Ever wondered why there are so many different types of parks in the National Parks
system? National Park, National Monument, National Historic Park--what's the difference?
Yosemite National Park, California
National Park. The term "National Park" was the original name used for
the first several tracts of land set aside by Congress to protect primarily scenic wonders
from encroaching development. A National Park can only be created by an act of Congress.
While there was no "minimum size" on early parks, Congress has gradually
reserved the term for very large tracks where resources must be protected to maintain the
area's significance to the nation, be it exceptional scenic or wildlife value. Activies in
National Parks are correspondingly restricted to ensure preservation while still allowing
access and enjoyment for visitors. Examples include Yellowstone,
Yosemite and Rocky Mountain
National Parks preserved for their uniqueness and beauty, and Everglades
National Park preserved for its immense but delicate wildlife habitat.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona
National Monument. Unlike a National Park which requires an Act of Congress, a
National Monument can be unilaterally declared by the executive order of the President.
This authority was first given to President Theodore Roosevelt by the Antiquities Act of
1906. President Roosevelt first used this power to protect several sites of ancient
puebloan ruins in the Southwest, as was intended by the act, but he tested its limits when
he declared the Grand Canyon a National Monument amid
uproars from many in Arizona. Similar unpopular declarations were made by President
Franklin Roosevelt when he protected additional land around the Grand Tetons as
"Jackson Hole National Monument" over the objections of local ranchers in 1943
and when President Jimmy Carter effectively doubled the acreage of the National Park
System by declaring millions of acres in Alaska to be National Monuments in 1980 causing
massive protests in Alaska. History, however, seems to have sided with the Presidents.
Jackson Hole National Monument is now part of Grand Teton
National Park, and the Alaskan Monuments have spawned no fewer than seven National Parks
including Gates of the Artic, Glacier Bay, Katmai, Kenai Fjords,
Kobuk Valley, Lake Clark and Wrangell-St. Elias. Not all National Monuments are managed by
the National Park Service--some are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Examples of
National Monuments include Wupatki and Canyon de Chelly.
DeSoto National Memorial, Florida
National Memorial. National Memorials commemorate an important event or person,
but the memorial site does not have to be tied directly to the event or person
commemorated. Examples include DeSoto and Wright Brothers National Memorials.
National Historic Site. A National Historic Site preserves something singular
and historical such as a building. The authority to declare a site is derived from the
Historic Sites Act of 1935, and while a few sites have been declared by Secretaries of the
Interior, most have been designated by Congress. An Example is the Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr. National Historic Site.
National Historical Park (or National Historic Park). A National Historical Park
is similar to a National Historic Site, but is larger in scale, usually containing a
series of related sites. Examples include Minute Man and Colonial National Historical Parks.
Manassas National Battlefield Park, Virginia
National Battlefield / National Battlefield Park / National
Battlefield Site / National Military Park. You guessed it, these parks protect the
sites of historic battles throughout US history. As a general rule most sites associated
with the American Civil War are "Battlefield Parks" while most associated with
the American Revolution are "Historical Parks." Examples include Richmond and Manassas National
National Cemetery. The National Parks Service protects 14 National Cemeteries
including the most famous, Arlington National Cemetery.
National Seashore / National Lakeshore. These parks protect primarily
undeveloped areas along major bodies of water. Like National Parks, they help protect many
areas from encroaching development, but they usually allow a wide range of recreational
activities National Parks may not. An example is Cape Hatteras
National River / Wild and Scenic River. These parks preserve strips of land
surrounding stretches of undammed waterways. The first was established in 1964, and more
followed in 1968 with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. An example is the New River Gorge
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
National Preserve. National Preserves are designed to protect certain natural
resources without the full restrictions associated with National Parks. The natural
resources can range from animals to wetlands and include examples such as Big Cypress National Preserve. National Preserves can be
associated with National Parks such as Denali National Park and
Preserve and Great Sand Dunes National Park and
National Recreation Area. National Recreation Areas typcially govern large
reserviors. Some NRAs are managed by the National Park Service, but others are managed by
the Bureau of Land Management or the US Forest Service. One NRA, Cuyahoga Valley, has been
redesignated a National Park. Other examples of NRAs include Curecanti and Lake Mead
National Recreation Areas.
National Forest. A National Forest is managed by the US Forest Service
(Department of Agriculture), NOT the National Park Service (Department of the Interior).
It is primarily used to designate areas where the growth of timber and development is
managed. The strategy for protection of a National Forest can be summarized by the slogan
"Land of Many Uses," and a wide range of recreational and commercial activities
are usually permitted under certain restrictions. In the past, there have been political
battles between advocates of National Forests where exploitation is allowed and those
advocating more strict protection such as the battle surrounding the creation of Olympic
National Park in Washington state.