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Wilderness Peak: National Park Service Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary

Nov 18, 2016 09:00AM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Ellen Moyer

Thomas Moran’s (see inset portrait) 
late-19th- and early 20th-century 
paintings of the Western landscapes, 
such as Grand Canyon of the 
Yellowstone (1904) pictured here, 
helped dispel the Eastern U.S. 
notion that stories of such locales 
were the exaggerated tales of 
fur trappers.

Happy Birthday and applause please! The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Signed into law by President Wilson on August 25th, 1916, the NPS was created to protect and manage the United States of America’s scenic treasures and wildlife—some on the brink of extinction—for the enjoyment of all, forever.

Today our federal lands—national parks and monuments, preserves, and refuges—encompass 84 million acres, generate 30 billion dollars of economic activity, and engage 221,000 volunteers, who give 6.4 million hours annually of their time to America’s cultural assets and wild lands. The sites also employ 20,000 of whom our kids recognize as, “Ranger Rick.”

No other nation in the world has this array of public access to protected scenery that do for us what ancient castles and towns have done for Europe and Asia. We do not have the Great Pyramids, nor the Great Wall of China, to describe the history of civilization; we have masterpieces of scenic wonder that tell the stories of creation.

Yellowstone, an area dismissed for decades by East Coast leaders for the “exaggerated” stories of Western trappers, were finally proved wrong by the art work of Thomas Moran in 1870. Created by Congress in 1872, our first national park sits atop a giant caldera 37 miles long and 18 miles wide that boasts two-thirds of the world’s geysers.

Our federal lands provide recreation, educate us about nature’s wonders, and, if we allow ourselves to slow down our frantic lifestyles, provide inspiration that taps our soul.

Maintaining America’s outdoor masterpieces has not been without its challenges. Today, the Tea Party chants “no more national parks” and has a platform to open up our treasures to exploitation for mineral, oil, and logging production, as well as hunting and shooting ranges by returning our federal lands to the states to manage under 50 different policies and standards.

The argument is not new. In 1872, Industrialists argued against the resource protection in the law that created the world’s first national park, Yellowstone. Mining and logging were prohibited and wildlife protected, but, even so, poachers in Yellowstone decimated elk, deer, and antelope herds. By 1902, only 23 bison remained in Yellowstone National Park.

By the early 1900s, clearly something had to change in the management of “America’s Masterpieces.” Millionaire Stephen Mather saw the need for a unified federal agency to oversee the nation’s parks. Brilliant in sales promotion (Mather created the slogan “20 Mule Team Borax”), he and journalist Robert Yard (founder of the non-governmental National Park Association and the Wilderness Society) launched a campaign to advocate the benefits of America’s scenic wonders. This effort culminated in 1916 with federal land management under the umbrella of the National Park Service. Mather became its first director.

At the time there were 14 national parks, 18 national monuments, and at least 51 national wildlife refuges, most of them created by Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th President.

However, the story of the National Park Service had its roots many decades earlier. As a nine-year-old, Theodore Roosevelt witnessed the signing of the charter to create the American Museum of Natural History by his father in the living room of his New York City home. From that time on, the young boy became a naturalist and committed environmental enthusiast. 

President Theodore Roosevelt (left) and John Muir, pictured together at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park (1906), were founding members of the Boone and Crockett Club which helped to usher a wave of conservation legislation in the early 1900s.


Theodore Roosevelt was an author, a fearless soldier, and politician, but the role he loved most was as a hunter. A sickly asthmatic child confined to his home, he craved adventure. His heroes were Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett who were also authors, fearless soldiers and adventurers, politicians, and hunters.

Roosevelt’s two years combating grief over the death of his wife and mother, on February 14th, 1884, by hunting big game such as bison and lion and living like a cowboy in North Dakota in an area now a National Park in his name, also transformed him into a conservationist.

He saw thousands of carcasses of the great bison, slaughtered by men from the new trains that crossed the plains, and understood the consequence that over-hunting had in reducing a herd of millions to near extinction. From his friend George Grinnell, he also heard about the poaching casualties rife in Yellowstone. Concerned about the peril of wildlife loss for future generations, upon returning East in 1887 he and Grinnell formed the Boone and Crockett Club, an invitation-only wildlife conservation organization. It still exists today, headquartered in Missoula, Montana.

