Library 101: National Park Service Centennial

Posted on: Friday, March 18th, 2016 by Janet Kirby

"The best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst" is what historian Wallace Stegner claimed about our national parks. 

100 years: Let’s celebrate!  On August 25, 2016, the National Park service will celebrate 100 years of preserving and making more accessible many natural wonders and historic places of the United States.  Several national parks had already been established prior to the passing of the “Organic Act” in 1916 which brought all those parks under one management, “to both preserve park resources and make them available to tourists, form[ing] the legal foundation stone of the system”.  (Dilsaver, 10)    

Yellowstone was the first of our parks, being signed into law on March 1, 1872.  The park is located mostly in Wyoming, with some northern edges in Montana and a western edge extending into Idaho. The region had been surveyed several times and its unique features of hot springs, geysers, a wealth of wild life, and wilderness inspired the desire to preserve these aspects from developers.  Trapper Jim Bridger called it “the place where Hell bubbled up”.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon in California, the second park, was established to preserve the ancient giant trees that were rapidly being cut down. One of the loggers, Walter Fry, had a change of heart after he and a crew of four spent five days cutting down one tree.  Fry counted 3266 rings in the log.  He joined the preservation movement which resulted in the park being created September 25, 1890.  Fry went on to become a road foreman in the park, eventually becoming a park ranger. (Oswald, 487)

Nearby is Yosemite, park number three, another place of dramatic vistas and trees.  Yosemite was first given state protection in 1864 by Abraham Lincoln.  John Muir arrived in 1868 and started writing about the wonders of the region.  After many years of watching Yosemite becoming a “tourist trap”, Muir, with the backing of the passenger railroads, was able to get national park designation for Yosemite on October1, 1890. (Oswald, 500)

We are fortunate to live in an area with a wealth of history and natural resources.  And we are in easy driving distance to many national parks and historic places.  Some of the great places within a 2-3 hour drive include the Cumberland Gap, the Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah National Park, the New River Gorge, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, and Cowpens National Battlefield Park. 

The Park Service recently compiled a list of the most visited parks for 2015.  Great Smoky Mountains National Park had the top spot with 10.7 million visitors.  The most visited service site was led by the Blue Ridge Parkway at 15 million visitors.  (CNN NewsSource)  Many visitors come from other countries to experience what we have in our own backyards.

You can find all these, and much, much, more, by going to these websites: and  More information about centennial celebrations can be found at

America’s National Park System: the critical documents / edited by Lary M. Dilsaver.  E 160 .A579 1997

National Parks: the American Experience / Alfred Runte.  E 160 .R78 1987

The National Park Story in Pictures / by Isabelle F. Story.   Gov Doc I 29.6: N21/12

The National Parks Portfolio / by Robert Sterling Yard.   E 160 .U62

“The Place Where Hell Bubbled Up”: a history of the first national park / by David A Clary.  Gov Doc  I 29.6:N19/972

Your Guide to the National Parks / by Michael Joseph Oswald.  Gov Doc I 160 .O8 2012

The National Parks: America’s Best idea / a film by Ken Burns.  DVD E160 .N385 2009

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