National Parks, a general term for various kinds of areas a national government sets aside for the people because of their natural scenery or historical values. Such areas make up a national park system, and are preserved from destruction in order to provide inspiration, enjoyment, and recreation. National parks have been developed most highly in the United States. Canada has an extensive national park system. There are national parks in more than 100 other countries also.
The National Park Service (NPS), a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior, has as its fundamental objective the promotion and regulation of the use of the national parks and similar reservations in order to "conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." The service also assists states in developing park and recreational areas and maintains the National Register of Historic Places and the National Registry of Natural Landmarks. .)
The service is headed by a director with a headquarters staff in Washington, D.C. There are regional offices in Boston; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; Omaha; Denver; Santa Fe; San Francisco; Anchorage; and Seattle. Also, a service center in Denver provides planning, architectural, and other professional services, and a center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, produces various audiovisual materials and publications.
Among employees are rangers, archeologists, naturalists, and historians who conduct interpretive, informational, and investigative programs in the park areas.
The NPS administers the National Park System. The National Park System consists of any area of land and water "administered by the Secretary of the Interior through the National Park Service for park, monument, historic, parkway, recreational, or other purposes." Not considered part of the system but affiliated with it are areas that utilize NPS resources but are not owned by the federal government or are not directly administered by the NPS.
The lands administered total some 80 million acres (125,000 square miles, or 324,000 km2), of which about 75 million acres (117,000 square miles, or 303,000 km2) are federally owned.
The NPS in some instances shares administration with other government agencies, as it does in the case of national recreation areas. Or the service may administer some of the areas of one type, or designation, while another government agency administers the others, as is the case with the national cemeteries (see and the national scenic trails. National forests are not a part of the National Park System; they are administered by the U.S. Forest Service. The NPS, however, is responsible for the management of forests in the various units of the National Park System.
The areas in the National Park System are classified as natural, historical, and recreational. The natural areas, such as national parks, are noted primarily for their scenic or scientific value. Historical areas, such as national memorials, are generally commemorative, associated with important events or persons. Recreational areas are usually established to provide opportunities for outdoor recreation. The names and designations used to identify and classify areas are created by Congress. New additions to the National Park System are normally made by Congress.
Each national park is in the charge of a local superintendent. In larger parks the staff includes clerical, educational, and engineering assistants. The protective force consists of rangers, headed by a chief ranger, responsible for checking travel, directing traffic, enforcing regulations, giving information, firefighting, and maintenance. National monuments are headed by superintendents. In some cases a number of areas are grouped under one superintendent.
Ranger naturalists and historians explain features of interest to visitors. Museums are maintained. In some areas rangers conduct parties on lecture tours. Much archeological research is done in some of the scientific and historical areas. Some historic buildings have been reconstructed. Landscape architects and engineers lay out roads and trails to give access to points of interest while preserving them as nearly as possible in their original condition.
In the larger areas, private concessionaires operate such facilities as hotels, lodges, restaurants, cabins, and stores.