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November 23rd, 2015

Happy 100th Birthday National Park Service!

The National Park Service turns 100 on August 25, 2016, but it isn’t waiting until then to start birthday celebrations! Take a look back at the impressive history of the NPS, and find out how you can join in on its yearlong centennial celebration.

Get your backpack on and get ready to celebrate, because the National Park Service is turning 100! The bureau – which was created in 1916 – celebrates its 100th birthday on August 25, 2016, but it isn’t waiting until then to celebrate its centennial. Throughout the year, the NPS will celebrate its first 100 years, and kick of a second century of stewardship of America's national parks through recreation, conservation, and historic preservation programs.

Need a refresher on the National Park Service? Here’s how it came to be, its top milestones in its 100-year history, and what you can expect from the yearlong centennial celebration.

How the National Park Service Began

Before the National Park Service, the national parks were managed under the Department of the Interior. The first areas protected by the Department of the Interior were Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove in California in 1864, followed by the Yellowstone region in 1871. Yellowstone became the first official national park in 1872 under President Grant. In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act, which gave presidents the authority to designate national landmarks; in that same year Devil’s Tower in Wyoming was designated the first national landmark.

The official birthday of the National Park Service is August 25, 1916, when Woodrow Wilson signed legislation to create the National Park Service. The NPS operates as a bureau of the Department of the Interior.

National Park Service Milestones

Since the National Park Service was established, it has continued to grow. Its 100-year history includes many memorable milestones. In 1924, the Statue of Liberty was designated a national monument, and in 1936, Lake Mead became the first National Recreation Area. The next year, Cape Hatteras became the first national seashore. In 1984, the Illinois and Michigan Canal corridor was established as the first national heritage area.

Throughout its tenure, legislation has passed that continues to protect and improve the National Park Service. In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps, which helped to revive post-Depression employment while improving national park lands. In the 1960s, Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act (1966), the National Trails System Act (1968), and the Volunteers in the Parks Act (1969).

On the cusp of NPS’s 100th birthday, there are more than 400 national park sites that host some 275 million visitors every year. The bureau has expanded to include initiatives that help revitalize communities, preserve local history, celebrate local heritage, and create opportunities for families to have fun outdoors.

What Can We Expect for Centennial Celebrations?

Pack your bags, and get ready for a year filled with exciting activities at national parks throughout the country:

2016 Centennial Challenge Projects: Beginning in April, $26 million has gone toward park restorations, improvements, and repairs. One-hundred-and-six individual projects are part of the Centennial Challenge Projects, which received both government funding and matching funds from partner organizations.

Every Kid in the Park Act: You may want to be nice to your favorite nine-year-old, because fourth graders have access to national parks for free throughout the 2015-2016 school year! As part of the Every Kid in the Park Act, every fourth grader can bring up to three adult guests (or a car full for drive-in national parks) to national parks and landmarks throughout the year.

The Urban Agenda: City dwellers, rejoice, because the National Park Service is focusing on a program with you in mind. The Urban Agenda will use NPS resources to better serve parks and recreation areas in city communities. The NPS will start with ten major metropolitan centers – San Francisco, Tucson, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Detroit, Richmond, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston – as model cities to expand this program in the future.

A Call to Action: Though it’s celebrating its first 100 years, the National Park Service is also looking forward to its next century. First launched on the NPS’s 95th birthday, A Call to Action gives employees and partners the same vision for the centennial: “Connect with and create the next generation of park visitors, supporters, and advocates.”

National Park Service Centennial Act: Even the White House is getting in on the birthday celebrations! In honor of the NPS’s centennial, the Department of the Interior has proposed the National Park Service Centennial Act, which calls for funding for critical infrastructure projects, leveraging public-private donations and partnerships to enhance visitor experiences, and expanding volunteer and job opportunities in national parks and historic sites across the country.

Ready to hit the road and check out some national parks? First, check out our tips on How to Plan and Execute a Cross Country Road Trip!

Caila Ball-Dionne is a freelance writer and full-time travel enthusiast. You can find more of her writing at​

by Caila Ball-Dionne

Caila Ball-Dionne is a freelance writer and full-time travel enthusiast. You can find more of her writing at

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