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.


There are still others today that could be pruned, producing benefits for both the park system and the individual units in question.

Glad to have some historical perspective on this issue.

Didn't Platt National Park get delisted into an NRA?

Anyone remember Sully's Hill National Park or Lewis and Clark Caverns?

Now as time went some sites actual were of national value and later became National Landmarks, namely the one in Georgia. I am not a fan of delisting but I will conseed in some areas. For example, the park I volunteer at, Boston Harbor Islands, should be both expanded and downsized, mainly two or three islands should be looked at to be delisted and the park should be expanded to include the ship wrecks and undisturbed areas of the sea floor. Also, In case any one is wondering the park is important because of its military history, the fact it is one of (I think) 4 drowned drumlin fields in the world, and the fact that they hold the oldest human remains ever found in New England (4,000 year old human remains were found on one of the islands).

I have no problems delisting, as pruning a tree sometimes increases the overall health of the plant.

Unless they've changed the rules, archeological sites don't qualify for National Park status solely on the basis of local or regional antiquity. Those types of sites come under the protective umbrella of other agencies and Lord knows the NPS can't afford to be in the business of protecting every site of presumed historical import, be it of recent vintage or pre-Cambrian Era.

It the NPS planning on going subterranean? I know their budget is........


Early in 1970 I shipped out of skid row Seattle on the Greyhound Line to work the Burlington Northern railroad tie-gang refurbishing track through Montana.

While our camp-cars were parked on a siding near at a spot called Whitehorse (or Whitehall?) along the Jefferson River, I spent off-time & weekends hiking down into the river-canyon, and overland into the surrounding hills.

One day I was a few hours back in the hills, came around a bend and here below me was an out-of-place fancy asphalt road, and off in the distance some kind of facility. I walked up the road and it was the Lewis & Clark Caverns, then a Nat'l Park. I had no inkling it was there!

Montana now has a nice webpage for the Caverns. Photographs, information, maps ... and links for all the little & big critters of the area, into a Field Guide they have posted. (Notice that they are using hydrologic data-layers for their distribution-maps ... hmm!)

But I agree, the cavern was just as well handled as a local feature, and nothing in particular indicated a need for Federal involvement. (I'm one of those who feel that we are better off if the Federal echelon handles only those matters which really require centralized authority, and all other matters be left to lower/local authorities & jurisdictions).

It was said the Native Tribes (and earlier inhabitants) hadn't used the cavern, and didn't even know about it ... something that always seemed unusual to me. Maybe more has come to light over the years...

I was really glad to spend a season in Montana!

I think to help solve the delisting problem the National Natural Landmark system needs to be reworked, because there are many places of national value that should be honored and could help greatly from this but probably would not make such a great National Park. Also, a local and regional designation should be created as well.

Other parks just need to be "refocused". For example, the NPCA believes that the Boston Harbor Islands should focus on there Native American history and as being used as concenstration camps (as it turns out almost all of them were) for Native Americans after the King Phillp's War. The park is sort of littered with Indian burial grounds. However, for better or worse the park is sort of a "new idea" because NPS does not run the park, has a spending limit, and only oversees and cordinates operations at the park. As for what I mean by worse one of the islands was developed as a sewer treatment plant when it arguably shouldn't have.

Beyond the Parks that were pruned in the 1930s, there is also at least one that should have been made a national park but wasn't. The area known now as Anza-Borrego Desert State Park became a 600,000 acre California state park instead and is said to be the second largest state park in the country. The story I've heard from the Park's foundation and research institute is that the area needed to be protected in the early 1930s and was being considered for a national park. But Congress was too busy with the Depression for the necessary designation process to happen. So it missed protection not because it wasn't national park quality, but because the timing of when it needed to be protected was off.

The sad part about it missing out on national park designation is that had it become a national park, it would have been spared what it's going through right now. Despite there being abundant viable alternatives, a local utility company wants to build a high-voltage transmission line through the heart of the park. It would go right through state-designated wilderness, federally designated critical habitat for endangered species, Indian burial grounds, you name it. Because it's a state park, not a national park, there's no guarantee that the line won't go through. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a National Natural Landmark and a UNESCO world desert biosphere reserve site, but none of those designations offer the protection of national park status.

"Because it's a state park, not a national park, there's no guarantee that the line won't go through."

There's no guarantee that NPS designation would help Anza-Borrego, either. The power line issue you reference has also been a threat to national parks, including Joshua Tree National Park. In January, it came to light that the federal government wanted to build a corridor through this and other federally protected areas. NPS and federal designation alone is not a "guarantee" of preservation; in fact, some argue just the opposite. Had the NPS acquired the state park, perhaps they would have built a massive visitor center over one of the burial grounds just like the NPS recently tried to build a massive structure in the MIDDLE of the Little Bighorn Battlefield site.

