Conservationists, civic leaders, and government officials submitted testimony before Congress in favor of the establishment of the National Park Service on April 5 and April 6, 1916.
The parks are the Nation’s pleasure grounds and the Nation’s restoring places…
J. Horace McFarland, president of the American Civic Association, National Park Service. Hearing Before the Committee on Public Lands…, April 5-6, 1916. Washington Gov’t. print. off., 1916. The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920
The congressional debate over the proper management of the growing system of national parks began in 1912 and culminated with the passage, in 1916, of the National Park Service Act. This legislation created the National Park Service within the Department of the Interior. Stephen T. Mather was named its first director.
In making his case for the agency, Richard B. Watrous, Secretary of the American Civic Association, recalled the rationale made by Secretary of the Interior Richard A. Ballinger in 1910.
“In order that creditable progress may be made in each of the national parks,” Ballinger had written:
liberal appropriations will be required…to create a bureau of national parks and resorts, under the supervision of a competent commissioner, with a suitable force of superintendents, supervising engineers, and landscape architects, inspectors, park guards, and other employees.
Richard B. Watrous, Secretary of the American Civic Association, National Park Service. Hearing Before the Committee on Public Lands…, April 5-6, 1916. Washington Gov’t. print. off., 1916. The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920
Others pointed to the long-term economic benefits likely to accrue from the efficient investment in and management of the national parks.
When it was established on August 25, 1916, the National Park Service (NPS) supervised 40 national parks and monuments in some 390 areas. It now includes 390 areas covering more than 84 million acres in every state except Delaware, as well as in the District of Columbia, and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. NPS sites—not only national parks and monuments—but also battlefields, military parks, historic sites, recreation areas, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores and seashores, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House, attract hundreds of millions of visitors each year.
- Mapping the National Parks 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. Browse the collection by subject, title, creator, or geographic location. There are also special presentations on Acadia, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, and Yellowstone National Parks.
- A search on national park service in Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey yields hundreds of drawings, photographs, and data pages on a wide variety of NPS areas.
- Search A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875 to find additional Congressional publications through 1875 that relate to the conservation movement and the creation of the National Park Service.
- Search on national parks through Congress.gov to find current bills, laws, and debates in Congress affecting the National Park Service and other environmental issues.
- Detroit Publishing Company and Panoramic Photographs contain a large selection of photographs featuring national parks; to view these images, search the collections on national park, national forest, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Glacier Park, or the park of your choice.
- Visit the National Park Service’s Web site for information about visiting national park service areas. Educators will find online resources in the National Park Service’s Teachers page.