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A national park is a park in use for conservation purposes. Often it is a reserve of natural, semi-natural, or developed land that a sovereign state declares or owns. Although individual nations designate their own national parks differently, there is a common idea: the conservation of wild nature for posterity and as a symbol of national pride. Furthermore, an international organization, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and its World Commission on Protected Areas, has defined "National Park" as its Category II type of protected areas. While ideas for this type of national park had been suggested previously, the United States established the first such one, Yellowstone National Park, in 1872. The largest national park in the world meeting the IUCN definition is the Northeast Greenland National Park, which was established in 1974. According to the IUCN, there were 6,555 national parks worldwide in 2006 that meet its criteria. IUCN is still discussing the parameters of defining a national park.
National parks are almost always open to visitors. Most national parks provide outdoor recreation and camping opportunities as well as classes designed to educate the public on the importance of conservation and the natural wonders of the land in which the national park is located.
In 1969 the IUCN declared a national park to be a relatively large area with the following defining characteristics:
In 1971 these criteria were further expanded upon leading to more clear and defined benchmarks to evaluate a national park. These include:
While national parks are generally understood to be administered by national governments (hence the name), in Australia national parks are run by state governments and predate the Federation of Australia; similarly, national parks in the Netherlands are administered by the provinces. In many countries, including Indonesia, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, national parks do not adhere to the IUCN definition, while some areas which adhere to the IUCN definition are not designated as national parks.
sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy.
(by some great protecting policy of government) ...in a magnificent park ...A nation's Park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature's beauty!
The first effort by any government to set aside such protected lands was in the United States, on April 20, 1832, when President Andrew Jackson signed legislation that the 22nd United States Congress had enacted to set aside four sections of land around what is now Hot Springs, Arkansas, to protect the natural, thermal springs and adjoining mountainsides for the future disposal of the U.S. government.[original research?][not in citation given][not in citation given] It was known as Hot Springs Reservation, but no legal authority was established. Federal control of the area was not clearly established until 1877.
The next effort by any government to set aside such protected lands was again in the United States, when President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act of Congress on June 30, 1864, ceding the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (later becoming Yosemite National Park) to the state of California:[original research?][not in citation given]
.... the said State shall accept this grant upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation; shall be inalienable for all time; .... — 38th United States Congress, Session 1, 1864
In 1872, Yellowstone National Park was established as the United States' first national park., being also the world's first national park. In some European countries, however, national protection and nature reserves already existed, such as Drachenfels (Germany, 1822) and a part of Forest of Fontainebleau (France, 1861).
When news of the natural wonders of the Yellowstone were first promulgated, the land was part of a federally governed territory. Unlike Yosemite, there was no state government that could assume stewardship of the land, so the federal government took on direct responsibility for the park, the official first national park of the United States. It took the combined effort and interest of conservationists, politicians and especially businesses—namely, the Northern Pacific Railroad, whose route through Montana would greatly benefit by the creation of this new tourist attraction—to ensure the passage of that landmark enabling legislation by the United States Congress to create Yellowstone National Park. Theodore Roosevelt, already an active campaigner and so influential as good stump speakers were highly necessary in the pre-telecommunications era, was highly influential in convincing fellow Republicans and big business to back the bill.
National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.
In his book Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks, Mark David Spence made the point that in order to create these uninhabited spaces, the United States first had to disposess the Indians who were living in them.
Even with the creation of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and nearly 37 other national parks and monuments, another 44 years passed before an agency was created in the United States to administer these units in a comprehensive way — the U.S. National Park Service (NPS). Businessman Stephen Mather and his journalist partner Robert Sterling Yard pushed hardest for the creation of the NPS, writing then-Secretary of the Interior Franklin Knight Lane about such a need and spearheading a large publicity campaign for their movement. Lane invited Mather to come to Washington, DC to work with him to draft and see passage of the National Park Service Organic Act, which the 64th United States Congress enacted and which President Woodrow Wilson signed into law on August 25, 1916. Of the 401 sites managed by the National Park Service of the United States, only 59 carry the designation of National Park.
Following the idea established in Yellowstone there soon followed parks in other nations. In Australia, the Royal National Park was established just south of Sydney in 1879, becoming the world's second official national park (actually 3rd, Mackinac National Park in Michigan was created in 1875). Rocky Mountain National Park became Canada's first national park in 1885. New Zealand established Tongariro National Park in 1887. In Europe the first national parks were a set of nine parks in Sweden in 1909; Europe has some 359 national parks as of 2010. Africa's first national park was established in 1925 when Albert I of Belgium designated an area of what is now Democratic Republic of Congo centred around the Virunga Mountains as the Albert National Park (since renamed Virunga National Park). In 1973, Mount Kilimanjaro was classified as a National Park and was opened to public access in 1977. In 1926, the government of South Africa designated Kruger National Park as the nation's first national park, although it was an expansion of the earlier Sabie Game Reserve established in 1898 by President Paul Kruger of the old South African Republic, after whom the park was named. After World War II, national parks were founded all over the world. The Vanoise National Park in the Alps was the first French national park, created in 1963 after public mobilization against a touristic project.
The world's first national park service was established May 19, 1911, in Canada. The Dominion Forest Reserves and Parks Act placed the dominion parks under the administration of Dominion Park Branch (now Parks Canada). The branch was established to "protect sites of natural wonder" to provide a recreational experience, centred around the idea of the natural world providing rest and spiritual renewal from the urban setting. Canada now has the most protected area in the world with 377,000 km^2 of national park space. In 1989, the Qomolangma National Nature Preserve (QNNP) was created to protect 3.381 million hectares on the north slope of Mount Everest in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. This national park is the first major global park to have no separate warden and protection staff—all of its management being done through existing local authorities, allowing a lower cost basis and a larger geographical coverage (in 1989 when created, it was the largest protected area in Asia). It includes four of the six highest mountains Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, and Cho Oyu. The QNNP is contiguous to four Nepali national parks, creating a transborder conservation area equal in size to Switzerland.
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