The National Park System

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The United States is rich in natural wonderlands, famous historic places, and cities for many kinds of outdoors recreation. The Government has set aside more than 350 such areas to preserve them for the benefit and enjoyment of the people. All these areas are called parklands and they make up the national park system. They include parks, monuments, historic cities, memorials, cemeteries, seashores, lakeshores and battlefields. Even the White House and the Statue of Liberty are each part of the system.

The first national park in the world, Yellowstone National Park, was established by the US government in 1872. The National Park System developed with the creation of other parklands. Today, the system's parklands total about 125,000 square miles (321,000 sq. km) - an area larger than that of New Mexico. Every state, except Delaware, has at least one national parkland. The District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto-Rico, and the Virginian islands also have national parklands. National monuments include the Statue of Liberty, ancient national pueblos, and forts dating from colonial or revolutionary times. Among the historical areas are the homes of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy.

Nearly all the parklands of the national park system are managed by the national park service, a bureau of the US department of the interior. The director of the service names a superintendent to manage an individual or a group of area close together. Park rangers patrol the parklands to protect them from damage. Rangers also provide various services for visitors.

The National Park System consists of 20 types of areas, including national parks, national monuments, national memorials and national historic sites. The National Park Service acquires land of areas trough donations, exchanges, purchases, or reassignment of federal property. Many parklands include some land that the government doesn't own. The government is gradually acquiring these sections. 34 areas are owned by state, local or private agencies. The National Park Service may contribute funds or private technical advice at assistance to the agencies that manage these areas.

The different types of areas in the national park system are preserved for 3 basic reasons. Areas may have:

1. Beautiful and unusual nature features.

2. Historic value.

3. Attractive recreational features

Many areas are set aside for more than one reason.

Most national parks are preserved chiefly for outstanding beauty or scientific importance of their natural features. Mesa Verde National Park, however, is preserved mainly for its ancient Indian cliff dwellings. Many national monuments are preserved for unusual features. Among these are the Agate Fossil Beds, world-famous deposit of ancient animal fossils; and Death Valley, a desert with strange and beautiful rock formation in the earth's crust. Death Valley has the lowest land surface in the western hemisphere - 282 feet (86 meters) below the sea level. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska is the largest area in the National Park System. It is about twice as large as the state of Hawaii.

To keep parklands in their unspoiled condition, the balance of nature must be preserved. That is, the plant and animal life, is left as undisturbed, as possible. Fishing is allowed, but hunting, lumbering and mining are prohibited in most areas. Livestock grazing is limited and is steadily being eliminated. In most areas, water resources may not be used for such purposes as irrigation or the production of hydroelectric power.

The National Park Service encourages recreational activities in the parklands if they don't disturb the surroundings. The service tries to teach people about the natural processes that have made the land of each area what it is. Park rangers and other staff members are trained to explain natural and scientific features to visitors. The service also encourages research and educational activities in all the nation's parklands.

Areas preserved for their historic value include ancient ruins, such as remains of mound builders' towns at Ocmulgee National Monument. Others honor important people or events in the history of the USA. These areas include battlefields, forts, national cemeteries and memorials and historic bridges, buildings, dams, canals and farms. The most famous historic area is probably the White House.

The historical areas are made to look as much as possible as they did when they became popular. For example, staff members sometimes restore buildings and natural features, raise animals on the farms and wear clothing style from the past.

National recreation areas, national sea shores and national lakeshores provide water resources for outdoor activities. For example, 68 miles (109 km) white sand beaches and dunes line the Gulf of Mexico at Padre Island National Seashore. Its fishing, horseback riding, sailing and swimming attract visitors from all parts of the country.

In the other National Park System areas, such features as roads, trails, and water reservoirs have been developed to provide recreational opportunities. For examples, one of the world's largest artificially created lakes, 250 sq. mile (650 sq. km) Lake Mead, is a popular playground for water sports. Formed by Hoover Dam, the lake is part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

The park system also has cultural areas, which provide attractive settings for fine arts performance. One such area is the Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts in northeastern Virginia, which presents concerts and other fine arts programs in its 3,700-seat auditorium. Lawns around the auditorium provide seating space for additional 3,000 people.

Each year, more and more people seek a relaxing change from city life and everyday routine. In the mid-1980's, about 260 million recreational visits were made yearly to the nation's parklands. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most popular national parklands in the National Park System. It has more than 16 million visitors a year. This highway in the Blue Ridge Mountains winds from Virginia through North California and connects Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks.

Visitors and park rangers share the responsibility of protecting the parklands. Carelessness can start a forest fire that could destroy lives and valuable resources. Visitors are not allowed to remove or damage any natural feature - not even a flower. The National Park Service repeatedly warns the public not to feed, tease or touch any animals of the parklands.

Learning about a parkland beforehand will increase the enjoyment of a visit. Useful information includes the natural or historical features to look for, and why they are important. For an overnight stay, visitors should know whether the area has lodgings or campgrounds that will be opened. Other useful information includes available service and recreational activities, traveling roads and various fees.

Visitors should stop at parkland's visitor center for pamphlets and maps that tell about the area's features and activities. At many parklands, staff members are available for campfire talks, guided trips, and amphitheater programs.

About 2/3 of the parklands are free to the public. The others charge a daily entrance fee. Fees are $1 to $4 for people not entering by car and range, from $3 to $10 per carload. People under the age of 16 and organized groups of high school age pay no entrance fee.

The park service sells Golden Eagle Passports for $25 a year. They may be used at all parklands that charge entrance fee. People 62 or older may obtain a free Golden Age Passport. People who are blind, permanently disabled or eligible for disability benefits may obtain a free Golden Access Passport. These two passports offer the same privileges as the Golden Eagle Passport as well as 50 % discount on other fees.

Overnight lodgings vary in price, according to quality; they include cabins, cottages, lodges, motels, hotels and trailer villages. These lodgings, available in nearly 40 areas, are operated privately under contract with the National Park Service. Visitors should make reservations early. The busiest periods, except in warm climate, are from late May to mid October, and weekends and holidays the rest of the year.

Camping is permitted in about 100 national parklands - in the wilderness or on campgrounds. A wilderness site may be a great distance from such conveniences as drinking water and food supplies. Wilderness campers must notify the superintendent or a park ranger for their plans. Back-country camping opportunities are available in more than 100 parklands.

Inexperienced campers should camp on the campgrounds. Some of these sites have a few conveniences, and others have a wide variety, including play areas for children. Some campgrounds are designed for individuals or for families or for other small groups. Other sites are intended for large, organized groups, such as school groups. Reservations could be made for group sites. Commercial reservation service is available for a few very popular campgrounds.

The growing number of visitors put more and more pressure on the national parklands. Problems include demands for such basic service as food, water, lodging and transportation. Only through careful planning and management can these problems be handled without spoiling the parklands. Otherwise, overcrowding could result in too much automobile traffic, air pollution from automobile fumes and campfire smokes, dirty streams and jammed campgrounds.

The National Park Service has taken many steps to correct early mistakes in parkland development. It has tightened controls on air and water pollution, food supplies, and health care. In Yosemite National Park, for example, public transportation was begun to reduce automobile traffic. The National Park Service also cut the numbers of campers permitted in overcrowded Yosemite Valley.

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