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The National Park Service, or NPS, is a federal agency within the U.S. Congress made Yellowstone America’s first national park in 1872. In the years that followed, environmentalists including John Muir lobbied for wilderness preservation throughout the American West with the creation of several more national parks and monuments. President Woodrow Wilson established the National Park Service in 1916 to consolidate management of America’s federal parklands under one agency. The National Park Service today manages 84 million acres across all U.S. states and territories, and has served as a model for countries around the world.

Prior to the nineteenth century, most Europeans and Americans viewed nature solely as a resource for food, clothing and shelter. In Europe, early attempts at nature preservation centered upon the efforts of wealthy landowners to conserve trees for timber and wildlife for game hunting.

While America’s national parks drew upon earlier examples of European woodland preservation, they were a uniquely American idea rooted in democracy, philosophy and art.


Popular 19th-century writers, including transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman drew inspiration from nature, while artists of the era—including Thomas Cole, Asher Durand and Albert Bierstadt—depicted the sublime beauty of the American landscape. These writers and artists influenced the ideals of the American conservation movement.

Many Americans at the time also believed in Manifest Destiny, or America’s moral mission to expand westward. As settlers and explorers traveled the West, they discovered awe-inspiring scenery in places such as California’s Yosemite Valley and along Wyoming’s Yellowstone River.

Early travelers and writers, including naturalist John Muir, brought the wonders of the West’s wild places to those who had never seen them. Americans, in turn, began to develop a sense of national pride in these wilderness areas. Prominent citizens advocated for the protection of such areas from commercial interest and development.

In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln responded to their pressure by creating the Yosemite Grant Act to protect land in the Yosemite Valley.

The Yosemite Act set a precedent for the creation of the national parks. It was the first time the U.S. federal government had set aside land specifically for preservation and public use.

Yellowstone: America’s First National Park

The United States Congress established the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act in 1872. The bill’s creators envisioned a “pleasuring ground” for the enjoyment of all Americans—except for Native Americans, who would be effectively excluded from park land.

President Ulysses S. Grant signed the landmark bill into law on March 1, making Yellowstone America’s—and the world’s—first national park.

The Act, which set aside 1,221,773 acres of public land in the future states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, broke with the established policy of transferring public lands in the West to private ownership.

More national parks followed, including Mackinack National Park (now a Michigan state park) and Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Park in California.

Antiquities Act

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act, which gave presidents the authority to create national monuments to preserve areas of natural or historic interest on public lands. The purpose of the Act was largely to protect prehistoric Native American ruins and artifacts.

Roosevelt used the Act to declare Devil’s Tower in Wyoming the first national monument, though he wasn’t the first president to set aside public land for cultural preservation.

In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison preserved one square mile in the Arizona Territory surrounding the Casa Grande Ruins—an archaeological site once inhabited by the ancient Sonoran Desert people.

National Park Service Created

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, each national park and monument was independently managed, with varying degrees of success.

In Yellowstone, for instance, explorer Nathaniel Langford was appointed the park’s first superintendent. He was provided no salary, funding or staff and lacked the resources to protect the park against poachers and vandals. Army assumed control of the park in 1886.

Between 1908 and 1913, the U.S. Congress debated whether to dam the Hetch Hetchy Valley to provide a steady supply of drinking water to the growing city of San Francisco.

But the Hetch Hetchy Valley was within the confines of Yosemite National Park. Preservationists led by John Muir and the Sierra Club argued that the valley should be protected against human interference, though Congress eventually allowed the building of the dam.

After the Hetch Hetchy controversy, the Sierra Club and its environmental allies petitioned the government for stronger protection of national parkland through the creation of a unified federal service to manage the parks.

President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service (NPS) as an agency within the United States Department of the Interior on August 25, 1916 through the National Park Service Organic Act.

The new agency’s mission was to conserve the scenery, natural and historic objects and wildlife within the parks 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.”

American industrialist Stephen Mather became the first head of the NPS. Mather introduced concession operations into the National Parks where tourists could purchase food and other basic necessities. He also promoted the creation of a highway system that would make national parks more accessible by automobile.

National Park Service Today

The National Park Service today oversees 417 parks and monuments covering more than 84 million acres. In 2016, roughly 331 million people visited sites within the National Park System.

The NPS estimates that these sites contribute about $35 million a year to the U.S. economy.

