"National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst." Novelist Wallace Stegner, 1983
When we think of public lands, most of us conjure up mental pictures of national parks. They are a great idea that dates back almost 150 years. President Ulysses S. Grant created our first park, Yellowstone National Park, in 1872. National parks are usually large areas of land and are protected primarily for conservation purposes, existing to safeguard natural and historical resources for future generations. In most parks, no hunting, grazing or resource extraction are permitted. Fishing is permitted on a case-by-case basis. There are 63 national parks in the United States, and only Congress has the power to create new ones.
If you’re lucky enough to live in one of the 30 states with a national park and are close enough to get there easily, they make great destinations for day visits as well as longer trips. National Historical Parks and National Historic Sites are also part of the national parks family and receive the same level of protections. You can find parks and other public lands on the National Park Service website.
When crossing a famous park off your bucket list, you should be ready for crowds. If you visited a popular park this summer, you may have noticed that thousands of other people had the same idea. Our national parks hosted 237 million visitors in 2020. Traffic jams to get into Yellowstone aren’t uncommon and visitors are turned away from the entry at Arches National Park in Utah when it’s too busy. Simply put, more people want to visit parks than capacity allows.
But, fear not: There is a two-part solution to this problem. First, Congress should increase funding for national parks to pay for such infrastructure as more campgrounds and more shuttle buses. This will address the growing numbers of visitors and their cars. Second, Congress should also designate new national parks. More parks might spread the visitor load, especially if parks are created in areas where there isn’t currently a park. For example, if Craters of the Moon National Monument was redesignated as a national park, it would be the first and only national park in Idaho. The new designation would likely draw more visitors, and as a national park, management would be able to provide more resources for those visitors.
Indiana Dunes National Park
Sequoia National Park, California