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Pruning the Parks: Six National Parks Acquired via Transfer in 1933 Were Subsequently Abolished


Castle Pinckney, a tiny island in the Charleston, South Carolina harbor, used to be a national park. Photo by aconaway1 via Flickr.

The National Park System grew by 69 units via the Reorganization of 1933, which was signed August 10, 1933. However, six of the “1933T” (1933 transfer) national parks were subsequently abolished.

Among the 12 natural area parks and 57 historical parks transferred to the National Park System via the Reorganization of 1933 were various parks that, for one reason or another, did not belong in the system. It took time to sort this out. The first pruning of the 1933T parks occurred in 1944, and by 1956 five more had been delisted.

The first 1933T park to be delisted was Chattanooga National Cemetery in Tennessee. This national cemetery was originally established under the War Department by Army general order on Christmas Day, 1863. An act of Congress returned it to the War Department on December 7, 1944. See this site for additional information about Civil War national cemeteries.

Five year later, on September 7, 1949, Congress transferred the Father Millet Cross National Monument to the state of New York. Situated on the Fort Niagara Military Reservation, the Father Millet Cross unit had been established under War Department administration by presidential proclamation on September 5, 1925. The focal feature of the park was the site where Father Pierre Millet, a Jesuit priest, had erected a cross on Good Friday, 1688, to invoke God's mercy for the starving, plague-stricken garrison of historic Fort de Nonville. The original cross had long since disappeared.

On August 3, 1950, Congress pruned two more 1933T’s, both in Colorado. Wheeler National Monument, which had been originally established under the Forest Service by presidential proclamation on December 7, 1908, was returned to the Forest Service. Also returned to the Forest Service was Holy Cross National Monument, which had been originally established under the Forest Service by presidential proclamation on May 11, 1929. The Wheeler site focused on volcanic ash deposits deemed of insufficient quality for national park status. The Holy Cross site, which was very lightly visited, focused on a geologic feature deemed to have been so badly eroded that it was no longer exceptional.

Georgia’s New Echota Marker, which was originally authorized under the War Department by act of Congress on May 28, 1930, was transferred to the state of Georgia via on act of Congress on September 21, 1950. Located near Calhoun, Georgia, the marker was erected to honor Cherokees who died on the Trail of Tears. The site was deemed to be of state park caliber.

The last 1933T unit to be pruned was South Carolina's Castle Pinckney National Monument, a small island in Charleston harbor that had housed a Civil War prisoner of war camp and artillery position. Established under the War Department by presidential proclamation Oct. 15, 1924, Castle Pinckney was transferred to the state of South Carolina after an act of Congress on March 29, 1956, reclassified it as surplus property.

The 63 other 1933T parks have survived the test of time and are still in the system.


Beamis - Platte National Park did indeed get incorporated into a National Recreation Area - the Chickasaw NRA, which is still part of the National Park System to this day.

Lepanto - I agree with you that this is what National Heritage Areas are supposed to be, but unfortunately Congress has viewed them as an opportunity to slap the NPS Arrowhead on whatever locally-run historical and cultural sites are in the area. In practice, its sadly been even worse than the current "name game" redesignation wave for places like Congaree and Cuyahoga Valley.


I think we agree on the goals here. The question is how best to get there. We have a number of alternatives, none of which is perfect. So we have to use the best one we have and try to make it work as well as possible. Although they are not perfect, national parks -- and wilderness -- have tremendous potential to preserve our natural and cultural treasures. Clearly, we have not taken full advantage of that potential. And, in recent years, we have slid backward, as you have pointed out. What is missing is a citizens movement that demands that our policy makers strengthen, improve, and expand our National Park System. We need to build that movement, the sooner the better.

I'd be with you, Michael, given a few things.

I don't think NPS protection is enough. I think the Organic Act is flawed in that it has been twisted to allow the over development of our wild areas. When you say that a park is 97% wilderness, it is meaningless to me. How can an area be wild with roads slicing through it? (This is a rhetorical question and would result in a long philosophical debate in which I will not participate.)

If other federal areas are turned into national parks, I worry that the government will pave roads, build tunnels, erect massive visitor centers; in short, the NPS will promote industrial tourism over preservation as it has for almost a century.

Yes, clear cutting is horrible and ugly and should stop and shouldn't be subsidized by taxes. And what the Forest Service has done in Oregon and Washington, throughout the entire country, including what they did to the sequoia groves in SNF in the 1980s, is horrible. But it did it because it was pressured by interest groups. And the Park Service would further develop these areas because it, too, would be pressured by interest groups. Is clearcutting old growth timber in a sequoia grove worse than digging a sewage line through the Grant Tree's root system? Indisputably. But why should we accept either?

I want a new system that really preserves, rather than "developing", what's left rather while paying lip service to preservation. Once that system is in place, and can isolate those areas from political pressure, then I'd be on board with moving many of the areas you've mentioned into that system.

Perhaps such a system is in place through the Wilderness Act, but unfortunately, it is too slow a process as Congress sits on proposals for decades. Again, the current system, in my opinion, is highly ineffective and dysfunctional.