Several years ago Bonneville Power built a huge transmission line across Zion National Park which replaced and upgraded an older one. There was a great deal of fuss and bother by a variety of groups opposed to it who had argued that for a few dollars more the power line could've been placed underground along the highway right-of-way leading to Springdale and Zion HQ. Ultimately the NPS was most compliant with the power company and pooh-poohed all those who were concerned about the impacts this large and unsightly eyesore would generate upon a mostly unvisited corner of the park.

You can see it today on your way into Zion along Hwy. 9, as you crest the hill west of Rockville beneath the ramparts of Mt. Kinesava. There for all to see is the much vaunted "protection of national park status" writ large upon the Utah landscape.

@ Beamis (or anyone else who knows): Was the NPS sued in the Bonneville Power / Zion case for not protecting the Park's resources? Or was there something in the Park's original designation that allowed the power company to put through the power line? I'm asking because it's my understanding that sometimes there's a kind of time bomb in the original designation, just waiting to be triggered by a proposed industrial project.

Don't know the answer to that one. At the time the park service was peddling the line in public meetings that the power company was doing all it could to mitigate the negative impacts of the project and that it had even installed raptor shields on the transmission towers to keep hawks and eagles from getting fried by the high voltage. The resource management chief at the time was all ga-ga for these shields and didn't seem to be taking in the bigger picture when other issues were brought up at these meetings.

No one filed a lawsuit (it's Utah not California after all) but many in the local community felt that for all its talk about saving viewsheds by mitigating visual blight and restoring landscapes to their "pre-Columbian" pristine splendor the NPS had failed to even pay lip service to the notion that this was an unfortunate outcome for the park.

The power company was owned by a multi-national corporation at the time (Scottish Power) and they were unmoved to do anything other than the cheapest bottom-line job their bean counters in Europe had dictated. A sad day indeed for Zion.

I have said this before on the Traveler and I will say it again. We ought to be very careful when we talk about "delisting" NPS areas. Each generation of Americans gets tp add to the National Park System. speaking through their elected representatives, the areas it believes merit protection in perpetuity. As a matter of generational equity, if for nothing else, we owe these areas the highest standards of care. When I think of the areas that my generation has added--the Alaskan parks, MLK Jr., Kings Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains, etc., I would hate to think that some future generation would second guess us. Think about it.

Rick Smith


I totally agree.

The ebb and flow of units within the NPS isn't exactly the most catastrophic event that might occur within our lifetimes, or the blackest mark attributable to the current generation "in charge". The system as a whole is modified based on situational criterion that also possess the ability to ebb and flow along the lines of generational concerns, regarding issues environmental, cultural, political, and a governmental need to "pacify" any given local or regional authority, special interest, personal interest, or "other". Second guessing is in our nature....."armchair quarterbacking" is becoming almost a right of passage on all issues great and small. I personally wouldn't lose any sleep over it.

Beamis - Yes, Platt became an NRA and is now Chickasaw NRA


Yes, I agree

Rick Smith & Michael Kellett,

I have to agree with Lone Hiker. Little or nothing about the United States, its citizens or anything else human, is established in perpetuity.

Certainly - absolutely - as Rick said:

"We ought to be very careful when we talk about "delisting" NPS areas."
Being careful and using our best judgment in these matters goes without saying ... but we should certainly apply & exercise our judgment.

However, neither I nor my grandfather nor my grandchild possess the ability or circumstances to make decisions that are beyond review or second-guessing. If anything we create or decide survives perpetuity, it won't be due to our original far-sightedness.

Again, yes, as Rick says:

... "we owe these areas the highest standards of care."
Yes, of course - do our best by selections made in the past. But set the decisions of the former generations apart as inviolable and beyond review or reversal? Of course not. We can in no way afford to make our Grandparent's (or our own) judgment-calls 'untouchable'.

Rick concludes:

... "I would hate to think that some future generation would second guess us. Think about it.
I am thinking about, and I think that it is essential and in every human sense inevitable that those who come after me, will & ought to second guess me, will look at what I did from another point of view and through a different tint of glasses.

To create the first Parks where there had been none before required a major reexamination of the values & perceptions and fond recollections & preferences of the generations that preceded those who conceived the possibility of Nat'l Parks.

Had the practices & conclusions of earlier generations not been questioned & reversed, Rick & Michael, our Park system would never have come into existence in the first place!


