online book
cover to Family Tree of the National Park System
NPS Family Tree




current topic Introduction

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII



Family Tree of the National Park System
National Park Service Arrowhead


In the century between 1872 and 1972 the National Park System grew from a single, original great public reservation called Yellowstone National Park to embrace almost 300 natural, historical, recreational, and cultural properties situated throughout the United States, its territories, and island possessions. These properties came to include increasingly diverse categories of areas — not only National Parks, but also National Monuments, National Memorials, National Military Parks, National Parkways, National Recreation Areas, National Seashores, National Scenic Riverways, National Scenic Trails, and others. How did this remarkable growth and diversification occur? Does it make sense today? The simplest way to answer these questions and comprehend the long evolution of the National Park System is through the use of a very old device, a chronological diagram, in brief a National Park System Family Tree, which accompanies this publication.

diagram of NPS family tree
(click on image for a larger size ~265kb)

The Family Tree has several roots, a main trunk, and seven branches that illustrate the diverse origins and later growth of the principal parts of the System. The main trunk of the tree is the National Park line, which begins in 1872 with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the world. The several roots converge upon and are incorporated into this main trunk at two major junctures, one in 1916 when the National Park Service was established, and the second in 1933 when all Federal park properties were consolidated by the Reorganization of 1933. Thereafter the System grew in size and scope through three decades from 1933 to 1964. In 1964 it was redefined by identifying three major categories of areas—natural, historical, and recreational—and by assigning each unit to its appropriate category. Separate but interdependent administrative policies were then developed for each category. The System continued to grow vigorously between 1964 and 1972 and a new category of cultural parks was added. The Family Tree ends with a diagrammatic illustration of the status of the System as of March 1, 1972, the beginning of the National Parks centennial year.

The following sections describe and interpret the various roots and branches of the Family Tree, here called lines, and contain detailed chronologies identifying the place of each unit in the System. The date selected for each area is, with a few exceptions, the date of the earliest enabling legislation, executive proclamation, or departmental order authorizing or establishing the area. When a National Monument later became a National Park both dates are shown. Dates of some of the most significant general legislation affecting the National Park System and some other related events are also included. The Family Tree illustrates the cumulative achievements of successive Congresses over almost two centuries in preserving major elements of the Nation's historic and natural heritage and gradually uniting them into one National Park System for the benefit of all the people.


Last Modified: Sat, May 12 2001 10:08 am PDT

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