National park

National park
An elephant safari through the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary in West Bengal, India
The Teide National Park in Tenerife (Spain).

A national park is a reserve of natural, semi-natural, or developed land that a sovereign state declares or owns. Although individual nations designate their own national parks differently (for example, see Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in the United States[1]), an international organization, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and its World Commission on Protected Areas, has defined National Parks as its category II type of protected areas. While ideas for this type of national park had been suggested previously, the United States established the first such one, Yellowstone National Park, in 1872. The largest national park in the world meeting the IUCN definition is the Northeast Greenland National Park, which was established in 1974. According to the IUCN, there were 6,555 national parks worldwide in 2006 that meet its criteria.[2]



In 1969 the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) declared a national park to be a relatively large area with particular defining characteristics.[3] A national park was deemed to be a place

  • with one or several ecosystems not materially altered by human exploitation and occupation, where plant and animal species, geomorphological sites and habitats are of special scientific, educative and recreative interest or which contain a natural landscape of great beauty.
  • the highest competent authority of the country has taken steps to prevent or eliminate exploitation or occupation as soon as possible in the whole area and to effectively enforce the respect of ecological, geomorphological, or aesthetic features which have led to its establishment.
  • visitors are allowed to enter, under special conditions, for inspirational, educative, cultural, and recreative purposes.

In 1971 these criteria were further expanded upon leading to more clear and defined benchmarks to evaluate a national park. These include:

  • a minimum size of 1,000 hectares within zones in which protection of nature takes precedence
  • statutory legal protection
  • a budget and staff sufficient to provide sufficient effective protection
  • prohibition of exploitation of natural resources (including the development of dams) qualified by such activities as sport, fishing, the need for management, facilities, etc.

While national parks are generally understood to be administered by national governments (hence the name), in Australia national parks are run by state governments and predate the Federation of Australia.


In 1835, the English poet William Wordsworth described the Lake District as a[4]

sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy.

The painter George Catlin, in his travels through the American West, wrote during the 1830s that the Native Americans in the United States might be preserved[5]

(by some great protecting policy of government) a magnificent park ...A nation's Park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature's beauty!

Similar ideas were expressed in other countries—in Sweden, for instance, the Finnish-born Baron Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld made such a proposition in 1880. The Scottish-American naturalist John Muir was inspirational in the foundation of national parks, anticipating many ideas of conservationism, environmentalism, and the animal rights movement.

The first effort by any government to set aside such protected lands was in the United States, on April 20, 1832, when President Andrew Jackson signed legislation that the 22nd United States Congress had enacted to set aside four sections of land around what is now Hot Springs, Arkansas to protect the natural, thermal springs and adjoining mountainsides for the future disposal of the US government.[6][7] It was known as the Hot Springs Reservation. However no legal authority was established and federal control of the area was not clearly established until 1877.[6]

The next effort by any government to set aside such protected lands was, again, in the United States, when President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act of Congress on June 30, 1864, ceding the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (later becoming the Yosemite National Park) to the state of California:[8]

.... the said State shall accept this grant upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation; shall be inalienable for all time; .... — 38th United States Congress, Session 1, 1864

Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California, USA

In 1872, Yellowstone National Park was established as the world's first truly national park.[9] When news of the natural wonders of the Yellowstone were first promulgated, the land was part of a federally governed territory. Unlike Yosemite, there was no state government that could assume stewardship of the land, so the federal government took on direct responsibility for the park, a process formally completed on October 1, 1890—the official first national park of the United States. It took the combined effort and interest of conservationists, politicians and especially businesses—namely, the Northern Pacific Railroad, whose route through Montana would greatly benefit by the creation of this new tourist attraction—to ensure the passage of that landmark enabling legislation by the United States Congress to create Yellowstone National Park. Theodore Roosevelt, already an active campaigner and so influential as good stump speakers were highly necessary in the pre-telecommunications era, was highly influential in convincing fellow Republicans and big business to back the bill.

