It's National Park Week (free admission to any park through April 24), and this is Fun Facts to Know and Tell, National Parks edition:
How old is the National Park Service? It marks its 95th anniversary in August. Its first director? A Chicago businessman, Stephen T. Mather, who stepped into the role in 1916 when the NPS had an inventory of just 14 parks and 21 national monuments. Perhaps you have stood at Mather Point on the Grand Canyon's South Rim? Wandered in the Stephen Mather Wilderness in North Cascades National Park? Hiked over 12,100-foot Mather Pass on the John Muir Trail in northern Kings Canyon National Park? He's the guy. Plans are underway, as you may have heard, to make the 100th anniversary of the NPS in 2016 a big deal.
How many parks does it oversee? The NPS administers more than parks. It manages a wide-ranging "system" of diverse properties known as units, 394 total. These units fall into 1 of 19 categories, or possibly into a subcluster of miscellaneous designations, which includes The White House. Yep, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is part of the National Park Service system. So is Wolf Trap, the performing arts venue near Vienna, Va. Unexpected but true.
How many actual national parks exist? Of those 394 NPS units, 58 are considered national parks ("large natural areas having a wide variety of attributes") such as Yosemite and Yellowstone. Here's how the units break down:
|National Historic Sites||78||Tuskegee Airmen, Alabama|
|National Monuments||74||Statue of Liberty, New York-New Jersey|
|National Parks||58||Grand Canyon, Arizona|
|National Historical Parks||45||Chaco Culture, New Mexico|
|National Memorials||28||Mount Rushmore, South Dakota|
|National Preserves||18||Tallgrass Prairie, Kansas|
|National Recreation Areas||18||Santa Monica Mountains, California|
|National Battlefields||11||Antietam, Maryland|
|Miscellaneous designations||11||White House, District of Columbia|
|National Seashores||10||Cape Cod, Massachusetts|
|National Wild and Scenic Rivers||10||Saint Croix, Minnesota-Wisconsin|
|National Military Parks||9||Gettysburg, Pennsylvania|
|National Rivers||5||Buffalo National River, Arkansas|
|National Lakeshores||4||Pictured Rocks, Michigan|
|National Battlefield Parks||4||Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia|
|National Scenic Trails||3||Appalachian Trail, Maine to Georgia|
|National Reserves||2||City of Rocks, Idaho|
|National Battlefield Site||1||Brices Cross Roads, Mississippi|
|International Historic Site||1||Saint Croix Island, Maine|
Two new units were added to the NPS system in 2010. Can you name them? They are President Bill Clinton's birthplace, a national historic site in Arkansas, and River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Michigan.
What state has no NPS unit? All but one state has at least 2 units (or affiliated units; a whole different category that defies easy explanation) of the NPS system. Even territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the little-known Northern Marinara Island have 1 unit each; the Virgin Islands have 5. Who got left out? I answered this question in a post last month. Hint: It's known as the first state--just not when it comes to NPS designations.
What states have the most? The District of Columbia tops the chart with 34 sites. States with 20 or more: Virginia (33), California (31) and New York (28). Maryland (24), Pennsylvania (24), Alaska (20) and Massachusetts (20). Even my heartwarming home turf of Ohio, often associated with flat horizons, soy beans and cornfields, has 9, 7 of which are described in this article. Nice goin', Ohio.
What about National Historic Landmarks? The National Historic Landmarks Program, like the NPS, is part of the Dept. of Interior. National parks contain numerous NHLs (Yellowstone's Old Faithful Inn, for example), and the NPS participates in nominating candidates to be added to the NHL inventory. Yosemite contains 5 NHLs, including a ranger residence known as the Rangers' Club, the subject of a short film highlighted in a January REI Blog post. Footnote: Among those 78 national historic sites, one preserves Stephen Mather's Connecticut home.
What about the National Landscape Conservation System? Anyone who read Parade magazine in their Sunday newspaper (April 17) learned about the little-known NLCS, a project of the Bureau of Land Management (part of the Dept. of Interior, like the NPS) dedicated to preserving some of the American West's most iconic landscapes in wilderness areas, national monuments and other remote federal lands. Its mission: "To conserve, protect, and restore these nationally significant landscapes that are recognized for their outstanding cultural, ecological, and scientific values."
Among national parks, which is the attendance champion? Year after year, it's Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. It's close to several large population centers, is near several resort communities, never charges an entrance fee (the result of a deal the state of Tennessee struck with the feds in 1936) and it's just plain gorgeous. Here are the top 20 parks for "recreation visits" (defined by the NPS as people who enter a park neither to work nor to commute to work) for 2010:
|Rank||Park||2010 visitors||2009 rank|
|1||Great Smoky Mountains||9,463,538||1|
|10||Cuyahoga Valley (Ohio)||2,483,640||8|
|13||Hot Springs (Ark.)||1,311,807||13|
2010 Visitor Count Flucuation in the Top 20
|Park||Compared to 2009|
|Rocky Mountain||up 133,495|
|Joshua Tree||up 130,505|
|Grand Teton||up 102,492|
|Hawaii Volcanoes||up 71,561|
|Bryce Canyon||up 69,113|
|Grand Canyon||up 40,317|
|Mount Rainier||up 40,100|
|Hot Springs||up 27,100|
|Great Smoky Mountains||down 27,899|
|Cuyahoga Valley||down 105,648|
Source: National Park Service Public Use Statistics Office
Now you know. Enjoy being the know-it-all at your next campout. Meanwhile, what national park would you most like to visit this year?