Last modified on September 26, 2018, at 18:42

National Park Service

National Park Service.jpg

The National Park Service is a bureau within the United States Department of the Interior, responsible for the oversight, maintenance, and budget for United States national parks, preserves, monuments, memorials, national historic sites, seashores, and battlefields. The concept of national parks, that the most special places in the nation should be preserved, not for royalty or the rich, but for everyone, is a uniquely American one. [1] Naturalist, writer, and historian Wallace Stegner once said, talking about the idea for creating national parks, that it was “the best idea we ever had.”.

Headquarters Organization

The headquarters office is located in Washington, D.C., and consists of the Office of the Director and six Associate Directors.

The headquarters office provides national level leadership and advocacy; policy and regulatory formulation and direction; program guidance; budget formulation; legislative support; accountability for programs and activities managed by the field and key program offices. It manages Servicewide programs that by their nature can most effectively be carried out from a central location.

The Director, Deputy Directors, Comptroller, Chief Information Officer, Associate Directors, Regional Directors and the Chief, United States Park Police comprise the National Leadership Council. In consultation with the Council, the Director establishes overall policy and strategic direction for the National Park Service, determines the Service's overall legislative goals and strategies, and guides implementation of Service-wide goals and objectives. [1]

National Program Centers

National Program Centers are part of the Headquarters office. They provide professional and technical support services to regions and park units:

  • National Program Center Location, Accounting Operations Center Herndon, VA
  • Harpers Ferry Center, Harpers Ferry, WV
  • Denver Service Center, Denver, CO
  • National Center for Cultural Resources, Washington, DC
  • National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, Natchitoches, LA
  • National Center for Recreation and Conservation, Washington, DC

Field Organization

NPS Regional offices

There are seven regions in the National Park Service. Each region is headed by a regional director, which report to a Deputy Director. The regional director is the line manager for all park superintendents within his/her region. The regional director is responsible for strategic planning and direction, policy oversight, and assistance in public involvement, media relations, and strategies for parks and programs within the region. Each regional director serves as the principal authority and spokesperson for the area as a whole and ensures consistency with national policies and priorities. As line manager, the regional director is also responsible for program coordination, budget formulation and financial management.

Park units

Park units are the basic management entity of the National Park Service. Each is headed by a superintendent (or park manager) who may be responsible for more than one park unit. Park superintendents report to regional directors. The superintendent manages all park operations to achieve program goals. The superintendent also develops and fosters external partnerships. They direct and control all program activities, including: interpretation and education; visitor services; resource management and protection; facility management; and other administrative functions, such as procurement, contracting, personnel, and financial management. In addition, superintendents are field representatives for all National Park Service programs. The diversity of the parks is reflected in the variety of titles given to them. These include such designations as national park, national preserve, national monument, national memorial, national historic site, national seashore, and national battlefield.


By the Act of March 1, 1872, Congress established Yellowstone National Park in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” and placed it “under exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior.” The founding of Yellowstone National Park began a worldwide national park movement. Today more than 100 nations contain some 1,200 national parks or equivalent preserves.

In the years following the establishment of Yellowstone, the United States authorized additional national parks and monuments, most of them carved from the federal lands of the West. These, also, were administered by the Department of the Interior, while other monuments and natural and historical areas were administered as separate units by the War Department and the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture. No single agency provided unified management of the varied federal parklands.

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service, a new federal bureau in the Department of the Interior responsible for protecting the 35 national parks and monuments then managed by the department and those yet to be established. This “Organic Act” states that “the Service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments and reservations . . . by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

An Executive Order in 1933 transferred 56 national monuments and military sites from the Forest Service and the War Department to the National Park Service. This action was a major step in the development of today’s truly national system of parks—a system that includes areas of historical as well as scenic and scientific importance. Congress declared in the General Authorities Act of 1970 “that the National Park System, which began with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, has since grown to include superlative natural, historic, and recreation areas in every region . . . and that it is the purpose of this Act to include all such areas in the System. . . .”

The National Park System of the United States now comprises 390 areas covering more than 84 million acres in 49 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands. These areas are of such national significance as to justify special recognition and protection in accordance with various acts of Congress.

