.S. National Park System


A national park is a scenic, natural and historically significant area that is protected by the federal government. This land is preserved for public use and the conservation of wildlife and often includes information, recreation and lodging facilities.

Yellowstone is the world’s first national park, established in 1872 by Congress. After adding more parks to the national list, the National Park System (NPS) was formed in 1916 to maintain and protect the growing number of landmark areas.

There are currently 401 areas recognized and maintained by the National Park System, spanning more than 83 million acres, but only 59 actual parks. Despite the “parks” name, the agency is responsible for many different types of landmarks: national monuments, seashores, lakeshores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, historic sites, military parks, battlefields and the White House.

From Gettysburg National Military Park, the site of one of the most formative and bloodiest battles of the Civil War, to the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a political and historic icon known as the “summer white house,” NPS is tasked with overseeing more than just wilderness. The wide reach of the system ensures the public can enjoy American nature, history and culture for years to come.

According to NPS statistics, the national parks see more than 270 million recreational visitors each year. They have 22,000 paid employees and 221,000 volunteers and NPS has an annual budget of almost $3 billion but the parks give back to the economy far more than they take in operating costs. The park’s estimated contribution to the economy over the past two years, 2012 and 2013 is $26.8 billion and $26.5 billion, respectively.

See Also: Economic Value of America’s National Parks

That revenue comes from visitor spending on goods and services and helps sustain entire businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The National Park System has been called the best idea we’ve ever had, Franklin D. Roosevelt said there is nothing more American and to date, there hasn’t been a single worthy rebuttal.

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The above photo was taken at the Gettysburg National Military Park and is courtesy of The National Park Service.


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