Outdoor Lesson: The History of Our National Parks

The National Parks in the United States contain some of the most beautiful landmarks and natural sights in the world. In this lesson, learn about how the U.S. National Parks began and discover some amazing facts about these favorite places to visit.

There are four tasks in this lesson. Complete tasks 1-3 in order, and task 4 is a short quiz to test your knowledge.

Task 1 — Read some information about the history of the National Parks:

Our National Parks are a national treasure. Our government has established, or set up, 423 national park sites to date. While the National Park System comprises all of these sites, only 63 of them have the official “National Park” designation in their names. The hundreds of other sites fall into different National Park System categories like National Historic Sites, National Monuments, National Seashores, National Recreation Areas, and others. People from all over the world enjoy visiting our national parks, and they have also become a safe place for wildlife and ecology to thrive. 

However, we didn't always have national park sites! The first one was established in 1872, "for the benefit and enjoyment of the people" — almost 100 years after the founding of the United States! 

The first national park that was founded was Yellowstone National Park. It was founded in the territories of Montana and Wyoming in 1872. Montana wouldn't become a state until 17 years later. Wyoming became a state the year after Montana. It is wild to think that some of our parks are older than some of our states!

After the founding of Yellowstone National Park, a national park movement began in the United States. The United States government began authorizing additional national parks and monuments. Monuments are places, buildings, or statues that have historic or cultural importance. Not all national park sites are huge pieces of land. Some national park sites are battlefields, like Gettysburg National Military Park, or historic monuments, like the Statue of Liberty.

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service. This would create a group of people responsible for protecting the 35 national parks and monuments that existed at the time, and those yet to be established.

Task 2 — Learn about the National Parks today:

Today, National Parks are among the most popular destinations for U.S. campers, receiving 250 to 330 million visitors on average per year. In July of 2020, 1.07 million visitors entered National Park Service sites each day! 20,000 National Park Service employees are needed to care for the sites. They work with communities across the nation to help keep local history alive and create opportunities for people to get outside.

52.2 million total acres are protected by our National Parks. The largest national park is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska and contains a whopping 13.2 million acres! Death Valley National Park in California and Nevada is the largest park in the continental United States with 3.37 million acres. The smallest is Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, which is just 5,550 acres.

Some of the most popular national parks in the country, like Glacier National Park and Yosemite National Park, bring in millions of visitors each year, while other parks, like Great Basin, remain somewhat hidden gems. The short video below highlights some less visited parks:

The map below shows some of the most well-known national parks. Which one is closest to where you live? Why do you think there are so many national parks in the western part of the United States?

The Park Service has a great find-a-park map and directory on their website that you can visit to find and learn more about all of the park sites by state.

Task 3 — Create your own National Park:

National Parks are created because someone decides the land, place, or monument is important to preserve. If you could create your own national park, what would it be? Think of something or somewhere important in your life. It could be your favorite park near your home, your swing set in your yard, or even your favorite toy! Grab a piece of paper and a pencil and draw your new park or monument. National parks and monuments also need a name. Come up with a name for your new national park or monument and write it at the top or bottom of the page. Let your creativity run wild (like the animals in the parks!)

Task 4 — Test your knowledge:

Click below to test your knowledge from what you've learned about the history of our National Parks.

Click here.


Post originally published March 17, 2020 by Katie Simpson