Alt National Park Service

In recent years, the National Park Service has faced severe funding cuts. Between 2011 and 2018, the NPS decreased its workforce by 11 percent, despite the fact that visitation to parks climbed to record high levels during that period.

The House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee passed an act in late 2017 that would make it harder to create new national monuments under the Antiquities Act and would give presidents the authority to reduce the size of existing national monuments.

As a result of these changes, a protest movement known as Alt National Park Service has sprung up. The group is composed of NPS employees as well as federal government officials from other departments, state park administrators, environmental scientists and others.

The stated mission of the Alt National Park Service is to “stand up for the National Park Service to help protect and preserve the environment for future generations to come.”


National Park Service Overview; National Park Service.
Hetch Hetchy Environmental Debates; National Archives.
Act Establishing Yellowstone National Park; U.S. Library of Congress.
Alt National Park Service;

The origin of the National Park Service can be traced back to 1864 when Congress and President Lincoln set aside Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias -- land that would later become Yosemite National Park in California.This was the first time the federal government protected land because of its natural beauty so that people could enjoy it.

First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more. Photo by Lesli Cohan (

Early Efforts

Yosemite was at the heart of America’s nascent national parks movement. The California valley’s splendor inspired some of its earliest European visitors to demand protection, even as settlers moved ceaselessly westward, “civilizing” the West and displacing native peoples.

Elegant voices, like that of naturalist John Muir, brought the grandeur of such lands to those who had never seen them. His prolific and widely published writings stressed how such wild places were necessary for the soul, and his advocacy later became the driving force behind the creation of several national parks.

Responding to such calls, Congress and President Abraham Lincoln put Yosemite under the protection of California during the Civil War. In 1872 Lincoln’s former general, President Ulysses S. Grant, made Yellowstone America’s—and the world’s—first truly national park. More parks soon followed suit and, beginning in the late 19th century, cultural sites like Arizona’s prehistoric Casa Grande were honored as well.

President Theodore Roosevelt was one of the park system’s greatest patrons. During his administration (1901-09) five new parks were created, as well as 18 national monuments, four national game refuges, 51 bird sanctuaries, and over 100 million acres (40 million hectares) of national forest.

Public History in the Parks: History and the National Park Service

Historians inside and outside the academy are indebted to Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen for their systematic efforts to examine "how Americans understand the past." As they explain in The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life, they used a national telephone survey to ask respondents (among other things) how connected to the past they feel in various situations, and how trustworthy various sources of information are about the past. In their answers to these questions, significant numbers of interviewees ranked family gatherings and accounts by relatives, and museums and historic sites, higher than schools or classroom teachers.

The National Park Service (NPS) has a major stake in living up to that trust of presenting an accurate and comprehensive view of the past. More than 220 of the 377 National Park sites are cultural sites, focusing on history, anthropology, and archaeology. Visitors come to these parks seeking education and inspiration, sometimes long after their years in the classroom are over. For them, these 220 parks are sources of educational experiences, vessels of historical memory, and sometimes places that loom large in questions about personal and national identity.

The NPS is not only in the business of education. It straddles some of the intersections of education, recreation, and historic preservation. It also has roots in antiquarianism and ties to tourism. One of its challenges is to encourage visitors to connect historical trends and contexts with surviving buildings, landscapes, and artifacts. Another is the necessity of making choices about which parts of the human-shaped environment are the most important ones to preserve, as evidence of past human activity.

Among the tools that the NPS uses to try to meet these challenges is a thematic framework, intended as a comprehensive outline of broad themes in U.S. history to assist in communicating American history to the public. Initially developed in 1936, the framework has been particularly useful as a tool for evaluating how well the National Park System reflects the sweep of American history (the framework can be seen at a discussion about the framework is at The NPS and the scholars who worked with the NPS to develop various versions of the thematic frameworks understood the categorization and classification of cultural resources according to historical topics as a necessary tool both for a comprehensive, contextual overview of cultural resources and for the comparative analysis of the relative significance of individual resources. The framework has proved useful as a checklist of possible contexts to address in NPS educational and interpretive programs in parks. However, the key role for the thematic framework has been in identifying gaps in the park system and assessing and justifying the addition of new parks.

Since it became evident that only a few sites could be added as national parks, the Congress established a National Historic Landmark Program (NHL) in 1960 to recognize and encourage the preservation of nationally significant properties outside of the park system. The NPS used its thematic framework to inform and guide the selection of landmarks.

