Discovering Our National Parks

Contributor: Tara Ondra. Lesson ID: 13133

Amazing rock formations, spectacular hiking trails, protected wildlife, and opportunities to explore the past -- all this and more can be found in our National Parks. But how did it all begin?


United States, United States

Social Studies
learning style
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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quote about national parks

Watch the National Geographic video below to see just what America is!

See all U.S. National Parks in One Minute | National Geographic:

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  • What are national parks, and how did they begin?

A national park is an area of land protected by the federal government for the enjoyment of the general public or the preservation of wildlife. National parks protect nature for future generations and are symbols of national pride.

That's right, the national parks are yours. You are the owner of 61 protected areas in the United States with stunning views. Watch "America's Best Idea" - President Obama on National Parks | National Geographic to hear how they belong to all of us!

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But national parks didn't always exist. Toward the end of the 19th century, there was a growing awareness that the exploration of the lands from sea to shining sea had come at a cost. In many places, nature had been destroyed along the way. Voices began to speak out calling for Congress to protect the natural splendors of places like Yosemite and Yellowstone. In 1872, Congress and President Ulysses S. Grant declared Yellowstone the first truly national park in the world.

The next major advocate for conservation was President Theodore Roosevelt (president 1901-1909). He is credited with preserving 230 million acres of public lands during his presidency. While the National Park Service wasn't established until after his presidency, these lands would eventually become national parks, national forests, and bird sanctuaries.

John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt on horseback, Yosemite Valley

Image, via Flickr, is courtesy of the California Historical Society and has no known copyright restrictions.

Unfortunately, as parks were being created and preserved, no central organization existed to manage them. Private interests became involved, often exploiting the lands' resources. This changed in 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Act creating the National Park Service. The first director of the National Park Service (NPS) was millionaire industrialist Stephen Mather, whose aim was to protect the parks while promoting their use by all people.

In addition to parks, the National Park Service oversees a large system of culturally, scientifically, and historically important sites. These areas fall into any one of 19 categories the NPS uses to describe its properties (including military parks, lake shores, recreation areas, etc.).

Today, we have 61 national parks, with at least one in every state except Delaware.

  • How many national parks can you name?
  • Which ones do you think are visited the most?

Check out U.S. News & World Report's Best U.S. National Parks to learn more about the most popular parks.

When you're ready, head over to the Got it? section to review and explore!

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