This collection documents the history, cultural aspects and geological formations of areas that eventually became National Parks. The collection consists of approximately 200 maps dating from the 17th century to the present, reflecting early mapping of the areas that would become four National Parks, as well as the parks themselves. Production of this collection is being supported by a generous gift from The Rockefeller Foundation.
Documenting the mapping of the national parks online is a project that has expanded through several stages. At the request of the U.S. Geological Survey, twenty-six maps of Yellowstone National Park were scanned to commemorate the park's 125th anniversary. The items included were selected by Geological Survey staff, and they became one of the first cartographic collections made available as part of American Memory.
The criteria for choosing maps of three additional parks (Acadia, Grand Canyon, and Great Smoky Mountains) to join the Yellowstone collection in creating Mapping the National Parks included diversity of geography and topography and their popularity as travel destinations. Acadia, Grand Canyon, and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks vary greatly in their histories of discovery, exploration, and development, as well as in their location, geology, and physical and cultural environments.
To exemplify the ways in which maps can be assembled to trace the history of a place, the online presentation about each of these three parks includes the history of the place, not merely of the park, from the time of its discovery and exploration by Europeans to the present. How and why each of these locations became a national park reflects the broader themes of American history. For this reason, each presentation relates topics, such as conservation, land use, the transportation revolution, and the desire to embrace the beauty of nature, to the establishment of the national park.
Although the maps included in this collection were produced to be used for a variety of purposes, such as reconnaissance and other military activity, geological studies, landownership, and transportation, each map is also a primary source that tells the story of the region as well as of the park through the history of its mapping. In the future, maps of other national parks will be added to this collection as resources become available.