The earliest framework focused on relatively few broad themes, such as the development of the English colonies and the westward expansion, that stemmed from a view of American history as a "march of progress." The 1987 revision used both a chronological and topical approach and expanded the number of themes to 34, with numerous subthemes and items so that there were over 600 different categories. Some critics of the 1987 framework contended that it pigeonholed sites far too narrowly and represented too limiting an approach to the past. For example, Congress passed legislation in 1990 directing the NPS to conduct a study of alternatives for commemorating and protecting resources associated with the Underground Railroad. Turning to the 1987 framework for guidance, the NPS staff discovered that despite all the numerous categories, places in the framework for this study were limited to the subtheme of abolitionism under the theme of humanitarian and social movements or the subtheme of slavery and plantation life under the theme of American ways of life.

In 1988 the historical profession began to register its concern about the framework. Both the Professional Division of the American Historical Association and the board of the Organization of American Historians passed resolutions in 1990 calling on Congress to fund the reexamination and revision of the NPS's national historic thematic framework. The resolutions contended that the existing framework was outdated and did not adequately reflect the breadth of available scholarship. Representative Bruce Vento (D-Minn.), who chaired the House subcommittee with oversight responsibility for the NPS, and historian Heather Huyck, his legislative aide, were strong supporters of strengthening history in the parks and became effective allies in this cause. In a late night session in fall 1990, when Congress was considering the Arizona wilderness bill, Representative Vento, with Huyck working vigorously behind the scenes, managed to attach to this bill a provision dealing with the revision of the thematic framework. On November 28, 1990, President Bush signed Public Law 101-628, the Arizona Desert Wilderness Act and Title XII on "Civil War and Other Studies," which included a section on the "Revision of the Thematic Framework." The law stated that the secretary of the interior "in coordination with the major scholarly and professional organizations" was to undertake "a complete revision of the NPS 'Thematic Framework' to reflect current scholarship and research" and "the full diversity of American history and prehistory."

For several years, the NPS seemed at a loss about the task of revising the framework however, in 1993 the NPS signed a cooperative agreement with the Organization of American Historians to bring together a group of scholars, preservationists, NPS officials, and others to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the 1987 framework and to develop a rough draft of a revised framework. The 31-person working group met in Washington, D.C., for two days in May 1993 and completely reenvisioned the framework, fostering an interdisciplinary approach that reflected more accurately the kinds of questions about culture and society that are meaningful to scholars and to the general public today. The group struggled with issues of chronology, periodization, regionalism, cultural diversity, prioritizing of the past, and the need to shift to a perceptual framework that asked not only "what happened" but also "how and why." For the first time, the framework responded to the riches of social history.

What emerged from the 1993 meeting was a transformed thematic framework with eight concepts that span the broad ranges of human activities: peopling places, creating social institutions and movements, expressing cultural values, shaping the political landscape, developing the American economy, expanding science and technology, transforming the environment, and the changing role of the United States in the world community. Under each theme, the group listed topics that help define the theme and offered illustrations using specific sites. The working group emphasized the way the concepts overlap, and the meeting's report graphically showed the broad themes as a set of interlocking circles. The participants sought a structure that would capture the complexity and meaning of human experience in the past and make that a coherent, integrated whole. In addition to the broad themes, the narrative portion of the report stressed that connecting the eight concepts are three historical building blocks: people, time, and place.

The goal of the revision was to provide a basic intellectual context for evaluating and interpreting the prehistoric and historic resources under the aegis of the NPS. Instead of separating historical and anthropological concerns into separate spheres, as had been the case in earlier frameworks, this new framework connects them. While the old framework set up multiple, but largely exclusive, compartments, the revised framework makes clear that at any given site multiple themes will simultaneously be relevant. Furthermore, the new framework encourages a more thorough examination of cultural and social processes. It invites interdisciplinary consideration of larger trends. It fosters discussion of fundamental social and economic structures and an analysis of change over time. In using the revised thematic framework, NPS staff will recognize more readily the larger implications and research possibilities of a site and better answer such key questions as "Why does this place really matter?" For example, the old thematic framework invited users to end their discussion simply by saying "This is a significant Revolutionary War site," connected either with politics and diplomacy, or with one of the theaters of military action in that war. The current themes, instead, pose questions about how such a place may shed light upon demographics and community building, the development and expression of ideologies and social and political institutions, and foreign relations. These themes ask NPS planners, historians, archaeologists, and ethnographers to stay focused on fundamental aspects of human endeavors and social relationships, in keeping with interdisciplinary approaches in current scholarship.