Additions to the National Park System are now generally made through acts of Congress, and national parks can be created only through such acts. But the President has authority, under the Antiquities Act of 1906, to proclaim national monuments on lands already under federal jurisdiction. The Secretary of the Interior is usually asked by Congress for recommendations on proposed additions to the System. The Secretary is counseled by the National Park System Advisory Board, composed of private citizens, which advises on possible additions to the System and policies for its management.

The National Park Service still strives to meet its original goals, while filling many other roles as well: guardian of our diverse cultural and recreational resources; environmental advocate; world leader in the parks and preservation community; and pioneer in the drive to protect America’s open space.

Nomenclature of Park System Areas

The diversity of the parks is reflected in the variety of titles given to them. These include such designations as national park, national preserve, national monument, national memorial, national historic site, national seashore, and national battlefield park. Although some titles are self-explanatory, others have been used in many different ways. For example, the title "national monument" has been given to natural reservations, historic military fortifications, prehistoric ruins, fossil sites, and to the Statue of Liberty. In recent years, both Congress and the National Park Service have attempted to simplify the nomenclature and to establish basic criteria for use of the different official titles.

Brief definitions of the most common titles follow.

National park (NP) contains a variety of resources and encompasses large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources.
National monument (NM) is intended to preserve at least one nationally significant resource (usually smaller than a NP and less diversity of attractions).
National preserves (PRES). Areas set aside for the protection of certain resources, although activities such as hunting & fishing or the extraction of minerals/fuels may be permitted if they do not jeopardize the natural values.
National reserves (RES) are similar to the preserves. Management may be transferred to local or state authorities.
National lakeshores and national seashores focus on the preservation of natural values while at the same time providing water-oriented recreation.
National rivers (NR) and wild and scenic riverways (W&SRR) preserve ribbons of land bordering on free-flowing streams which have not been dammed, channeled, or otherwise altered. Besides preserving rivers in their natural state, these areas provide opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking,canoeing, and hunting.
National scenic trails (NST) are generally long-distance footpaths winding through areas of natural beauty.
National historic site (NHS) preserves places and commemorate persons, events,and activities important in the nation’s history. Often preserved or restored to reflect their appearance during the period of their greatest historical significance.
National historical parks (NHP) are commonly areas of greater physical extent and complexity than national historic sites.
National military park, national battlefield park, national battlefield site, and national battlefield — used for areas associated with American military history although other areas may include features associated with military history.
International historic site refers to a site relevant to both U.S. and Canadian history.
National memorial usually used for areas that are primarily commemorative, such as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.[2]
National recreation areas were originally units surrounding reservoirs impounded by dams built by other federal agencies but now includes other lands and waters set aside for recreational use by acts of Congress s well as major areas in urban centers.[3]
National parkways encompass ribbons of land flanking roadways and offer an opportunity for driving through areas of scenic interest.
Performing arts. Wolf Trap, Virginia (NP), Ford’s Theatre, Washington,D.C. (NHS), and Chamizal, Texas (NM) are sites designated as providing facilities for the performing arts.

Statistical Summary of National Park System[4]
Type of Designation  Total Designations Acreage
National Battlefields 
National Battlefield Parks
National Battlefield Site
National Military Parks 
24  61,648.16
National Historical Parks
National Historic Sites
International Historic Sites
122 210,520.23
National Lakeshores 228,857.29
National Memorial  28  8,406.72
National Monuments  73  2,685,065.05
National Parks  58  51,936,662.50
National Parkways  173,865.28
National Preserves 
National Reserves 
20  23,742,879.74
National Recreation Areas  18  3,692,222.58
National Rivers
National Wild and Scenic Rivers & Riverways
15 738,089.17
National Scenic Trails  225,356.57
National Seashores  10  594,518.33
Other Designations  11  39,374.33
Total Units  391  84,337,466.01



  1. Environmental discourse and practice: a reader, By: Lisa M. Benton, John Rennie Short - 2000 - Political Science
  2. Several areas whose titles do not include the words "national memorial" are nevertheless classified as memorials. These are Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove, Theodore Roosevelt Island, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington Monument, and World War II Memorial in the District of Columbia; USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii; Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in Missouri; Perry’s Victory in Ohio; and Arlington House in Virginia.
  3. There are also national recreation areas outside the National Park System that are administered by the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  4. "Red Book" - p.13