Looking back at Parks, part 1: 100 years of National Parks

As 2016 ended, I couldn’t help looking back. Did you know that 2016 was the 100th anniversary of the US National Park Service? It was also the 50th anniversary of the UK’s Countryside Management Association, so I thought it would be worth looking back at the history of National Parks and the CMA, and considering how parks and the Ranger role have developed. In this post i’ll be looking at the rise of National Parks.
The world’s first National Park as we know it was Yellowstone National Park in the United States, created in 1872. When Yellowstone National Park was created, the federal government had to assume responsibility as Wyoming, Montana and Idaho were territories, not states! Yosemite became the first US state park in 1864 under President Abraham Lincoln, and this essentially paved the way for the first national park (especially with the campaigning of John Muir and others).

Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first National Park as we know them today.

It was another 44 years before the US National Park Service was born; they celebrated their centennial in 2016. To celebrate 100 years of the US National Park Service,  Google made a 360-degree “interactive documentary” of some of the US national parks. So if you’re interested in seeing Yellowstone and some of the other national parks in all their glory, you can view the documentary here.

So this brand new idea was born. But what is a National Park anyway, and what makes it different to anything that came before? Wikipedia describes a National Park as:
“…a park in use for conservation purposes… Although individual nations designate their own national parks differently, there is a common idea: the conservation of ‘wild nature’ for posterity and as a symbol of national pride.”
Wikipedia – National Park
Although parks and reserves had existed before this, the new National Park was quite different in that it was designated with both protection of landscapes and “the benefit and enjoyment of the people” in mind, linked to this idea of national pride. This package proved popular, as others quickly followed the example of Yellowstone, with National Parks appearing around the world soon after: Royal National Park in Australia in 1879, Rocky Mountain National Park in Canada in 1885 and Tongariro National Park in New Zealand in 1887. Sweden was the first European country to follow suit, opening nine national parks (!) in 1909. The UK designated their first, the Peak District National Park, in 1951 – but more on the UK later!
And what of the people that worked in these special places, to protect and share them?  Galen Clark was the first park ranger of the United States, appointed as the ‘Guardian’ of Yosemite (a State Park at the time) in 1866. “Clark established the ranger job as one of protector, host, educator, and administrator,” said Ted Talbot of the UK’s National Trust, speaking at the Countryside Management Association’s 50th anniversary Conference in November. “Over 150 years ago, he began the proud ranger tradition of protection and care of parks, combined with courteous and helpful service to the visiting public.”
Galen Clark, first Guardian of Yosemite (photo circa 1900)
Guardian Clark was instructed to patrol and protect Yosemite; he was to enforce the park laws, and “prevent the visitors and settlers from doing anything which would tend to impair the present picturesque appearance of the Valley or its surroundings.” (California State Park Rangers).
The United States eventually decided to create a Park Service to unite and support these national parks and their protectors:
“What the country did not have in 1916, but now realized it needed, was a coherent definition of what a national park is or should be, supported by a single agency empowered to manage, defend, and oversee the expansion of its scattered patchwork of parks and parklike monuments”.
National Geographic – How National Parks Tell Our Story
So in 1916, through an act of congress, the US National Park Service was created!
Next time we’ll look at the evolution of UK parks, and I’ll share some of the messages from the CMA’s 50th Conference, so stay tuned!
What are the National Parks like where you live? Do you come from a country with its own history of parks? Please feel free to share in the comments!

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