The National Park Service has been using the revised framework for several years in various planning efforts. It was used, for example, when the NPS embarked on a congressionally mandated planning venture called the Lower Mississippi Delta Region Heritage Study. The broad themes of the framework were the organizing principles for a set of "Stories of the Delta." The framework is also providing structure for a National Historic Landmark study called "The Earliest Americans."

The NPS thematic framework also has potential to improve the design of park interpretive programs. In practice, the previous frameworks had been mainly used for the evaluation of proposals for NHLs and additions to the National Park System. It had little impact on interpretive and educational programs in established parks. The revised framework is a vastly better tool for those purposes. Planners, educators, historians, archeologists, and ethnographers can look at this framework as a checklist of potential questions to ensure a broad view of what NPS staff and visitors should understand about the important contexts of a park's history.

At this point, NPS staff are still fleshing out the implications of the framework. Although many of them recognize the theoretical advantages the framework represents, some are skeptical about its practical utility. However, dealing with ambiguities and complexities is what this framework requires. This necessitates a shift in thinking for people accustomed to the old framework's pigeonholes. As a tool, this thematic framework has the potential of making various NPS programs not merely more complex, but truer to the many-faceted and polyglot nature of our cultures and societies.

Laura Feller is on the staff of the chief historian of the National Park Service and presently serves on the board of the National Council on Public History. Page Putnam Miller is the director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History.

National Park Service at 100: The Prehistory of the Parks

Carleton Watkins—The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles Section of the Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite. 1861

There is no shortage of things to see in America’s national parks. Whether the view is of dappled Acadia or striated Zion, they all share one thing: somebody recognized that it was special enough to set aside for us all. First you have to see, and then you can save.

That’s worth keeping in mind on Aug. 25 as the U.S. National Park Service celebrates the 100th anniversary of the act that established it. The parks are celebrating with much fanfare: all 412 of them have free admission on the big day and throughout the following weekend. The Postal Service is issuing commemorative stamps to celebrate and the U.S. Mint is making special coins.

Yet America’s majestic national parks actually predate Woodrow Wilson’s signature 100 years ago. It was 1864 when the bill came across Abraham Lincoln’s desk to grant “Yo-Semite Valley” and the Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the State of California “for public use, resort, and recreation”—the first time in recorded history that a government had set aside land for public enjoyment rather than profit.

And behind that bill’s passage, argues Weston Naef, curator emeritus of the department of photographs at Los Angeles’ J. Paul Getty Museum, was a photographer named Carleton Watkins. Lincoln “had to have seen something that persuaded him that this was something worth doing,” Naef says. “How would he have seen the something and what would the something have been?”

Many experts believe the “what” to have been photographs by Watkins, though, as Naef admits, there is no definitive proof. Born in 1829 in New York State, Watkins had gone west during the gold rush, learning photography along the way. At the time, the daguerreotype—the photographic form recognizable in portraits from the early 19th century—was on its way out, to be replaced by easier, faster wet-plate photography that used glass to produce a negative. And yet the medium remained largely focused on portraits.

Watkins was hired by John C. Fremont’s Mariposa mine to photograph the site for potential investors. That made him one of the earliest American photographers to specialize in nature—a focus helped by willingness to carry thousands of pounds of equipment, not to mention highly flammable chemicals, into the wilderness.

In July of 1861, he went to Yosemite and came back with 30 so-called mammoth plate images—thus named for the enormous apparatus with which they were made. Naef also believes that an earlier set of uncredited images produced there in 1859, which inspired engravings in Hutchings’ California Magazine alongside others credited to C.L. Weed, may have actually been by Watkins. Prints of Watkins’ work were sent east by influential California minister Thomas Starr King, where they caught the attention of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes. They were also shown in a New York City gallery to rave reviews.

Writing in the Atlantic Monthly in July of 1863—where his essay may well have been read by Lincoln—Holmes mentioned the series of Carleton Watkins views that had been sent to him recently. “As specimens of art they are admirable, and some of the subjects are among the most interesting to be found in the whole realm of Nature,” he declared.