The United States in 1872. When Yellowstone was established, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho were territories, not states. For this reason, the federal government had to assume responsibility for the land, hence the creation of the national park.

American Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner, has written:[10]

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

Even with the creation of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and nearly 37 other national parks and monuments, another 44 years passed before an agency was created in the United States to administer these units in a comprehensive way — the U.S. National Park Service (NPS). Businessman Stephen Mather and his journalist partner Robert Sterling Yard pushed hardest for the creation of the NPS, writing then-Secretary of the Interior Franklin Knight Lane about such a need and spearheading a large publicity campaign for their movement. Lane invited Mather to come to Washington, DC to work with him to draft and see passage of the National Park Service Organic Act, which the 64th United States Congress enacted and which President Woodrow Wilson signed into law on August 25, 1916. Of the 397 sites managed by the National Park Service of the United States, only 58 carry the designation of National Park.

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, U.S.A. Yellowstone was the first national park in the world.

Following the idea established in Yellowstone there soon followed parks in other nations. In Australia, the Royal National Park was established just south of Sydney in 1879. Rocky Mountain National Park became Canada's first national park in 1885. New Zealand established Tongariro National Park in 1887. In Europe the first national parks were a set of nine parks in Sweden in 1909; Europe has some 359 national parks as of 2010.[citation needed] Africa's first national park was established in 1925 when Albert I of Belgium designated an area of what is now Democratic Republic of Congo centred around the Virunga Mountains as the Albert National Park (since renamed Virunga National Park). In 1973, Mount Kilimanjaro was classified as a National Park and was opened to public access in 1977.[11] In 1926, the government of South Africa designated Kruger National Park as the nation's first national park. After World War II, national parks were founded all over the world. The Vanoise National Park in the Alps was the first French national park, created in 1963 after public mobilization against a touristic project.

See also


  1. ^ Adam Fetcher, David Barna, Carol Johnson (2011-08-29). "National Park Service Press Release: Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Becomes 395th National Park". National Park Service. Retrieved 2011-09-01. 
  2. ^ "National Parks: A History". United Kingdom: Exmoor National Park. 2006-02-03. Archived from the original on 2010-10-31. Retrieved 2011-10-24. 
  3. ^ Gulez, Sumer (1992). A method of evaluating areas for national park status.
  4. ^ Wordsworth, William (1835). A guide through the district of the lakes in the north of England with a description of the scenery, &c. for the use of tourists and residents (5th ed.). Kendal, England: Hudson and Nicholson. p. 88. 
  5. ^ Catlin, George (1841). Letters and Notes on the manners, customs, and condition of the North American Indians: written during eight years' travel amongst the wildest tribes of Indians in North America in 1832, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, and 39. 1. Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, London: Published by the author. pp. 261-262. 
  6. ^ a b Shugart, Sharon (2004). "The HOT SPRINGS of ARKANSAS THROUGH THE YEARS: A CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS -Excerpts-" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  7. ^ Peters, Richard, ed (1866). "Twenty-Second Congress, Session 1, Chap. 70: An Act authorizing the governor of the territory of Arkansas to lease the salt springs, in said territory, and for other purposes (April 20, 1832)". The Public Statutes At Large of the United States of America from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845. 4. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown. p. 505. 
  8. ^ Sanger, George P., ed (1866). "Thirty-Eighth Congress, Session 1, Chap. 184: An Act authorizing a Grant to the State of California of the "Yo-Semite Valley" and of the Land embracing the "Mariposa Big Tree Grove" (June 30, 1864)". The Statutes At Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America from December 1863, to December 1865. 13. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. p. 325. 
  9. ^ Mangan, Elizabeth U. Yellowstone, the First National Park from Mapping the National Parks. Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.
  10. ^ "Famous Quotes Concerning the National Parks: Wallace Stegner, 1983". Discover History. National Park Service. 2003-01-16. Retrieved 2011-10-24. 
  11. ^ "Kilimanjaro: The National Park". Private Kilimanjaro: About Kilimanjaro. Private Expeditions, Ltd.. 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-24. 

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