The club immediately pursued legislation to further its goals. Within the year, they successfully pursued a Timberland Preserve Bill that was the beginning of the National Forest Service. The Boone and Crockett Club initiated the Yellowstone Protection Act of 1894; supported the Lacey Act that ended commercial market hunting in 1900; the National Wildlife System, 1903; the Migratory Bird Act, 1913; and many more pieces of legislation. They advocated a hunting ethic of “fair chase” and supported the act that gave authority to the President to create National Monuments in 1906. As President, Roosevelt designated the first—Devils Tower in Wyoming and the second as the Grand Canyon, now a National Park. Ultimately, they supported and advocated for the creation of the National Park Service.

A blend of a 1900 image taken at the C&O Canal’s Lock 33 near Harpers Ferry and present day.


The early 1900s was a progressive era for the nation, an active time of social change. The Boone and Crockett Club was in the right place at the right time. Its members included: Grinnell, the father of conservation; Gifford Pinchot, the nation’s forester; Aldo Leopold, wilderness, wildlife, and environmental ethics advocate; Mather, the first director of the NPS; John Muir, Olaus Murie, and even Civil War General William Sherman, were members of the Boone and Crockett Club.

Having been founded by Roosevelt, who was in the right place as President, could and did further the goals of the organization, whose ethics honored American folk heroes Daniel Boone and Davey Crockett, champions of the challenges faced in our nation’s new frontiers. It was a different era, but the majesty of America’s treasure—that began with the protection of a wondrous tree in Yosemite in 1864—still exist. The challenge of protecting our outdoor masterpieces identified by our hunters and frontiersmen and described as the “pages of creation,” for generations to come are this era’s frontiers. In this challenge, we all can be fearless Boone and Crockett advocates.

In remembrance of all the path finders that created America’s unique system of outdoor wonders for generations to enjoy, bake a cake, light some candles, and shout out “Happy Birthday.” Applause and hats off to the National Park Service, employees and volunteers, for another 100 years of service.

Maryland by the Numbers

Source: National Park Service,
Millionaire marketing 
Stephen Mather (left) became the 
National Park Service’s first 
director in 1917

18 National Parks

6,443,376 Visitors to National Parks

$216,700,000 Economic Benefit from National Park Tourism

$1,677,699,159 of Rehabilitation Stimulated by Tax Incentives (since 1995)

$72,523,013 of Land & Water Conservation Fund Appropriated for Projects (since 1965)

$40,461,513 in Historic Preservation Grants (since 1969)

21 Certified Local Governments

87 Community Conservation and Recreation Projects (since 1987)

1,560 Acres Transferred by Federal Lands to Parks for Local Parks & Recreation (since 1948)

196,803 Hours Donated by Volunteers

2 National Heritage Areas

5 National Trails Managed by NPS

1,527 National Register of Historic Places Listings

73 National Historic Landmarks

6 National Natural Landmarks

1,858 Places Recorded by Heritage Documentation Programs

2,340,459 Objects in National Park Museum Collections

633 Archeological Sites in National Parks

19 Threatened and Endangered Species in National Parks

8 Teaching with Historic Places Lesson Plans

7 Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itineraries
Figures are for the fiscal year ending 9/30/2015

Maryland’s National Parks

Source: National Park Service,


Sharpsburg, MD
National Battlefield
Twenty-three thousand soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing after 12 hours of savage combat on September 17th, 1862. The Battle of Antietam ended the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia’s first invasion into the North and led to Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.


Appalachian Trail

Maine to Georgia
National Scenic Trail
The Appalachian Trail is a 2,180-mile long public footpath that traverses the scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild, and culturally resonant lands of the Appalachian Mountains. Conceived in 1921, built by private citizens, and completed in 1937, today the trail is managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, numerous state agencies, and thousands of volunteers.

Assateague Island

Maryland and Virginia
National Seashore
Want to live on the edge? Visit a place recreated each day by ocean wind and waves. Life on Assateague Island has adapted to an existence on the move. Explore sandy beaches, salt marshes, maritime forests and coastal bays. Rest, relax, recreate and enjoy some time on the edge of the continent.

Catoctin Mountain

Thurmont, MD
President Franklin D. Roosevelt created programs to give people a chance to rebuild their lives from the Great Depression. The Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps gave this land a second opportunity and through re-growth, a new role as a recreation area.

