Reflecting on the NPS Centennial

August 29, 2016 Posted by: Kaitlyn Kunce

Time is an interesting thing to measure. When you are waiting for something really exciting, it can feel like time slows down. Then on the opposite spectrum, when you are having a good time, or watching your child grow up, time can be flying by. Looking back over the years of our lives or that of our country’s it can seem like time is moving quickly. 

It’s been 11 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama coastlines.

It’s been 15 years since the September 11th terrorist attacks.

It’s been 26 years since the Hubble Space Telescope was launched.

It’s been 28 years since the Yellowstone fires of 1988 that burned 793,880 acres. 

It’s been 36 years since the 1980 election of President Ronald Reagan

It’s been 48 years since Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to leave Earth’s orbit.

It’s been 52 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed both segregation and major forms of discrimination against people of color and women.

It’s been 75 years since the Attack on Pearl Harbor that lead to the United States declaring war on the Empire of Japan beginning the U.S. entry into World War II.

It’s been 84 years since Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s been 96 years since the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified granting women the right to vote. 

It’s been 100 years since the Organic Act of 1916 that created the National Park Service. Before this, the Department of Interior oversaw fourteen national parks, twenty-one national monuments, and the Hot Springs and Casa Grande Ruin reservations, with no organization to operate them. The Organic Act established the basis for the mission, philosophy, and policies of the National Park Service.

The National Park Service Organic Act (16 U.S.C 1) 
“The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter specified by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purposes of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Alagnak Wild River
Alagnak Wild River was established in 1980 with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The wild river designation includes the Alagnak’s upper 69 miles to its source lakes in Katmai National Park and Preserve. NPS Photo

As with most things in life, there have been many lessons learned in the National Park Service’s history. There is a compromise that must be reached to manage these places that will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations, but also provide current enjoyment of these places.  For 100 of the 240 years the United States of America has been a country, we have decided that these places were an excellent example of our nation’s natural and cultural history and needed to be set aside. We have decided to protect these places for future generations and we have decided to preserve these places in their natural state. 

The National Park Service protects 413 designated areas; national battlefields, national historical parks, national lakeshores, national monuments, national parks, national rivers, national scenic trails and more. The diversity of the parks is reflected in the variety of titles. Although best known for it’s big natural parks, most of the areas the National Park Service preserves commemorate persons, events, and activities important to our nation’s history. 

Amber Bay in Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve
Aniakchak National Mounument and Preserve was created by Congress with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980 and is one of the least visited National Parks. Only a few dozen people per year visit making solitude easy to find. NPS Photo/K. Kunce

Katmai became a national monument in 1918; just two years after the National Park Service began. It was originally created to protect the volcanoes, Mount Katmai, along the coastal range, and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Today it protects more, from Katmai’s famous brown bears at Brooks River, the lesser-known brown bears along the coast, glaciers, moose, fish, wolves, and the infamous volcanoes. 

The Alaska National Interest Conservation Act – ANILCA (Public Law 96-487) Title II, The National Park System, SEC. 202 - redesignated Katmai National Monument as Katmai National Park and Preserve.
“The monument addition and preserve shall be managed for the following purposes, among others: To protect habitats for, and populations of, fish and wildlife including, but not limited to, high concentrations of brown/grizzly bears and their denning areas; to maintain unimpaired the water habitat for significant salmon populations; and to protect scenic, geological, cultural and recreational features.

Would Katmai still have been protected without the National Park Service? Probably. Though, would it still be the same? Would the brown bears be able to feed on the salmon along Brooks River with little human intervention? Would the salmon population be strong enough to support them? Would the views on Explore’s bear cams be different? Would Katmai have become more commercialized or privatized? Would we know about the strong culture and people who lived here before? Would there be more lodges along Katmai’s coastline that today is nearly continuous pristine wilderness? So many things to question and wonder about how things could have been different.  

One thing we do know is that as long as there is a National Park Service that continues to focus on preserving these natural wonders, Katmai will remain here for future generations. 

Bear walks in intertidal zone at sunset
Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alagnak Wild River, and Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve are three of the most remote National Park Units providing opportunities to find pure wilderness. Would these places be the same if there was no National Park Service? Will the National Park Service be able to continue to protect these places? NPS Photo/K. Chritz

Last updated: August 29, 2016

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