July 13, 2022

LibertyLimited Government

‘America the Beautiful’ is Crowned by Her National Parks

By: Kelvey Vander Hart

We just celebrated 246 years of America. After all this time, the words “America the beautiful” continue to ring true. From coast to coast, our country is home to breathtaking natural environments. As the fireworks finish ringing and we move on from our annual celebration of independence, it is worth taking a minute to also celebrate the best examples of our nation’s beauty: national parks. 

America’s first national park is also one of her most famous: Yellowstone. Established in 1872, it was designated as “a public park…for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Yellowstone National Park spurred a national parks movement both here and around the world. Over the next few decades, other national parks and monuments were added, but there was no specific leadership for these spaces until the creation of the National Park Service. 

The National Park Service (NPS) celebrated 100 years of operation in 2016. Established under the umbrella of the United States Department of the Interior in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson, the service then managed 35 established and soon-to-be established national parks and monuments. Since then, NPS has come to manage more than 400 unique areas spanning more than 84 million acres in 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands.

“The NPS is one of America’s greatest treasures…It supports thousands of jobs around the country and provides 331 million Americans yearly with a chance to access the great outdoors,” explains the American Conservation Coalition. 

While there are more than 400 sites managed by NPS, not all of them are national parks. That number is closer to 60 (depending on the list maker) and includes famed places like Yellowstone, Arcadia, Joshua Tree, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. America’s national parks span the nation and offer practically all the different terrain our country has to offer. 

National parks are as popular as ever, but as millions of Americans flock to these spaces to take in the great outdoors, the biggest problem (both practically and politically) has been funding. NPS relies on a few different funding sources including general Congressional appropriations (heavily supported by energy lease revenue), user fees, and philanthropy. As is the story of most government agencies, NPS has been plagued by mismanagement and funding issues for years, leading to a deferred maintenance backlog of $11.6 billion

Our national parks are literally falling apart. Thankfully, over the past few years, there has been a bipartisan and nationwide push to protect park user fees and energy lease revenue to whittle down the maintenance backlog. The future of the national parks is brighter now that many are receiving the repairs and attention they need to keep them beautiful and functional.  

We can politically haggle over the government’s role in managing and funding park systems. That is a worthy debate, especially within pro-limited government circles. But we can all rally around one simple truth: America’s beauty is crowned by her wild places, and there is no better example of this than her national park system.