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

Potomac River, D.C., MD, and WV
National Historical Park
Preserving America’s early transportation history, the C&O Canal began as a dream of passage to Western wealth. Operating for nearly 100 years the canal was a lifeline for communities along the Potomac River as coal, lumber, and agricultural products floated down the waterway to market. Today it endures as a pathway for discovering historical, natural and recreational treasures.

Clara Barton

Glen Echo, MD
National Historic Site
Clara Barton dedicated her life and energies to help others in times of need—both home and abroad, in peacetime, as well as during military emergencies. Glen Echo was her home the last 15 years of her life and the structure illustrates her dedication and concern for those less fortunate than herself.

Fort Foote

Oxon Hill, MD
Fort Foote was constructed in 1863 atop Rozier’s Bluff to strengthen the ring of fortifications that encircled Washington, D.C. Two of the guns that protected Washington are still there along with the remains of the fort’s earthworks.

Fort McHenry

Baltimore, MD
National Monument and Historic Shrine
By the dawn’s early light, a large red, white, and blue banner. Whose broad stripes and bright stars…were so gallantly streaming over the star-shaped Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore, September 13–14, 1814. The valiant defense of the fort inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”


Fort Washington

Fort Washington, MD
Built to defend the river approach to Washington, D.C., Fort Washington has stood as silent sentry for over 200 years. As technologies advanced so did Fort Washington, from the brick and stone of the 19th century to the concrete and steel of the 20th century.

Glen Echo

Glen Echo, MD
Glen Echo Park began in 1891 as a National Chautauqua Assembly “to promote liberal and practical education.” By 1911, it transformed into D.C.’s premier amusement park until it closed in 1968. Since 1971, the National Park Service has owned and operated the site and today, with the help of the Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture, offers year-round cultural and recreational activities.


Greenbelt, MD
The park features a 174-site campground with specific site reservations, nine miles of trails, and three picnic areas. The campground is open all year round. The campground is known for its affordability, safety, peaceful surroundings, and National Park Service hospitality.


Towson, MD
National Historic Site
Recalls enslaved African Americans, European indentured servants, industrial and agricultural workers, and owners. It is also the story of the economic and moral changes that made forced servitude in the United States obsolete

Harmony Hall

Prince George’s County, MD
The 18th century Harmony Hall mansion is located on a 62.5-acre open pasture land estate along the Potomac River. This estate was purchased by the National Park Service in 1966, to preserve southern Maryland cultural heritage. Surrounded by a rich landscape, it offers visitors many chances to connect with Colonial History. The park also home to the remains of the Want Water House and canal.

Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry, WV, VA, MD
National Historical Park
A visit to this quaint, historic community, at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, is like stepping into the past. Stroll the picturesque streets, visit exhibits and museums, or hike our trails and battlefields.

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad

Cambridge, MD
National Historical Park
Harriet Tubman was a deeply spiritual woman who lived her ideals and dedicated her life to freedom. She is the Underground Railroad’s best known conductor and in the decades before the Civil War, repeatedly risked her life to guide nearly 70 enslaved people to new lives of freedom in the North. Tubman would recognize the landscapes protected in this new national monument on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.



Frederick, MD
National Battlefield
During the summer of 1864, the Confederacy carried out a bold plan to turn the tide of the Civil War in their favor. They planned to capture Washington, D.C. and influence the elections of 1864. On July 9th, 1864, however, Federal soldiers outnumbered three to one, fought gallantly along the banks of the Monocacy River in an effort to buy time for Union reinforcement to arrive in Washington, D.C.


Accokeek, MD
Piscataway Park is home to bald eagles, beavers, deer, foxes, ospreys, and many other species. To complement the surroundings, the park has, in addition to a public fishing pier and two boardwalks over fresh water tidal wetlands, a variety of nature trails, meadows, and woodland areas. The park is also home to National Colonial Farm.

Thomas Stone

Port Tobacco, MD
National Historic Site
Prior to the Revolutionary War, Thomas Stone led a very comfortable life as a planter and lawyer. After realizing war with Great Britain was inevitable, he risked everything he held dear—life, fortune, and sacred honor—to safeguard American rights. To that end, Thomas Stone became one of 56 men to sign one of the most important documents in World History; the Declaration of Independence.