The First National Park? Maybe Not What You Thought

The First National Park? Maybe Not What You Thought

Journalists and many historians like to say that Yellowstone reigns as America’s, indeed the world’s, first national park. Yellowstone’s standing as originator of national parks, though, comes with some contingency. At least two parks came before Yellowstone, an easily ignored fact that sometimes shows up as a footnote in the accounts of more astute historians. Yosemite National Park, more widely…

100 Years of the National Park Service

100 Years of the National Park Service

Happy centennial day for the National Park Service! On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson took up his pen and made official the National Park Service Organic Act. To be clear, Wilson’s autograph did not originate our national parks system. That distinction goes to the establishment of Yellowstone in 1872, or to federal protection of Yosemite in 1864, or to…

Why do we have national parks?

Why do we have national parks?

In his affectionate review of author Michael Frome’s corpus of writings about national parks, Alfred Runte asks, “Why do we have national parks?” Runte summarizes Frome’s insistent answer: “Because every generation deserves to have them. They are not for the economy; they are rather for the soul of the country. They are all about keeping our tomorrows whole.” In Frome’s…

Viewing the Underworld

Viewing the Underworld

Gazing into the blue-green depths through this watery portal to the underworld, we don’t see the fiery hell of our imagination, but instead only reflections of our own worlds. Our demons do not dwell in the boiling, stinking waters that ooze from the earth’s bowels. They dance instead in the forests and meadows that surround us. ♨

Religion in the National Parks

Religion in the National Parks

Religion has been an implied value in America’s national park idea from the time of the earliest nineteenth-century parks to the present. But the religious element usually remains buried in visitors’ private aesthetic responses to park experiences and attractions. Rarely do specific theological views appear in the parks, even in unofficial activities or park uses. Certainly, the National Park Service…

“Only God Can Create A National Park”

“Only God Can Create A National Park”

There has been a persistent sense among many Americans that national parks are special places, even sacred. It was Horace Albright, the second Director of the National Park Service, who said in 1930 that “Only God can create a national park.” Such theologically tinged interpretations, of course, borrow on the leftover patriotism of nineteenth-century Manifest Destiny. This story of the…