The Center for Legislative Archives

Congress Creates the National Park Service

The National Park Service operates more than 400 scenic parks, monuments, and historic sites throughout the United States and its territories, ensuring that the country’s natural beauty and historic heritage can be enjoyed today and preserved for tomorrow.

The concept of a national park system developed over the second half of the 19th century. The shift toward conservation was notable, as it deviated from the Federal government’s long-standing policy of transferring public lands to private ownership for settlement and development. Westward expansion had provided Americans with access to wilderness areas, and the portrayals of natural wonders by writers and artists, brought national attention to the beauty of Western lands and inspired calls for their conservation. The writings of naturalist John Muir were particularly influential, and Muir, who is often referred to as the “Father of Our National Park System,” was integral to the creation of many of the first national parks.

It took over a half century from the passage of congressional legislation protecting the Yosemite Valley in 1864 to the creation of the National Park Service. Following that initial Civil War-Era legislation, additional acts were passed in a piecemeal fashion that added new parks and the protected wildlife in existing parks. The most significant was the Antiquities Act of 1906 that led to a great expansion of the park system by granting the president the authority to designate national monuments for historic and scientific value. Finally, the National Park Service, itself, was established on August 25, 1916.

S. 203, introduced March 28, 1864; NAID 12009371

An Act to Create Yellowstone National Park, March 1, 1872; NAID 596351

Resolution from the Graffort Club of Portsmouth, New Hampshire Against Granting San Francisco the Hetch Hetchy Valley, February 4, 1910; NAID 7268048

Petition from the Prairie Club of Chicago in support of establishing a National Park Service, February 16, 1916

H.R. 15522, An Act to establish a National Park Service, engrossed August 5, 1916

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