You make very good points, and agree with you on many points, but we have to be careful what we call and define a National Park. A National Park does not have to be as grand as the Grand Canyon. The current system and definition has created both an imbalance and a misunderstanding. A National Park should represent what is important national and the best a region has which is important for everyone to have.

I might add that without second-guessing the NPS would still be having tourists come to enjoy the spectacle of bears eating garbage at the Yellowstone dump, while the deliberate killing wolves would continue to be standard operating procedure as would the stocking of streams with non-native species of fish and suppression of all fires.

Without second-guessing civilization ceases to move forward.

I agree with you, Beamis, that it is important to subject policies--feeding bears, killing wolves, etc.--to constant scrutiny. In my mind, "delisting parks" is a significantly different issue.

Rick Smith

Ted Clayton, there is a difference between the mature reflection of a nation and most of what we hear from people shaking their fist at the sky who complain about too many parks and parks that don't deserve designation. This is the context, I believe, of the Rick Smith remarks.

You may not know it but the effort to undermine wholesale the legitimacy of this category or that of national park system units has been going on since the 1970's. It is even accompanied by its own moronic literature, books like The Thinning of the Blood. You may be outside of it and do not associate your remarks with this context, but without a cultural sense that there is great reverence for a Generation's effort set aside for preservation what it considers the essence of what it Values, our cultural continuity really is in danger. Preservation decisions are not unlike supreme court precedents. They can be changed, but in the main great priority must always be given these commitments.

We are all facile enough to disparage the simple clarity of the concept of preservation, or to trivialize this or that example of government action. We can say that culture, language, taste, climate and nation-states are all forever changing, and so nothing really matters. But Rick Smith is exactly right at the core of this. It seems to me as a people in America we do seek to establish excellence in our culture and civilization. Like expanding freedom, we have to fight to retain these best elements of what is best in our civilization. We will lose the best if we cynically parce the very concept of reverence for the things that sustain the excellence of our culture.

As Rick says: "think about it."

I respectfully, disagree.

I for one believe that the country can definitely do without a park commemorating our nation's "copper smelting heritage", most of which was a Super Fund cleanup site to begin with. The Keweenaw National Historical Park in Michigan is a prime example of something that would have never been developed locally or at the state level and was from the beginning a very upfront attempt to use federal money to create a tourist destination in an economically depressed part of the country. The local congressman who pushed it through admitted as much.

Can we agree on at least one? There are others but let me take this momement to point to one very egregious example of abuse and say that it is very hard to deny that what we are looking at is obvious Congressional pork on display. This area is NOT nationally significant, nobody besides locals even knows where it is and it does not get very many curious tourists trekking into the U.P. to take in our rich heritage of copper smelting.

Rick I'm more than willing to second-guess the motivations of a Congress that thinks nothing of funding an unjust war and bridges to nowhere. If anything second-guessing is the only natural response a sentient being should have concerning the works of these criminal clowns.

Do you really think this obscure toxic wast dump of a park is up to the standards of "national significance"? I really have my doubts.

As I said there are many more.

The simplest answer is that "a national park is whatever Congress says is a national park." But many Park Service leaders, from Stephen Mather to James Ridenour, have been unwilling to accept this answer. Mather worried that "low-grade" parks would set a precedent for reducing the quality of existing parks. Creating a park that had a dam in it might justify damming the Grand Canyon. Creating a park that was heavily clearcut might justify clearcutting Yosemite. So early park advocates believed that parks should be limited to the most spectacular and pristine areas.

On this basis, 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. Mather also kept parks out of the system that were added after his death, including Grand Coulee, the North Dakota badlands, Washington's Lake Chelan, and the Indiana sand dunes.

In proposing such parks, members of Congress often hoped that the magic words "national park" would help stimulate local economies. If nothing else, the placement of rangers and visitors facilities would bring federal funds into the areas. Mather saw the political benefits of spreading parks across the nation, but was unwilling to degrade the system with substandard parks. Instead, he promoted state park status for areas that deserved protection but were not nationally significant.

More here

There are many examples of parks that could be "pruned" from the system and turned over to state or non-profits, as Mather once suggested.

Take Eugene O'Neill NHS: "This house is no more nationally significant than thousands of other buildings that were home, at one time or another, to various American writers and artists."

Frederick Law Olmsted NHS: "Frederick Law Olmsted was a big spender when it came to parks, but even he might shudder at the thought of spending $1.3 million per year to maintain a house, one acre, and a collection of documents that together serve an average of less than twelve visitors per day" [in the early 1990s--currently closed to visitation].

