Oklahoma City National Memorial is not a national park. One might therefore reasonably ask why the National Park Service advertises this site through its master website as though it were part of the National Park System.
The principal access portal for online information about the national parks is nps.gov. This URL is unquestionably one of the most important tools the Park Service provides to the public, and the prime reason is its wonderful search features.
Once a person has reached nps.gov, he/she can identify national parks in several ways. One way is to locate parks by geographic area. The NPS conveniently provides a map for that purpose (just click on the state or territory you are interested in) as well as a standard scroll down box (scroll to the state or territory you want). A search done this way will identify every national park in a particular state or territory.
Another option available at nps.gov is the Advanced “Find a Park” Search Tool. (That option is listed near the top of the page right under “Find a Park by State.”) Once you get into the advanced search section you can find a park by name, location, activity (hiking, boating, etc.), or topic (mountains, Civil War, etc.). In other words, you can refine your search.
If you already know the name of the national park and just want to go to that park’s homepage, you can use the View all Parks A-Z website. Although primarily suited to alphabetical searches, which are very fast and efficient, this site also allows you to search for parks by geographic area or zip code.
Can a person – say, a vacationer, journalist, or student doing a book report -- reasonably assume that the facilities and sites he/she is directed to via these search portals are actually national parks? Of course they can make that assumption. In fact, it is the sensible thing to do.
How sad, then, that you cannot trust the National Park Service’s main search tools to do what they purport to do. To understand these search tools and use them with confidence, you have to have special knowledge the public does not possess. You have to be “in the know.”
Take for example, Oklahoma City National Memorial. This fine facility, which commemorates the April 19, 1995, terror bombing that killed 168 people, is labeled a national park in the search tools. It is identified as such regardless of whether you search by geographic location or by name. In fact, search for it any way you like, and you will be led to believe that is a national park.
But it’s not a national park.
So, how does the National Park Service let you know that you’ve been directed to a national park that is not a national park? The Oklahoma City National Memorial website has a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section with fifty-five (55) asked-and-answered questions. (If this FAQs hasn’t set a world record for number of asked-and-answered questions, it’s got to be close.) OK, so start at the top of the list and start scrolling down. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Bingo! There it is, number 52 on the list, and this is how it reads:
52. Is this a Federal or State designated park?
The Oklahoma City National Memorial is an affiliated site of the National Park System, and is privately owned and administered by the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation. The National Park Service provides the interpretive services on the OUTDOOR SYMBOLIC MEMORIAL through a cooperative agreement with the Foundation.
Translation: This is not a national park.
It is used to be, though. The Oklahoma City National Memorial was established by the Oklahoma City National Memorial Act, which was signed into law on October 9, 1997, by President Bill Clinton. At this point, the site was a national park.
However, on January 23, 2004, President George W. Bush signed legislation that transferred the Memorial to the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation, the NGO that originally raised the money and built the Memorial and Museum. Under the terms of the agreement, the National Park Service continues to provide to the affiliated unit the same level of interpretive services it always has for the part of the facility consisting of the 3.3-acre Outdoor Symbolic Memorial, whose Gates of Time symbolically frame the moment of destruction (9:02 a.m.).
A cynic might ask whether the agreement also included a provision that the National Park Service must continue to advertise the site as though it were still a national park.