Friday, October 23, 2009

Homestead one of 391 National Park Service Units

With the Ken Burns PBS documentary National Parks: America’s Best Idea currently highlighting America’s 58 National Parks maybe it is time to remember the National Park Service administers 391 Units in the National Park System


The National Park Service was created in 1916 through the National Park Service Organic Act.  It was expended over the years [see timeline] to administer National Battlefields, National Historic Sites, National Seashores, and so much more. 

Often the terms “National Park Service” and “National Park System” are used interchangeably, but there is a difference.  The National Park Service is an agency in the Department of Interior that administers the National Park System.  But the National Park Service also administers wholly or partially the following:

·         National Register of Historic Places

·         National Historic Landmarks Program

·         National Natural Landmarks Program

·         Land and Water Conservation Grants Program

·         Historic American Building Survey

·         American Battlefield Protection Program

·         National Maritime Heritage Grants Program

·         Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program

·         Tribal Preservation Program Heritage Preservation Services

·         The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System,

.          National Trails System

·         National Wild and Scenic Rivers System

·         U. S. National Heritage Areas

·         Historic Preservation Funding Programs.

Of course, of all the things the National Park Service administers the National Park System is the one most familiar to Americans.  The National Park System consists of many different areas with many different “designations,” but they are all “equal.”  The General Authorities Act passed in 1970 and the amendments made to it through the Redwoods Act of 1978 made equal all areas of the National Park System no matter the designation. This provides equal protection to all areas of the National Park System from impairment and/or derogation of their resources.  In other words tiny little U. S. Grant National Historic Site in suburban St. Louis receives a standard of protection equal to that which the Grand Canyon National Park receives. 

Each of the 391 Units in the National Park System has a specific name or designation.  The numerous designations within the National Park System sometimes confuse people. The designations are created in the Congressional legislation authorizing the sites. The 391 Units can be grouped into several primary designations. Many names are descriptive; lakeshores, seashores, battlefields, but others cannot be neatly categorized because of the diversity of resources within them.  Below is a partial list of designations:

·         National Park: These are generally large natural places having a wide variety of attributes, at times including significant historic assets. Hunting, mining and consumptive activities are not authorized.  Currently there are 58 National Parks.  One of the least known is Congaree National Park.

·         National Monument: The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorized the President to declare by public proclamation landmarks, structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest situated on lands owned or controlled by the government to be National Monuments.  However, Congress can also create a National Monument by passing a Congressional Act as it did in the case of Homestead National Monument of America.  There are 74 National Monuments in the National Park System.  There are 25 other National Monuments administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, or the U. S. Forest Service and therefore are not Units in the National Park System.

·         National Preserve: National Preserves are areas having characteristics associated with National Parks, but in which Congress has permitted continued public hunting, trapping, oil/gas exploration and extraction.  Currently there are 18 National Preserves and several are next door to National Parks like Great Sand Dunes National Preserve.

·         National Historic Site: Usually, a National Historic Site contains a single historical feature that was directly associated with its subject. Derived from the Historic Sites Act of 1935, a number of historic sites were established by secretaries of the Interior, but most have been authorized by acts of Congress as was Lincoln Home National Historic Site.  There are 77 National Historic Sites.

·         National Historical Park: This designation generally applies to historic parks that extend beyond single properties or buildings.  One good example would be LBJ National Historical Park where there are two distinct visitor areas separated by 14 miles.  There are 45 National Historical Parks.

·         National Memorial: A national memorial is commemorative of a historic person or episode; it need not occupy a site historically connected with its subject, but sometimes do as in the case of Flight 93 National Memorial.  There are 27 National Memorials in the National Park System.

·         National Battlefield: This general title includes National Battlefield [11], National Battlefield Park [3], National Battlefield Site [1], and National Military Park [9].  This does get confusing.  For example four separate Civil War Battlefield locations are Antietam National Battlefield, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site, and Gettysburg National Military Park.  There are 24 battlefields being preserved in the National Park System.

·         National Recreation Area: There are 18 NRAs in the National Park System and 13 are centered on large reservoirs and emphasize water-based recreation.  One example of these would be Amistad National Recreation Area. Five other NRAs are located near major population centers. These 5 urban parks combine scarce open spaces with the preservation of significant historic resources and important natural areas in locations that can provide outdoor recreation for large numbers of people.  A prime example would be Gateway National Recreation Area.  There are numerous other National Recreation Areas administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U. S. Forest Service, or the Army Corps of Engineers and therefore are not Units in the National Park System.

·         National Seashore: Ten National Seashores have been established on the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts; some are developed and some relatively primitive. Hunting is allowed at many of these sites.  There are 10 National Seashores including Gulf Islands National Seashore where some of the facilities are now just re-opening after the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina.

·         National Lakeshore: There are 4 National Lakeshores, all on the Great Lakes.  They closely parallel the seashores in character and use.  You must take a boat ride to enjoy the beauty of the cliffs at Picture Rocks National Lakeshore.

·         National Parkway: The title parkway refers to a roadway and the parkland paralleling the roadway. All were intended for scenic motoring along a protected corridor and often connect cultural sites.  At present, there are 4 national parkways in the National Park System including George Washington Memorial Parkway.

·         Other: There are other Units that have designations that have either “river,” “reserve,” or “trail” in their names like Niobrara National Scenic River, Pinelands National Reserve, and Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail.  But other units in the National Park System defy categorization.  A few examples would be: President’s Park, Rock Creek Park, Prince William Forest Park, and Catoctin Mountain Park.  There are 11 such parks in the National Park System, all located in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

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