It's through dialog like this that solutions can be found. Let's hope that we can find some kind of solution; the future of our special places depends on it.

FrankC and Ted,

I appreciate your comments, even where we may disagree. As for my previous comments, I wrote them after a long day and I apologize if some things were not well stated. Here is a little more explanation, responding to both of your comments.

Permanence. I did not mean to imply that the U.S. government was guaranteed to be permanent. My point was that it’s about the closest we can get. Yes, the UK’s government is older, which reinforces my argument that if we (or the citizens of any other country) want to give lasting protect to land, a national government provides the greatest likelihood of making it happen.

U.S. Forest Service vs. Park Service. The only reason Mount Adams is protected is that 47,000 acres were designated as wilderness by the Congress in 1964, against the wishes of the Forest Service. Outside of the wilderness, most of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest has been logged, and only a few scattered roadless areas remain intact outside of wilderness areas. And the Forest Service has mismanaged nearby Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument to such a degree that there is growing support for transferring it to the National Park Service. In contrast, Mount Rainier National Park has preserved the forest for 109 years and 228,480 acres – 97% of the park -- is designated wilderness.

Eliminating National Parks. My early 20th century comment was meant to refer to the point FrankC made that Stephen Mather worked to limit the number of parks. I was contending that that many of those who advocate off-loading parks seem to be reflecting that view. Sorry that my comment came out somewhat garbled on that point. I do agree with Ted that there is little chance that many or even some parks will be offloaded. However, my concern is that the arguments used to justify such an action are undermining efforts to create new national parks.

Affording National Parks. Many of the lands that are suitable for new national park designation are already federal lands. We are already paying to manage these public lands. In fact, we would save money in many cases by transferring the lands to the National Park Service. For example, 1,067,013-acre Mount Hood National Forest, some of which has been proposed as a national park, has an annual budget of about $20 million. The forest receives about 4 million visitors per year. But most of its budget goes to subsidized logging, roadbuilding, and other destructive activities. In contrast, Olympic National Park, about the same size at 922,651 acres and with more than 3 million visitors, has an annual budget of about $10 million – half the size of the Mount Hood National Forest budget. Most of those funds go to visitor services and facilities, stewardship, public education, monitoring, and research, not resource exploitation.

National Parks Funding. There is plenty of federal money. It’s a matter of directing it to national parks, instead of any number of less worthy programs. This includes reviving and expanding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which could provide $900 million each year for acquisition. We should reverse the unhealthy dependence on fees and corporate funding. The growing concern regarding global climate change will almost certainly result in funds being available to acquire forests grasslands, and wetlands to sequester carbon and protect resilient ecosystems that can adapt to the changing climate. Some of these funds could be used to acquire new national parks and other public lands. It is already being done on a small scale in Tensas National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana. Finally, there are more billionaires and millionaires today than ever before and some have been buying land to create new national parks in Argentina, Chile, and other countries. We need that same kind of leadership for our own national parks, as well.

Political Reality. I agree that things have been politically tough. But we can’t wait 20 years, or even 10 years, for politics to move our way on its own. We are losing more and more land each day to exploitation and development. National parks have always been politically difficult to create. Our existing parks only happened because of the hard work of dedicated citizen activists. It can happen again. We need to change the political reality. A number of grassroots groups are already doing that by advocating new national parks from Maine to California. They know that the American people love parks and will support new ones, given half a chance. The centennial of the National Park Service provides a milestone for a major new initiative. The time is now. Future generations will thank us for it.


My crystal ball is as murky & cracked as all the others ... but the economic challenges we are experiencing now seem to be associated with basic 'structural' factors - domestic & global - that suggest we could be at the beginning of an historically difficult era. Going forward, the budget-conditions at NPS could even deteriorate.

The timing for a massive expansion of the Nat'l Parks does not look auspicious.

Many States are - like the NPS - on hard times and in budget-crisis. Notably, it tends to be resource-based regions that are relatively well-off. Those that have a prospect for resource-enterprises are moving concertedly to - among other things - protect those prospects from protection.

That means "land". Land to drill, log, tunnel and otherwise extract resource from. Large swaths of Arizona and Utah are current in discussions here on the Traveler ... and actively under multi-pronged development-exploration.

Suggestions to expand the Park system in a serious way will often collide with the plans of States where available lands might be reclassified ... from open to development to no longer open ... against their wishes. The Federal government is in some of these cases quite energetic partners with the State & corporate spheres, to promote the prospects of development.

Public opinion is marching steadily higher in favor of robust action on the energy-front, and this could translate fairly directly into broad support for old-fashioned 'industriousness'.

In 20 years things might be looking up for us again, and a little gravy might start showing up on these 'captive' budgets like the NPS. For now though, we seem to be stuck with various defensive strategies & postures. It looks more like a time for hanging on to what we got, than launching large-scale acquisition programs.
Actually, Michael, I'm not seeing much likelihood for the off-loading of major Park assets. I know this can be a subjective call (what's a jewel and what's half-baked), but pawning off or shutting down anything that has wide-spread name-recognition with the general public carries serious risks.