Meanwhile, Emerson wrote to King that the photographs, including one of a giant sequoia, were “proud curiosities here to all eyes” that “are entirely satisfactory to the beholder, and make the tree possible.”

With that, Emerson captured one of the most important roles of Watkins’ photographs. As TIME declared in 1947, “The snow-capped spine of the U.S. and the grandeurs of the West must be seen to be believed.”

Carleton Watkins—The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles Sentinel (View down the Valley) 3270 ft. Yosemite. 1861.

Sure, written descriptions and paintings of the western wilderness had filtered back east throughout the 19th century, as explorers and traders forged new paths across a growing nation, but there was no substitute for a photographic image. Those who saw what was out there—notably George Catlin, whom the Park Service has credited with coming up with the concept of a “magnificent park”—were impressed. The depth of West’s canyons, the height of the trees, the grandeur of the rocky crags, these things would have been beyond the ken of the men in Washington who called the shots about that land despite never having seen it themselves.

And so when businessman Israel Ward Raymond in 1864 sent a package of Watkins prints to California Senator John Conness and specifically suggested setting aside the land, he knew what he was doing. Sure enough, Conness was the man who would introduce the Yosemite Grant Act to Congress.

“What we’re dealing with here is the visual equivalent of fingerprints,” Naef says. “Every fingerprint leads back to Carleton Watkins.”

Watkins’ role wasn’t always acknowledged, which Naef attributes to what he calls a “prejudice against visual evidence” by traditional historians who prefer to work with written sources as primary evidence. But Watkins enjoyed a renewal of interest around the turn of the 21st century, and more recently, for the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite grant, Stanford exhibited Watkins’ work and drew the connection between the images and the park.

It’s clear now that Carleton Watkins helped people see, and what was once seen could not be unseen.

Once Yosemite set into law the idea of preserving the nation’s beauty, more beauty followed. In 1872 the Yellowstone National Park was established “as a public park or pleasuring-ground”—this time under federal management, not state. Terence Young, a professor of geography at Cal Poly Pomona, is currently researching the reasons why Congress decided to opt for federal control. For one thing, he says, at the time the land that became Yellowstone was still run as territories, not states. For another, California had struggled to adequately protect Yosemite, and thus served as a “bad older brother” that advocates wanted to help Yellowstone avoid copying.

Young thus believes that, though Yellowstone is often seen as the ur National Park, it was Yosemite that truly set the wheels in motion. The trend toward federal management would continue. Eventually, the patchwork of management under which such areas had once fallen would not suffice. Thus, the National Park Service.

By the time Wilson signed that bill, there were already 35 national parks and monuments.

Now, the continued survival of the parks depends on finding new ways to continue the project that Watkins began: teaching Americans how to see and appreciate their country. That’s something today’s parks advocates contend with the same vigor as their 19th century forebears. After all, one of the inherent tensions in the idea of national parks, says Jeremy Barnum, a spokesperson for the park service, is balancing conservation and public access. “In order to be protected for future generations, they have to matter to people,” he says. “If they can’t go see and touch them, it’s harder for them to have that connection.”

As for Watkins, though he was successful during his lifetime, he was a notoriously bad businessman, and lost his fortune during the economic crash that swept the country in the 1870s. In a tragic twist of timing, he died in a state hospital for the insane on June 23, 1916, mere weeks before the NPS began the work that he helped set in motion.

His legacy, however, lives on in the parks: in Mariposa County, Calif., in the heart of Yosemite, there stands Mount Watkins.

National Park Service - HISTORY

The Route 66 Preservation Resource Center is your one-stop-shop for preservation information including technical and financial resources, and people to contact. Come on in to the center and find the information you are looking for! Read More…

Cost-Share Grants

The National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program works with the American People to preserve the special places and stories of the historic highway. The program's cost-share grants support preservation projects in the eight Route 66 states. Read More…

Find Your Park on Route 66

Take a trip down Route 66 and Find Your Park today! Route 66 and the National Park Service have always had an important historical connection. Route 66 was known as the great road west and after World War II families on vacation took to the road in great numbers to visit the many National Park Service sites along the way.Read more…

Doing Research?

The history of Route 66 is paved with paper, postcards, photographs, maps, journals, and more. Discover the historical record of Route 66! Read more…

Route 66 Maps

View and download a national map of Route 66. Explore the NPS interactive map viewer! Read more.

