Landmarks, Monuments, and Parks
Protecting important land and sites in America
What is a National Historic Landmark?
There is a great slideshow at the link below.
What is a National Monument?
A National Monument in the United States is a protected area that is similar to a National Park except that the President of the United States can quickly declare an area of the United States to be a National Monument without the approval of Congress. National monuments receive less funding and afford fewer protections to wildlife than national parks. However, areas within and extending beyond national parks, monuments, and national forests can be part of wilderness areas, which have an even greater degree of protection than a national park would alone, although wilderness areas managed by the United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management often allow hunting and grazing.
The power to grant national monuments comes from the Antiquities Act of 1906. President Theodore Roosevelt used the act to declare Devils Tower in Wyoming as the first national monument. He thought Congress was moving too slowly and it would be ruined by the time they made it a national park.
What is a National Park?
Most people are familiar with national parks even if they are not entirely sure what they are. There are some pretty important differences between a national park and other parks. For the most part this will come down to how well protected the area is. In most cases a national park will offer the best protection to the environment so it is used for the most sensitive areas.
A national park is an area of land that is owned by the federal government. Obviously not all of the land that the government owns is a national park; it has to be designated as such by the government. In addition it is generally accepted that to qualify the land must not have been significantly affected by settlement or exploitation and that the public must have access to the park. There are however exceptions to this rule. In addition the park must normally be maintained by the government.
The reason for the creation of national parks is to make sure that certain areas are not damaged by exploitation. In most cases this is because they have a unique ecosystem but it also may be simply that the government has decided that they want to protect a certain area from being developed. Since these are the goals of a national park there are strict rules about what can be done within the bounds of a park. Certain development can occur in order to provide necessary infrastructure for visitors like roads but this is strictly controlled and is done in a way that will be as unobtrusive as possible.
National parks were first created out of necessity when it was decided that Yellowstone should be protected. Up until that time all of the protected areas in the country belonged to the states and were listed as state parks. At that time however Yellowstone was in an area that had not yet been granted statehood and therefore could not create a state park. As the railroad brought people into the area it soon became clear that without protection the area would be settled and damaged as the result of exploitation. As a result the federal government made the decision to create a national park.
These days there is an extensive national park system and most other countries also have their own national parks. These parks are for the most part widely used by visitors; however some of them are in very inaccessible areas. Most parks offer things like camping and visitors centers that can be used by people who want to visit the area. As a result national parks are widely used as a vacation spot. Many people will plan their vacation specifically to visit a park. Given how many there are there is a lot of variety when it comes to vacation destinations.
National parks are one of the country's greatest treasures; they are areas of protected nature. Of course there are lots of natural areas that are not national parks. This does raise the question of just how do they determine which areas will become national parks and which areas will not.
Technically the government can call any area that it wants a national park and in the past this led to some pretty odd choices. However nowadays there are some pretty specific criteria that must be met in order for an area to become a national park. The most important of these is that the area must have an ecosystem that has not been materially altered by development. This was not always the case but it is now generally considered to be a requirement.
In addition the area that is to become a national park must also offer either great scientific, educational or recreational value or it must be an area of great natural beauty. Admittedly this is pretty vague since almost any area can be included in this definition. Nevertheless the rules have been pretty consistently interpreted over the last forty years or so. In most cases the park must have an area of at least a thousand hectares but there are quite a few exceptions to this rule.
One of the most important criteria of a national park is that the public must have access to the park. A national park belongs to the people so they must be allowed to visit. In certain cases there will be restrictions on visitors in terms of where or when they can go but they can't be denied access altogether. Some parks are located in areas that are very difficult to get to so they receive few visitors but if you can get to the park you are allowed to visit.
One of the most important criteria for a national park is that it must not allow natural resources to be exploited. There are some exceptions to this for things like maintenance and some parks allow fishing but this is all very strictly controlled. The ability to use resources in a national park is becoming controversial in some areas because of the worldwide demand for them. This is especially true in Alaska where there are several large parks that sit on oil reserves. Many people are concerned that these parks will lose their protected status.
One of the requirements for a national park is that there has to be a staff and a budget to provide for its protection. As a result all national parks have rangers who look after them. The number of rangers and what their specific duties are will depend on the size of the park and how many visitors it gets.