The Interesting Economic Benefits and History of America's National Parks

National Parks are areas of outstanding natural beauty, but they are also pretty important for the economy too.
Christopher McFadden
National ParksSu--May/Flickr

National Parks are incredibly beautiful places, and as it turns out, nice money-makers for local communities. They were first created in the late 19th Century and become national treasures for Americans.


In the following article, we'll take a quick look at the interesting history of them and find out which ones were the first to be given the honorary title of National Park.

What were the first 5 National Parks?

Today, there are no less than 58 National Parks in the United States. Each and every one of them is unique and all are incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring pieces of real estate.

But which ones are the eldest? Let's find out.

1. Yellowstone became the first National Park in 1872

Yellowstone straddles Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho and was America's first National Park. The park is probably most famous for it being the home to "Old Faithful" an impressive geyser that has become, quite literally, a tourist hotspot. 

The park was officially designated a National Parky by President Grant after passing an Act of Congress. This was, in part, to halt plans to sell the land by auction.

national parks yellowstone

2. Sequoia was the next National Park to be created

In 1890, Sequoia National Park was created. Situated in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, this national park is famed for being home to the Giant Forest.

This National Park contains five of the oldest trees on the planet. Which includes the General Sherman tree which is a giant sequoia. 

General Sherman is believed to be the biggest tree in the world and is estimated to be no less than 2,300 years old.

national parks sequoia

3. Yosemite National Park was created in 1890

Yosemite National Park was officially designated a National Park in the same year as Sequoia National Park. Also situated in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, the park is the third oldest and most visited of all of them.

The park is rich in beautiful landscapes, lakes, waterfalls, giant sequoia trees, glaciers, and impressive granite cliffs. For this reason, it is popular with both ramblers and rock climbers.

4. Mount Rainer is the fourth oldest National Park in the United States

Mount Rainer was officially recognized as a National Park in March of 1899. The mountain stands proud of its surroundings and, unsurprisingly, it is one of the most photographed landmarks in Washington state.

The park which includes and surrounds the mountain is noted for its 26 glaciers, including the Carbon Glacier which is the largest in the lower 48 states.

national parks Rainer

5. Crater Lake is a collapsed volcano

Crater Lake became a National Park in May of 1902. The park is located in Oregon and is one of the deepest lakes in the United States.

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The most prominent feature of the lake is the remnants of a volcano that collapsed around 7,700 years ago. Other notable features of the park include its beautifully clear waters and highly photogenic scenery. 

Which president created the National Park System?

You can thank a group of what we probably call environmental activists today, for the 58 magnificent National Parks around the United States. Back in the mid-1800s, a movement began to ensure that America's greatest national treasures would belong to the people and remain untouched by human hands for future generations.

Foremost amongst them was the naturalist John Muir, whose prolific writings on the parks stressed how places of natural beauty are absolutely essential for a healthy soul. Muir's advocacy for preserving what would become National Parks became a driving force behind the movement.

Congress couldn't help but respond to calls from the public and steps were taken to make it happen. President Abraham Lincoln put Yosemite under the protection of California during the civil war.

Later, his former general, President Ulysses S. Grant, officially brought the necessary legal requirements into force for the creation of National Parks around the country. Shortly after, in 1872, Yellowstone became the United States' first National Park in history. 

Others soon followed and beginning in the later 19th Century, cultural sites like Arizona's prehistoric Casa Grande were also honored. 

During President Theodore Roosevelt's administration, the National Park system continued in earnest. 5 new parks were created as well as 18 national monuments, four national game refuges, 51 bird sanctuaries, and over 100 million acres (40 million hectares) of national forest.

What are the criteria for becoming a National Park?

According to The National Park System, for a potential site to be considered for National Park status, it must meet three important criteria. 

These are as follows: -

- It must possess a unique natural, cultural, or recreational resource,

- It must be in need of protection, and no organization other than the National Park Service would be able to secure adequate protection

- It must be able to be protected. (It is suitable and feasible to protect the area.)

Once candidate sites are shown to meet the above criteria, an Act of Congress is needed. This will only happen if the proposal is agreed by congressional committees who hold hearings on new proposals. 

Legislation authorizing a new unit will explain the purpose of the unit and outline any specific directions for additional planning, (if necessary) land acquisition, management, and operations.

How much do national parks make?

Apparently, America's National Parks make a significant contribution to the country's economy. Estimates for 2015 show that a whopping $32 Billion was generated from visits to National Parks throughout the year.

This cash was enough to support 300,000 jobs within the parks and surrounding areas. 

Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of National Parks Conservation Association said: -

“[This] report demonstrates once again that our national parks not only protect and preserve many of America’s landscapes and historic sites, they are also powerful economic engines for our country. Every dollar Congress invests in the National Park Service produces $10 in economic benefits nationally, which is one of many important reasons why it critical for Congress to better fund them."

2015 was a particularly healthy year for National Park tourism with an estimated 307 million visits through the year. 


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