Park History

People have spent time in the Yellowstone region for more than 11,000 years. Rock structures like this are evidence of the early presence of people in the area.

The human history of the Yellowstone region goes back more than 11,000 years. The stories of people in Yellowstone are preserved in archeological sites and objects that convey information about past human activities in the region, and in people’s connections to the land that provide a sense of place or identity.

Today, park managers use archeological and historical studies to help us understand how people lived here in the past. Ethnography helps us learn about how groups of people identify themselves and their connections to the park. Research is also conducted to learn how people continue to affect and be affected by these places, many of which have been relatively protected from human impacts. Some alterations to the landscape, such as the construction of roads and other facilities, are generally accepted as necessary to accommodate the needs of visitors today. Information on the possible consequences of modern human activities, both inside and outside the parks, is used to determine how best to preserve Yellowstone’s natural and cultural resources, and the quality of the visitors’ experience.

National Park Service - HISTORY

ABH Site Index

National Park Timeline

Valley Forge National Historic Park

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Yellowstone National Park

National Park Timeline

The history of our National Park system and other federal lands began in 1790 when the District of Columbia was formed. This included what now is part of our park system the White House, the National Mall, and the National Capital Parks. But it was not until Yellowstone was installed as a National Park on March 1, 1872 that you could truly say that the National Park System was founded. And it was a great founding. The National Park Timeline here will be organized by current park unit, in alphabetical order, and include the dates of formation, and any other changes that may have occurred.

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Dates of Note

March 1, 1872 - First National Park established with Yellowstone National Park

June 8, 1906 - Antiquities Act passed

August 25, 1916 - U.S. Congress authorizes the National Park Service

August 21, 1935 - Historic Sites Act

June 23, 1936 - Park, Parkway, and Recreation Area Study Act

September 3, 1964 - Wilderness Act

September 31, 1965 - Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965

October 15, 1966 - National Historic Preservation Act

October 2, 1968 - National Trails System Act

October 2, 1968 - Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

Park Service Codes

NB = National Battlefield
NP = National Park
NBP = National Battlefield Park
NPres = National Preserve
NBS = National Battlefield Site
NR = National River
NBP = National Historical Park
NRA = National Recreation Area
NHS = National Historic Site
NS = National Seashore
NL = National Lakeshore
NSR = National Scenic River
NM = National Monument
NST = National Scenic Trail
NMem = National Memorial
WSR = Wild and Scenic River
NMP = National Military Park

History Photo Bomb

White Sands National Monument. Courtesy National Park Service.

Siege of Vicksburg. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Courtesy National Park Service.

Zion National Park. Courtesy National Park Service.

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Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, Montana

In the early 1900s, the Lewis & Clark National Monument (1911–1937) was only accessible via a 45-minute climb up a 2,000-foot staircase—the original entrance sat at 1,400 feet above the Jefferson River. At the end, visitors were greeted by unlit caverns, a maze of tortuous passages, and no staff. The state rightly believed they could do better, successfully pushing the federal government to turn over the land that became Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, Montana’s first.

Today’s park spans 3,000 acres and offers 10 miles of trails, a fantastic visitor center, and the 4.5-mile-long cave—packed with delicate limestone formations—most certainly has lights. Guided tours run May through September, with festive candlelight tours held during the holidays.

History of the National Park Service National Park Service

Historical perspectives regarding various aspects of the national park service are included in this collection. Topics included the history of natural resource conservation, the historical significance of select structures built in national parks, and historical designations given to national parks.

Audio - Insider's Look - Grandview Point - Changing Values of Landscape - June 1, 2008

Listen as a park ranger briefly discusses some mining history of the park and how the values have shifted to instead preserving the park and its beauty.

Gateway NRA: Listen in as the colorful life of the 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, is discussed.

Denali NP & PRES: The history of the challenges to ensure proper preservation of wildlife and the environment while allowing the maximum number of visitors to the park is discussed. Transportation is emphasized.

Valley Forge NH Park: The changes in wildlife at Valley Forge between colonial times and present times are discussed.

Video - Insider's Look - Interview with US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar

Grand Canyon NP: Listen in as park ranger Patrick Gamman interviews U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

Going-to-the-Sun Road: West Tunnel

Glacier National Park: A brief history of the creation of the West Tunnel is given as well as the tunnel's current status.