A smaller system means a more efficient system. The federal government simply cannot protect EVERYTHING worthy of protection, and an investigation should be undertaken to see which parks were established as pork barrel, and once decided, those parks should be turned over to other agencies. Pruning these units will only strengthen the entire system.

I do not believe in these kinds of exercises, but if we all sat around a table and listed the top ten NPS areas that we would prune, I suspect that our lists would be significantly different. And that's the rub. One person's pork barrel park is another person's crown jewel.

There is one other potential flaw in the ideas that have been expressed in this thread. I'm not sure I know of one state or one NGO that would willingly accept the financial and supervisory responsibility involved in assuming the management of a national park area. In fact, as we know from history, it is much more likely that local and state jurisdictions try to pass their areas on to the NPS--Gateway and Golden Gate are two good examples.

This has been a fun, stimulating discussion. I hope we can have more of them like this.

Rick Smith


Keweenaw National Historical Park is an interesting example. First of, the places with in the park were already designated a National Landmark before it became a National Historical Park, second, is economic development really such a bad thing, and third is where a park located really matter. However, I also agree with you on many levels and that the "park" should never had been created.

My belief is that the Keweenaw National Historical Park should have been designated a National Heritage Area under the administration of the. This would have given the place the economic benefits the local congressmen wanted, as well all of the other untold benefits that come with a "national title". Nevertheless, it was probably pushed to be designated a "National Historical Park" for a couple of reasons: 1. to get "mitigation funding" to help pay for turning it into a park, and 2. thanks to our current environmental laws get more funding on top of the mitigation funding (which is a benefit of being a NPS unit) to pay for cleaning it up.

Keweenaw National Historical Park also highlights another problem with the National Park System, its increasing reliance on "Mitigation Funding". This is becoming a serious problem because many NPS units have been manipulated to maximize this type of funding. Some parks are improperly designated. Other parks are too small and don't include areas they should. While even more are too large and include areas they shouldn't or NPS shouldn't deal with. However, it can get even more troubling when combinations of all three.

The most recent, and quite obvious, example of this the Lower Taunton river being included in the legislation. This my friend is an example of a park being larger than it should to maximize "mitigation funding" using what I call a mitigation zone.

And Frank,

That site you talk about acts a research center doing both historical and archeological surveys, which is why it costs so much money to run. Moreover, I do agree with you that the NPS shouldn't protect everything and 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".


Heritage Areas should not be considered as "substandard parks," or at least National Heritage Areas should not be.

In many cases the resources should be as significant, or more, than any national park. Rather, they are places where the story cannot be properly told unless the resource is in multiple ownership, where living communities are part of the story, and an effective partnership strategy can allow the significant resource character to be sustained and protected. Often, this strategy can include appropriate economic development or land protection strategies.

They are not just a category to dump some substandard resource. They are exemplars of distinctive living landscapes. The good ones are, in their way, equal to the best national parks. This won't last long if we think they are dumping grounds.

Lepanto said:

... "Rick Smith is exactly right at the core of this."

On the contrary, it is precisely at the core of it, that he sets fact & reason aside.

On the periphery of it, Rick made several valuable statements, and I acknowledged that. His core assertion, however (that "generational equity", etc., precludes second guessing previous decisions), is not only fallacious, it's nonsense.

Every action that our government has taken previously - including the National Parks - is subject to review by us. The Constitution itself is second guessed (as a national hobby, it seems!).

We cannot stipulate that our personal-favorite enactments of the past are now beyond the reach of the citizens, not only because our better principles abrogate the proposition, but because the citizens will reach past us and act as they chose. We may even incite the action, by trying to stifle it!

The way to protect our favorite decisions of the past is not to deny the citizen's access to them, but to work to increase the value of them in her mind, and heart. We cannot protect any decisions by fiat: trying will more likely lead to defamation, than reverence.

After taking many South Carolina history classes in middle and high school while I was growing up in Charleston, the significance of Castle Pinckney was certainly under the radar and was hardly mentioned. It's a shame Congress turned it back to local government when it could have been protected as part of Fort Sumter National Monument just like Fort Moultrie is today so that the public could learn of its significance.

Now, as a resident of Colorado, I've learned that many people revere the Wheeler Geologic Area as one of the most unique, scenic and hard-to-get-to geological spectacles in the state. Perhaps it should have remained a unit of the NPS, just left undeveloped and relatively inaccessible so that it could be protected under NPS standards without having to endure the impacts visitation as high as surrounding parks. I never knew about Holy Cross. Interesting.

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.

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.

"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.


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.

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.

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.


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.

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.