Once upon a time, there was a national park unit centered around fossilized plants. And there was another -- the country's second national park, actually -- that was located on an island in Lake Huron. But no more.
Almost 50 years ago, Congress decommissioned Fossil Cycad National Monument as a unit of the National Park Service, in large part because most of the fossils that had originally earned the monument its distinction had been pilfered from the area.
And then there was Mackinac National Park (later known as Mackinac Island National Park). It was established in 1875, just three years after Yellowstone National Park, in response to the popularity of the island as a summertime destination. Twenty years later, though, the federal government decommissioned the park and turned it over to the state of Michigan, which established it as its first state park.
Over the years, roughly two dozen national park units have either be decommissioned or turned over to another branch of government. For instance, Lewis and Clark Cavern National Monument was created by presidential proclamation on May 11, 1908, and then given to the state of Montana in August 1937. Papago Saguaro National Monument in Arizona was established by presidential proclamation in January 1914, and handed over to Arizona officials in 1930.
More recently, Oklahoma City National Memorial was deauthorized as a unit of the NPS on Jan 23, 2004 and turned over to the city. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts was created by an act of Congress in 1972, and transferred to the Kennedy Center Trustees by Congress in 1994.
For a look at a list of former Park Service units, check out this site.
And then ask yourself, are there Park Service units today that should be handed off either because they not longer are fitting or could be better managed by a different agency? Could some of the national recreation areas -- Lake Mead, say, or perhaps Golden Gate or Gateway -- find a better fit with some other agency? How 'bout if Golden Gate is handed off to the city of San Francisco, that Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is swapped to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, or that Gateway be given to a joint New York-New Jersey commission?
Should the Park Service, in these tough budgetary times, take a serious look at its 391 properties and propose some changes? Former U.S. Rep. Jim Hansen, a Republican from Utah, once suggested that Great Basin National Park be decommissioned, saying once you've been there there's no need to return.
Fortunately, Mr. Hansen didn't get his way. With its ancient trees, intriguing caverns, and alpine high country in the middle of the Great Basin, Great Basin National Park is certainly a unique landscape that fits well with the Park Service's mission.
But can the same be said of all 391 units? Should there really be a "Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial"?
Should the "National Park" Service be given responsibility solely for the 58 units that are called national parks? Should historical sites go to a "National History Service," and national battlefields be turned over to the Defense Department?
What do you think?