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“There’s Only 58, So Get Over It!”


truncate (TRUNG-kate) v. To shorten, as by cutting off.

My cousin Barb’s husband Jim is doubly entitled to be a crusty old bugger, being a retired police officer (he was a Captain on the Berkeley, California, police force) and a retired full-bird Colonel (USAF). Every time I visit Jim at his Bay Area home, he and I spend a lot of time discussing things. We do love to get under each other’s skin. Jim is an S.O.B. (Sweet Old Buddy) and I am a PCPWHNIHTWRW (Pinko College Professor Who Has No Idea How the World Really Works). Barb referees our discussions, being careful to duck out of the way and shield her ears when we really get into it.

During my most recent visit to the Left Coast, Jim and I were discussing national parks and he was rattling on about how he and Barb intended to visit all of them before they died. I told him that he’d have to step up the pace if he expected to visit all 391 before we planted him. He told me that he only has to visit 58, there being only 58 National Park System units designated National Park. He added that I was sadly uninformed for a geography professor, and that he intended to live long enough to dance on my grave. He did not actually say “dance.”

This conversation took place last January, and I thought I had paid no heed to Jim’s argument. (After all, I almost never pay serious attention to anything that Jim says.) But just recently I noticed that my use of national park terminology has shifted perceptibly. In the past few months I’ve gotten into the habit of referring to the 58 national park-designated units as national parks and the rest as simply NPS units.

Without benefit of conscious decision, I have subscribed to the notion that “All national parks are NPS units, but not all NPS units should be called national parks.” In other words, I have, at least at some subconscious level, come around to Jim’s way of thinking.

What a revolting development! The very thought that Jim will now be given free rein to gloat is almost more than I can bear. I briefly considered not telling him about my cognitive conversion but decided that this would be the coward’s way out. So, when I see him next month (the three of us are going to visit Redwood and Crater Lake together) I’m going to tell him that, after allowing for legitimate differences of opinion, and with due regard for his woeful ignorance of enabling legislation, Congressional intent, Supreme Court rulings, and National Park Service traditions, policies and practices, it may be technically appropriate for him to truncate his national park life list at 58.



Sorry, I wasn't arguing that the park & preserve units shouldn't be counted twice.

The San Jose Mercury News has an article today:
"What's in a name? Congressman wants to put Pinnacles on the National parks A-list"

The article is pretty good: it notes both the perception of "higher profile" for parks, and "As a practical matter, there's not much difference what a national park property is called."

Rep Farr, the congressman, is wrong about Pinnacles being the only national park in the US where you can see condors: you can see them in Grand Canyon.

And, as a bonus, the article even cites a previous comment from National Parks Traveler!

Whether 'Park' or 'Recreation Area,' I hope that Mr. Pallone now walks his talk by getting support for the money for Sandy Hook.

Personally, I don't think he has enough support in Congress or with the Administration to support any initiative. But it would be great if he did, and if Sandy Hook, within Gateway, could finally live up to its potential. There are fine resources there, national landmark historic structures, and a beautiful beach close to large populations. But people think Gateway managers have been focused on the New York part of the 'recreation area' and ignore the New Jersey parts.

Whatever, Rangertoo, maybe you are right the name IS meaningless! But the resources DO need help from someone smart and able, whether in park management or from political supporters.

To quote from the article on Sandy Hook posted 8/13 on this website:

"The decision was quickly applauded by U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., who previously had called for an investigation into the Park Service's actions over the lease.

"The National Park Service's decision today is a major victory for New Jersey and the Sandy Hook Unit of Gateway National Park," Congressman Pallone said in a release. "This is a tremendous opportunity for the state, the federal government, local universities and other public entities to become engaged in the restoration of Fort Hancock. It is important that any redevelopment plan does not include commercialization of our national park."

Congressman Pallone seems to be confused. Is Gateway a national PARK? He thinks so.

While regulations may not be much different between park designations, that does not mean that "nothing changes."

Those of us who are familiar with NPS operations know that the real rules for how parks are managed are not in the Code of Federal Regulations, but in park management plans. Are different units designated differently managed differently, with different emphasis on resource protection vs. development and tourism? You can bet your bippy.

Dear tomp:

just to pick nits, a "national park" and a "national preserve" are separate units of the National Park System, established separately by the Congress. So they should be "counted twice" as you noticed.

Even when you see the area(s), for example, referred to as "Wrangel-St. Elias National Park and Preserve" by the National Park Service. A 'park and preserve' is just an administrative concoction, not a legal designation.

Wrangel St. Elias National Park is a separate unit from Wrangel St. Elias National Preserve.

There is a movement afoot to name every Unit a "national park,' but it will be interesting to see how they deal with situations like Wrangels or Gates of the Arctic NP/Preserve. The reason the were designated, in Alaska, differently is because the Government of Canada and many US conservationists reacted so strongly to the NPS proposal that sport hunting be permitted in the new, proposed, 'National Parks' in Alaska. Canada pointed out that many countries in the world had taken the NPS lead that the park designation would mean: NO SPORT HUNTING. At some political peril, it took political discipline for these countries to hold the line, and they expected the NPS to show some guts as well.

Plus, when Yellowstone was established the term "conserve" the wildlife was taken to be a term of art to mean: NO SPORT HUNTING. NPS even won a case against the National Rifle Association based on the idea that under the 1916 Act 'conserve' when it applied to an NPS Unit meant no hunting.

There is an argument that the 'park/preserves' in Alaska are not actually distinct units when it comes to the character of the area: all those alaskan areas are geographically unified places. But, it will take an Act of Congress to unify them, and it would be really dumb to have TWO Wrangels, if they simply rename all existing Units of the NPS "national park."

But the National Preserves in the lower 48 -- unlike the "park/preserves" of Alaska -- have integrity as areas distinctive for their ecological purposes, to be managed (like wildlife refuges) consistent with their specific features and needs.


I tried but I can't help you with 391 units. If you look at the NPS Planning site:
you get a list of 467, which includes administrative offices.

If you go to the public use site
and select Annual Park Type Report for 2008, you get visitation numbers from 358 :
10 National Battlefields
1 National Battlefield Park
74 national historic sites
43 national historic parks
4 national lakeshores
27 national memorials
9 national military parks
69 national monuments
58 national parks
4 national parkways
9 national preserves
17 national recreation areas
1 national reserve
4 national rivers
10 national seashores
7 national wild & scenic rivers
11 "Park (Other)"

The internal NPS site has a "NPS Park Unit List" of 466 names, with flags indicating whether that name is not in the 390 units, is counted once in the 390 units, or is counted twice in the 390 units (park & preserve). I've posted a pdf version on the public side at:
The 391st unit might be Flight93 Memorial.

And, don't forget that several Clinton-era National Monuments are administered by BLM (1 by FS) and thus don't count in the 391 number.

Anon, If you're simply after a handy reference source for the national parks, I suggest that you download a copy of the new NPS Index 2009-2011 to your desktop. It's available online in two versions. You'll find the pdf version at The index lists national parks by state, with affiliated areas, wild & scenic rivers, and national trails at the rear. The alphabetical index, which begins on page 119, lists all the parks, affiliated areas, wild & scenic rivers, and national trails. It is current through January 2009.

I have found numerous mistakes in Wikipedia articles about national parks, including many I personally consider to be serious. I'm not going to joust with anybody about what is serious and what is minor. Accuracy matters, period. I stand by my original advice: Never use a Wikipedia article as a primary information source if a more reliable source is readily available. I do encourage people to fix the problems in the Wikipedia articles if they have the expertise, time, and inclination.

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