What is the National Park Service?

Writer and historian Wallace Stegner once referred to our national park system as the “best idea we ever had.”

The National Park Service (NPS) was created by Congress following President Woodrow Wilson’s signing of the Organic Act in 1916, which was designed to preserve and protect parks for the “enjoyment of future generations.”

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By the 1930s, military parks and national monuments were added to the national preservation movement, along with national parkways, seashores, and urban parks that would be developed in the years to come. The single, largest addition to our nation’s park system occurred when nearly 47 million acres in Alaska were added.

Today the national park system includes more than 400 national parks and sites, many of which beautifully illustrate our nation’s illustrious – and often sobering – past. Recent statistics show that more than 275 million people visit our national parks every year.

The National Park Service by the Numbers

The NPS, which is an agency within the Department of the Interior, works with an annual operating budget of more than $2.75 billion, in addition to another $5.4 billion in preservation and outdoor grants. The NPS now currently oversees:

  • 84 million acres of land
  • 4.5 million acres of oceans, lakes and reservoirs
  • 85,000 miles of perennial rivers and streams
  • Nearly 69,000 archeological sites
  • More than 43,000 miles of shoreline
  • 27,000 historic structures
  • More than 2,400 national historic landmarks
  • 582 national natural landmarks
  • 400 endangered species
  • 401 national parks
  • 49 national heritage areas
  • 25 battlefields or military parks
  • 18 recreation areas
  • 10 seashores
  • 4 parkways
  • 4 lakeshores
  • 2 reserves
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Other interesting facts about our national park system:

  • Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest park at more than 13 million acres.
  • Yellowstone National Park was established by Congress as the nation’s first national park in 1872 (before the creation of the National Park Service.
  • The Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial is the tiniest park in the system at just two-tenths of an acre.
  • The National Park Service generates 252,000 jobs for local economies every year.
  • The National Park Service provides $13 billion in local economic impact every year.
  • In 2012, more than 27 million people attended more than 735,000 special events and ranger programs at national parks.
  • In 2012, more than 800,000 children participated in the NPS’ Junior Ranger Program.
  • More than 275,000 Volunteers-in-Parks (VIPs) donate about 6.4 million hours every year.

National Park Service’s Preservation Efforts

The NPS provides habitat protection for 421 species of threatened or endangered animals and plants. It also ensures the preservation of more than 1.5 million archeological sites and more than 27,000 historic and prehistoric structures.

Further, the NPS also oversees the preservation of historically or culturally significant museum items, such as George Washington’s inaugural coat.

The NPS oversees everything from the habitat of the Alaskan brown bear to the towering Giant Sequoia trees, the world’s largest living things. The longest cave system in the world, Mammoth Cave National Park, is part of the NPS’ preservation efforts, as is Mt McKinley in Denali National Park, the highest point in North America.

National Park Service Partnerships

In addition to maintaining and preserving our national park system, the NPS is also deeply involved with programs that help native tribes, local governments, businesses, and citizens revitalize communities, preserve and celebrate local history, and provide our children and families with safe places to enjoy the outdoors.

Likewise, many partners, communities and citizens help the NPS advance its mission. In fact, each year more than 150 non-profit park friends and groups contribute more than $50 million to national parks across the country. The National Park Foundation is also instrumental in creating partnerships and distributing grants to our national park system. In the past seven years, the Foundation has awarded more than $137 million grants to the NPS. An additional 65 cooperating associations provide more than $26 million to the NPS in annual contributions.

National Park System Workforce

The NPS has a force of 28,000 year-round employees and more than two million volunteers, in addition to their seasonal workforce. The NPS workforce includes employees from nearly all backgrounds. The largest group of employees within the NPS is park rangers, with more than 3,800 working year-round for this federal agency. The NPS employs general park rangers, law enforcement rangers, cultural/interpretive park rangers, ranger cadets, and supervisory park rangers, all of whom are responsible for carrying out the NPS’ mission of protecting and preserving our national park system and ensuring the safety and enjoyment of the people who visit it.

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The NPS also supports jobs in the following areas. The number shown for each represents how many NPS professionals work in these positions:

  • Forestry technicians: 320
  • Human resource specialists: 383
  • Ecologists: 218
  • Facility managers: 313
  • Archeologists: 201
  • Historians: 183
  • Information management specialists: 383
  • Maintenance mechanics: 2,080
  • Museum professionals: 330
  • Park police: 580

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