This month marks the 100th anniversary of our nation’s national parks. According to The National Parks: Shaping the System, published by the National Park Service, the idea of land being preserved for everyone to enjoy was first expressed in 1832 (that’s just 56 years after the birth of United States of America in 1776) and is credited to artist George Catlin. During a trip to the Dakota region in 1832, Catlin, best known for his paintings of Native Americans, pondered the impact the western expansion would have upon these civilizations, the wildlife and the wilderness. He wrote that they might be preserved “by some great protecting policy of government…in a magnificent park…a nation’s park, containing man and beast, in all the wild(ness) and freshness of their nature’s beauty.”
Yosemite was cited as a precedence when Senate Public Lands Committee Chairman Samuel C. Pomeroy of Kansas presented a park legislation bill in December 1871 to protect the Yellowstone region, keeping it in federal custody and unavailable for development. President Ulysses S. Grant signed Pomeroy’s bill into law on March 1, 1872 and Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park, was established.
Once Yellowstone was protected, the preservation ball really started rolling: In 1875, an act of Congress made most of Michigan’s Mackinac Island a national park before it was transferred back to the state in 1895 and maintained as a state park; Sequoia, General Grant (incorporated into Kings Canyon National Park in 1940) and Yosemite became national parks in 1890 (Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove incorporated into Yosemite National Park in 1906); Mount Rainier joined the national parks in 1899, and a slew of other national parks followed and were established through 1916: Crater Lake (Oregon, 1902), Wind Cave (South Dakota, 1903), Mesa Verde (Colorado, 1906), Glacier (Montana, 1910), Rocky Mountain (Colorado, 1915) and Hawaii (1916, split into Haleakalä and Hawaii in 1960, and redesignated Hawai’i Volcanoes in 1961).
On August 25, 1916 President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill into law to create the National Park Service to oversee the already-established national parks and “such other national parks and reservations of like character as may be hereafter created by Congress.” The NPS was also directed “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life 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.”
In 2015, 307.2 million people visited the national parks, and it wouldn’t come as any surprise if that number is surpassed in 2016. The National Park Service’s Find Your Park initiative encourages everyone to find the park nearest them and share their own stories, this year and for years to come.