As of this writing, there are 397 national parks -- or as some might prefer to say, 397 National Park System units. The National Park System would be even larger had it not been for a bit of pruning here and there over the decades.
Let's first make it clear what pruning is not. At least ten sites initially authorized for national park status were subsequently removed from consideration without ever having been assigned to the National Park Service for administration, These sites were not pruned national parks in the strictest sense, since the sites were never part of the system. Thirty-four additional sites or areas, including a National Park-designated one (Platt National Park ), once had independent identities but subsequently became administrative components of national parks bearing other names. Since all of these sites have remained within the National Park System, we cannot fairly say that they have been pruned either.
Here is what we mean by pruning. During the period 1895-2004, 26 sites or areas with independent national park-authorized identities ended up being abolished and either transferred outside the National Park System for administration or simply delisted. Whether you call them abolished, decommissioned, or delisted, these 26 sites or areas have been removed from the National Park System. They are the pruned national parks.
We've posted articles about all 26 of the pruned parks in the Traveler. To learn more about these sites, why they were pruned, and what subsequently happened to them, click on the links below.
Mackinac National Park (1875-1895). This was America's second national park. (Yellowstone got there first, but not by much.) Abolished after just 20 years, Mackinac National Park was transferred to the state of Michigan and became a state park.
Papago Saguaro National Monument (1914-1930). Chronic funding inadequacies insured the neglect of even basic preservation and management tasks at this site. Having failed to get the kind of respect and stewardship that a national park should have, the property was transferred to the state of Arizona and is now part of a regional park complex that contains, among other leisure/recreational attractions, a desert botanical garden and the Phoenix Zoo.
Sullys Hill National Park (1904-1931). After attracting little attention and few visitors, this site was delisted in 1931 and re-purposed as a big game preserve. It is now administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Lewis and Clark Cavern National Monument (1908-1937). Deemed too expensive to develop, and attracting few visitors, this site was transferred to the state of Montana. It was subsequently improved for public use and dedicated as Montana's first state park.
Chattanooga National Cemetery (1933-1944) . This property was returned to War Department administration after existing for 11 years as the only National Park System unit that was -- at least in the deep historical sense -- born on Christmas Day.
Shasta Lake Recreation Area (1945-1948). The Forest Service now administers the lake as a component of Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area.
Father Millet Cross National Monument (1925-1949). This national monument, the smallest ever established, was transferred to the state of New York for public use. It is situated on the grounds of the Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site, a component of New York’s state park system.
Lake Texoma Recreation Area (1946-1949). The National Park Service returned Lake Texoma Recreation Area to the Corps of Engineers by termination of agreement. The dam and reservoir system continues to provide important hydropower, water storage, and water-based recreation benefits.
Atlanta Campaign National Historic Site (1944-1950). A scattered collection of interpretive picnic pavilions meant to attract tourists should never have been assigned to the National Park System, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Yellowstone and Gettysburg. Congress came to its senses and transferred ownership to the state of Georgia.
Holy Cross National Monument (1933-1950). This property was returned to the U.S. Forest Service for administration. Mount of the Holy Cross is now the visual centerpiece and a key recreational attraction of Colorado's Holy Cross Wilderness Area,
New Echota Marker National Memorial (1933-1950). After being deemed a state park-quality historical resource, this National Memorial was abolished by Congress and transferred to the state of Georgia. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973, the memorial is now part of Georgia’s New Echota Historic Site.
Wheeler National Monument (1933-1950). This was one of Colorado's A-list tourist attractions in the horse-and-wagon era, but visitation slumped after motorists began avoiding destinations not served by decent roads. Congress returned the property to the U.S. Forest Service, which now manages it as part of the Rio Grande National Forest.
Shoshone Cavern National Monument (1909-1954). Too expensive to develop, and caught up in the politics that surrounded the addition of Jackson Hole National Monument to Grand Teton National Park, this property was transferred to the city of Cody in 1951, legislatively abolished in 1953, and deleted from the National Park System in 1954.
Old Kasaan National Monument (1916-1955). After its principal cultural features were removed, Old Kasaan village was no longer a national monument-quality site. Congress consequently abolished this park and transferred the property back to the U.S. Forest Service, which now administers it as a component of the Tongass National Forest.
Castle Pinckney National Monument (1933-1956). Lacking a glorious past, and too expensive to restore, the old island fort was transferred to the state of South Carolina. It now sits rotting in Charleston harbor.
Fossil Cycad National Monument (1922-1956). After collectors stripped the surface fossils from the unguarded site, Congress transferred the property to the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM now leases the land for grazing and there is no signage that denotes it as an area of special interest.
Verendrye National Monument (1917-1956). This site was transferred to the state of North Dakota after it was judged to have too little historical significance. Renamed Crow Flies High Overlook, it is now a regional tourist attraction affording great views of Four Bears Bridge and Lake Sakakawea.
White Plains National Battlefield Site (1933-1956). After opting not to acquire land and develop the site, the National Park Service quietly dropped this stillborn park from its inventory.
Millerton Lake National Recreation Area (1945-1957). Eager to get rid of a managerial responsibility it never did want, the National Park Service turned this reservoir-based recreation area over to the state of California, which now manages it as the Millerton Lake State Recreation Area.
Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area (1963-1968). A custodial agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation made the recreational management of Lake Flaming Gorge a National Park Service responsibility, but Congress never wanted this NRA in Utah/Wyoming to be part of the National Park System. It was accordingly transferred to the U.S. Forest Service and is now managed as part of the Ashley National Forest.
St. Thomas National Historic Site (1960-1975). The Park Service never activated St. Thomas National Historic Site, and the main structure was almost entirely allocated for territorial prison and police station use. Congress decided to transfer ownership to the Virgin Islands government.
Shadow Mountain Recreation Area (1952-1979). This site was transferred to the U.S. Forest Service and is now managed as part of Colorado's Arapaho National Recreation Area.
Mar-a-Lago National Historic Site (1972-1980). It would have been far too expensive for the National Park Service to develop and maintain this National Register mansion, so Congress returned to the Post Foundation. Donald Trump later bought the property and now operates it as a posh private club.
The National Visitor Center (1968-1981) was a bad idea that came to a bad end. The National Park Service breathed a huge sigh of relief when this unit was abolished. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that $100 million back?
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (1972-1994). In assigning administration of this place to the National Park Service in 1972, Congress saddled the agency with a difficult and expensive set of managerial obligations well outside its traditional functions and in conflict with the agency’s basic raison d'etre. Congress took this monkey off the agency's back in 1994 and the Kennedy Center Trustees are now fully responsible for capital improvement projects and facility management.
Oklahoma City National Memorial (1997-2004). In 2004, Congress transferred the Memorial to the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation, the NGO that originally raised the money and built the Memorial and Museum. The National Park Service continues to provide interpretive services for the site's 3.3-acre Outdoor Symbolic Memorial.
Hogenauer, Alan K. Gone, But Not Forgotten: The Delisted Units of the National Park System. The George Wright Forum, Volume 7, Number 4 (1991), pp. 2-19.