Understanding The National Parks System
August 5, 2013

Understanding The National Parks System

As you may be aware, I have been writing a series about some of America’s National Parks. I thought it might help readers to understand the different designations of the National Parks System. After all, the USA has many different sites and designations. In fact, there are currently fifteen different designations. So let’s get started.

1. National Parks

I recently wrote about Great Basin, Redwood, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain National Parks, which all fall into the category of National Park. According to the National Parks System website, “These are generally large natural places having a wide variety of attributes, at times including significant historic assets. Hunting, mining and consumptive activities are not authorized.”

National Parks are those that we should treasure and preserve. They keep wildlife and flora safe, as well as protect our lands. I love National Parks for these reasons, as well as all the opportunities they offer for hiking, camping, site seeing, animal and bird watching, fishing, and oh so many other activities. I love National Parks.

2. National Monuments

Next comes National Monuments, which “The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorized the President to declare by public proclamation landmarks, structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest situated on lands owned or controlled by the government to be national monuments.”

Probably the most famous National Monument is the Statue of Liberty. I have visited several of these and plan to visit more. These are places of great interest and relevance, particularly for those of us with a scientific bend.

3. National Preserve

The “National Preserves are areas having characteristics associated with national parks, but in which Congress has permitted continued public hunting, trapping, oil/gas exploration and extraction. Many existing national preserves, without sport hunting, would qualify for national park designation.”

Obviously, these are places that allow for different activities of national interest.

4. National Historical Site

Usually, a national historic site contains a single historical feature that was directly associated with its subject. Derived from the Historic Sites Act of 1935, a number of historic sites were established by secretaries of the Interior, but most have been authorized by acts of Congress.”

There is practically at least one site per a state and sometimes more. Lots and lots of them exist.

5. National Historical Park

“This designation generally applies to historic parks that extend beyond single properties or buildings.”

See my blog on the proposed National Historical Park on the Moon for more info.

6. National Memorial

“A national memorial is commemorative of a historic person or episode; it need not occupy a site historically connected with its subject.”

I must give remembrance to the National Memorial in my state, the Oklahoma City National Memorial, which is in honor of those killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing.

7. National Battlefield

National Battlefield: This general title includes national battlefield, national battlefield park, national battlefield site, and national military park. In 1958, an NPS committee recommended national battlefield as the single title for all such park lands.”

Gettysburg, Petersburg, Antietam, and Manassas are four such examples of National Battlefields.

8. National Cemetery

“There are presently 14 national cemeteries in the National Park System, all of which are administered in conjunction with an associated unit and are not accounted for separately.”

9. National Recreation Area

“Twelve NRAs in the system are centered on large reservoirs and emphasize water-based recreation. Five other NRAs are located near major population centers. Such urban parks combine scarce open spaces with the preservation of significant historic resources and important natural areas in location that can provide outdoor recreation for large numbers of people.

In Sulphur, Oklahoma, we have the Chickasaw NRA. Its importance to Oklahoma is not just in its natural beauty and activity but also in the Native American heritage. I am proud to have this NRA in my home state.

10. National Seashore

“Ten national seashores have been established on the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts; some are developed and some relatively primitive. Hunting is allowed at many of these sites.”

11. National Lakeshore

These mimic the National Seashores except they are all found on the Great Lakes, Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.

12. National River

“There are several variations to this category: national river and recreation area, national scenic river, wild river, etc. The first was authorized in 1964 and others were established following passage of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968.”

Clearly, the mighty Mississippi River is a National River, but so is the Buffalo in Arkansas. Both of these, and the many other National Rivers, are great to enjoy and experience.

13. National Parkway

This one is a little bit different from the other National Parks, but no less important. “The title parkway refers to a roadway and the parkland paralleling the roadway. All were intended for scenic motoring along a protected corridor and often connect cultural sites.”

14. National Trails

“National scenic trails and national historic trails are the titles given to these linear parklands (over 3,600 miles) authorized under the National Trails System Act of 1968.”

Click here for a list of the different trails across the country.

15. Affiliated Areas

“In an Act of August 18, 1970, the National Park System was defined in law as, “any area of land and water now or hereafter administered by the Secretary of the Interior through the National Park Service for park, monument, historic, parkway, recreational or other purposes.”The Affiliated Areas comprise a variety of locations in the United States and Canada that preserve significant properties outside the National Park System. Some of these have been recognized by Acts of Congress, others have been designated national historic sites by the Secretary of the Interior under authority of the Historic Sites Act of 1935. All draw on technical or financial aid from the National Park Service.”

So there you have it. A discussion of the National Parks System designations so that you can better understand what our National Parks System has to offer. I plan to continue enjoying each of these in their own rights. In fact, I hope to see and experience as many as I can. Check these out as they belong to all Americans. And if you are from another country, come see some of what makes America beautiful.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Email


Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

Send Rayshell an email