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Do You Know Your National Park Service Trivia?

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:

Glacier National ParkHow 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:

NPS Designation  Units    Example
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
   2 Grand Canyon    4,388,385        2
   3 Yosemite    3,901,408        3
   4 Yellowstone    3,640,185        4
   5 Rocky Mountain    2,955,820        6
   6 Olympic    2,844,561        5
   7 Grand Teton    2,682,573        9
   8 Zion    2,665,972        7
   9 Acadia    2,504,208      10
 10 Cuyahoga Valley (Ohio)    2,483,640        8
 11 Glacier    2,226,755      11
 12 Joshua Tree    1,434,976      12
 13 Hot Springs (Ark.)    1,311,807      13
 14 Hawaii Volcanoes    1,304,666      14
 15 Bryce Canyon    1,285,490      15
 16 Shenandoah    1,253,385      17
 17 Mount Rainier    1,191,754      16
 18 Haleakala    1,029,645      18
 19 Arches    1,022,826      19
 20 Sequoia    1,002,979      20

2010 Visitor Count Flucuation in the Top 20

Park Compared to 2009
Yellowstone     up 344,998
Acadia     up 276,510
Glacier     up 195,407
Yosemite     up 163,936
Rocky Mountain     up 133,495
Shenandoah     up 132,404
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
Sequoia       up 37,809
Hot Springs       up 27,100
Arches       up 26,514
Great Smoky Mountains      down 27,899
Zion   down 69,430
Haleakala   down 79,459
Cuyahoga Valley down 105,648
Olympic down 431,898

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?

Posted on at 8:36 PM

Tagged: national parks and visitation

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