It's all fine 'n good to have a local dust-up like at Cape Hatteras, but when the general public starts to ventilate and the winds & thunderheads start to buffet Congress ... the GOP and the Democrats ... threatens the seat-distribution in the next ballot - well, that's something else entirely. I expect the occasional Park disposition to remain largely unknown (admittedly traumatic to some) and to generate no significant low-pressure cell over the nation.

That means, to me, that the Nat'l Park System as we know it will remain not only intact, but essentially indistinguishable from what it is now.

I doubt the Parks are going anywhere, and would harshly oppose any general 'sell-off' ... as would, I'd guess, about 60 million other voters. To waken the Sleeping Giant this way would be too much of a political debacle.

"America's federal government is the closest thing to perpetuity that we will get. It is literally the oldest democracy, and one of the oldest continuous governments, on earth."

First, America's government is not a democracy. It is a republic. We don't pledge allegiance to the flag, and to the democracy, for which it stands. At the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin told an inquisitive citizen that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention gave the people “a Republic, if you can keep it.” Perhaps we are now wallowing in a pure democracy, something the founders fought against, but the original intent of the Constitution was to establish a republic. John Adams was particularly concerned about the mob rule of democracy, and many founders vociferously expressed objections to the "tyranny of the majority" that is pure democracy.

Secondly, calling 232 years "the closest to perpetuity that we will get" seems exaggerated. And as for continuous governments on earth, the USA can't compare to the UK. Other longer-lasting governments have come and gone. What makes ours a certainty to endure? Our empire is crumbling under the weight of a Byzantine bureaucracy and an unsustainable empire with military bases in 120 countries.

How can the talk of getting rid of parks be early 20th century? There were only five or six national parks in 1904. Who was talking about getting rid of them? I do know that Joaquin Miller was critical of the government building houses, hotels, and roads of any sort next to Crater Lake in 1905.

The last I checked, the Forest Service and Yakama Indian Reservation were doing a fine job keeping large-scale development away from Mt. Adams. No massive, inefficient, and arguably ugly visitor centers along the lines of the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center at Rainier are planned. As far as threats to the other areas you mentioned: if they were not under federal jurisdiction and subject to the pernicious effects of lobbyists and sell-out politicians, the threats arguably wouldn't exist.

How will the federal government pay for this tripling of national parks? How can it pay to maintain 1,000 national parks when it can barely pay for the 300 under its purview? The federal government can't even afford to pay for soap in the Mt. Rainier National Park campgrounds.

Ted, et al.,

Nothing in the universe is totally permanent. But in the world of human institutions, America's federal government is the closest thing to perpetuity that we will get. It is literally the oldest democracy, and one of the oldest continuous governments, on earth.

Certainly state governments are not as likely to keep areas protected for a century or more -- virtually none have to date. And there is no large-scale private holding that has been protected for anywhere near that amount of time. So the claim that special places would be as well off in state or private hands is based on ideology, not reality.

Once you offload a national park area, it's done. It's virtually irreversible. I think it's very interesting that there is such a fervor today for decommissioning national parks. It is an artifact of the anti-federal/anti-public Reagan and post-Reagan era. And we have see how well that ideology has worked for America.

I am totally willing to revisit old ideas. One example is the Mather/Albright concept that we should ration national park designations. That was an artifact of the days when much of America was undeveloped and it was almost unimaginable that the entire country could be developed. My guess is that they would have a very different take in light of today's realities. With the extinction crisis, global climate change, and the need to offer more open space near major populations, that approach makes absolutely no sense.

Ironically, every Mather-opposed area listed in FrankC's quotation from anti-public land advocate Randall O'Toole is seriously threatened and should be designated as a national park area as soon as possible:

Mather opposed many proposals for national parks--including parks at Lake Tahoe, Wasatch in Utah, Big Horn in Wyoming, Sawtooth in Idaho, and a Cascades park in Oregon and Washington that would cover Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and other Cascades peaks.

So, yes, I agree that we need to constantly reassess. And when we do that today, there is an overwhelming argument that our current National Park System is woefully small. We need a dramatic expansion of the system, to protect dozens of imperiled natural areas, to ensure the protection all of the nation's more than 100 ecoregions, and to bring more parks to the people. The talk of getting rid of parks is so early 20th century. We need to double or triple the National Park System, the sooner the better.

Rick makes a good point about some state park systems not being able to take NPS units due to their own quagmires of funding and political issues. I hadn't fully considered that.

I also think Chris is onto something with his notion that "the system would benefit if more parks were run as affiliated areas not run or funded by the federal government but governed by federal law, monitored by NPS, and have a title that comes the economic benefit that of gaining a 'national title'." This might provide a nice middle ground for those who call for complete severing of federal ties and those who cling to federal administration.

Ted also makes a great point that past political decisions should be subject to review. Jefferson thought that the dead should not rule the living and that the nation should adopt a new constitution every 19 years (although some argue that Jefferson was referring to being saddled with debt by previous generations).

At any rate, this is a fruitful discussion. I am happy to be a part of it.

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