In the modern world, human population continues to increase which also means that we occupy more space on the planet. Sadly, as we occupy more livable space, it negatively impacts native plants and wildlife.
So about a century ago, it was generally agreed that the pristine nature of the United States should be conserved and preserved for posterity. In March 1872, the United States Congress established the very 1st national park, the Yellowstone National Park.
“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” — Wallace Stegner
So why are national parks important?
In this post, we’ll discuss the importance of national parks, from its economic impacts to health benefits.
The Importance of National Parks
The main reason for creating our park system was for the conservation and protection of the environment and its wildlife. Some people have called our National Parks “America’s Best Idea.” Below, you’ll find the reasons are parks are critical to current and future generations of Americans.
1. Protecting Biodiversity
Earth is our home, and it’s also humankind’s most precious resource. So as caretakers of the planet, we need to protect Earth’s biodiversity. It took billions of years for evolution to create a wide diversity of life on the planet.
However, because of our own making, this biodiversity is continuously under threat.
The protection of this diversity of wildlife is one of the reasons why are parks important. Our National Parks protect these many species by providing a sanctuary for the plants and animals whose habitats are too often destroyed by humans.
High levels of biodiversity mean healthier and more resilient ecosystems. This results in the natural ecosystem’s ability to continue providing benefits like climate regulation, pollination, air purification, and more.
The federal government ensures that they can protect our parks from potential abusers. According to the Protection Of Government Property law, violators of these regulations are penalized, with punishment ranging from a $500 fine to three months of imprisonment. Sometimes both.
2. Leisure and Enjoyment
Connecting with Mother Nature is always a life-changing experience. Those who have been experienced the great outdoors come to a realization of just how beautiful our planet is. Most even gain a new perspective on life.
Our parks system provides an opportunity for Americans to experience the vast expanses of the outdoors. Nothing beats a good ol’ camping when it comes to providing a healthy and inexpensive leisure time. Our National Parks showcase the best that nature can offer. Undoubtedly, going to a National Park is one of the few ways to experience nature in its purest form.
From the whales off the coast of the Olympic National Park to the American Bison of the Yellowstone, visitors have an opportunity to see and interact with different forms of wildlife.
On top of that, many National Parks offer different activities like hiking, cycling, camping, kayaking, and more. And as long as park visitors follow the rules and guidelines, they’ll remain safe.
3. Economic Benefits
In 2017, our National Parks received 331 million visitors. This number just fell short of 90,000 visits, to beat 2016’s record-breaking visits. Most significantly, visitors spend an estimated $18 billion that year, which supported thousands of jobs and added billions to the economic output of the country.
And the economic benefits of National Parks extend beyond the scope of tourism. The natural amenities and recreational opportunities offered by National Parks support businesses and help them retain employees.
While you certainly can’t put any dollar value on these pristine forests and towering peaks, there’s no doubt that the country’s National Parks have a significant economic impact.
4. Centers for Learning
Our National Parks also happen to be America’s largest classrooms.
The park system provides a beneficial contribution to the country’s education system. On top of teaching students about the importance of the environment and why it’s critical to protect nature, the parks also provide actual field experiences and professional development opportunities for students.
There are even centers like the Museum of the National Park Ranger in Yellowstone, where visitors can learn about the history and heritage of National Park rangers in the system.
There are also park services that offer long-distance learning opportunities that allow students to learn about the world around them without the need to leave the classroom. Specifically, using virtual reality programs, students can tour with a park ranger or go whale watching.
The History of Our National Parks
When the U.S. established Yellowstone National Park, it set a historic precedent for the protection of wildlife for the nation’s history. Thanks to John Muir, a well-known advocate of natural landscapes and their preservation, that protection has become a tradition.
Other literary figures also influenced the American appreciation for the wilderness, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau in the 19th century and Jack London in the 20th. But it was travel writer John Muir who first introduced the beauty of the American West into the hearts of the nation.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” — John Muir
Since President Abraham Lincoln created the Yosemite Grant Act in 1864, Americans have developed and nurtured a pride for our natural resources and the wonder of our wild spaces. In a historic move, this set into action an unprecedented policy of granting land to the public in general rather than to a private owner. President Ulysses S. Grant then signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act in 1872.
“Laws change; people die; the land remains.” — Abraham Lincoln
President Theodore Roosevelt – a known natural history buff and wildlife advocate, created the U.S. Forest Service. He then signed the Antiquities Act into law in 1906. This gave the U.S. president an addition right to create National Monuments. This act helps to preserve areas of wilderness or historical sites by granting them into public ownership.
President Roosevelt’s main intention was to preserve prehistoric Native American sites and property, and the first site he declared as a National Monument was the Devils Tower in Wyoming.
“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.” — Theodore Roosevelt
In order to manage all public lands on a federal level, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service in 1916. The act that brought all the parks under the authority of the federal government also provided for tourism development. The wildlife within the parks was protected and managed, while concessions and new roads for access helped encourage visitors.
In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt worked with his Civilian Conservation Corp to further protect public lands. He also signed Executive Order 6166, which brought national monuments and cemeteries, like the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty, and Gettysburg, under the auspices of the National Parks System.
“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
The Scope of the National Parks System
While the benefits of preserving nature are obvious, you may not realize just how broad the current scope of our National Parks ranges.
Protected areas even include national parkways – which helps to preserve scenic routes through the landscape for American travelers.
Reservoirs, seashores, heritage sites, and even urban recreation centers remain protected from exploitation thanks to the forward thinking of several American presidents.
Our National Parks system even protects cultural sites that are critical to the nation’s history and identity, including the National New Orleans Jazz historical park, declared by President Bill Clinton in 1994, and the African Burial Ground Monument declared by President George W. Bush in 2006.
“Our National Parks belong to each of us, and they are natural places to learn, exercise, volunteer, spend time with family and friends, and enjoy the magnificent beauty of our great land.” — -George W. Bush
The Future of Our National Parks
While instituted by great American presidents of the past, it takes Congress to create new parks. Unfortunately, however, the Antiquities Act still allows presidents to unilaterally create and de-commission national monuments. Recently, some of our monuments have been called into question by the current president, Donald Trump. Some have been earmarked for review and reduction in order to make way for development.
National Parks are a Part of America’s Future
We simply can’t understate the importance of our national parks.
However, despite many decades of efforts, our National Parks are still perpetually in danger. Ranging from industrialization to climate change to deregulation, our parks are very much susceptible to partial or total destruction.
National parks are a valuable part of American culture. These wonders protect both our interest and that of the environment. Because of this, it’s imperative that we do our part in protecting these valuable lands before we lose them forever.