What is the oldest US national park? And why was it made?

At 152 years old, Yellowstone National Park is the oldest national park in the US. It was established in 1872 under a series of unique circumstances, but has since set the precedent for the creation of dozens of other national parks across the US.

Some people say that Hot Springs, Arkansas was the first national park, but that’s not entirely true. However, it is the country’s oldest national reserve, having been set aside for preservation in 1832. In 1921 it became a national park.

Likewise, Yosemite is occasionally mentioned as the oldest national park. Although it was granted protection in 1864, this was only a state park. It was eventually established as a national park in 1890.

The history of Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park encompasses approximately 890,000 hectares (2.2 million acres) of land in the northwestern corner of Wyoming and parts of Montana and Idaho.

Famous for its biodiversity, the region is home to 300 species of birds, 16 species of fish, five species of amphibians, six species of reptiles and 67 species of mammals, including black bears, grizzly bears, bobcats, lynx, cougars and coyotes, wolves, red foxes, wolverines, bison and seven native species of ungulates.

Yellowstone has not been “discovered” in recent history. Archaeological discoveries and oral history suggest that Native Americans have lived in the Yellowstone region for 11,000 years, using the abundance of wildlife and geothermal resources to build a rich variety of cultures. At least 27 current tribes have deep historical and cultural ties to the region.

European-American settlers began exploring the country in the 19th century. Daring visitors returned from their expeditions with scientific reports, diary entries, paintings and photography, all building a mystique around Yellowstone. It became clear that this was a beautiful and fascinating part of North America that needed to be preserved.

Steam rises south of a rainbow-colored geothermal hot spring in Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone National Park sits atop a dormant volcano and has more geysers and hot springs than any other place on Earth.

Image credit: Meina Yin/Unsplash

How national parks came into being

One of the most important expeditions to Yellowstone was the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition in 1870. Upon their return, Nathanial Langford and his fellow explorers left for Washington in late 1871 and early 1872 to promote a bill that would ensure that the region Yellowstone acquired an area. special status.

However, their motives were not purely idealistic and altruistic. Langford is described as “a man with clear political ambitions” who used the Yellowstone region to improve his image (and perhaps his bank account). He had personal and financial ties to Jay Cooke, the CEO of Northern Pacific Railroad, who saw the appeal of Yellowstone as a possible way to increase support for his planned rail expansions through Montana.

To convince lawmakers, Langford and his crew relied on the precedent of the Yosemite Act of 1864, which reserved the Yosemite Valley under the care of California. However, Yellowstone law was somewhat different. Instead of giving public lands to a state, the land would be administered by the Department of the Interior, a branch of the federal government.

Yellowstone was formally recognized as the first national park in the US by an act of Congress signed by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.

The law reads as follows: “The headwaters of the Yellowstone River […] is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy or sale […] and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasure place for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.

Langford was given the honor of becoming the park’s first Superintendent, although he was removed from his position in 1877 after being accused of neglecting his duty to protect and promote the park.

The dark side of Yellowstone National Park

The creation of Yellowstone National Park was an unpleasant event for the Indian tribes who had lived here for thousands of years. After 1872, Native Americans were prevented from using the land and many were moved from their homes to reservations outside the park’s boundaries.

“Before the park was built, people hunted for food. After the park was created, it became an illegal act called poaching. And that changed the entire atmosphere in neighboring communities,” Patricia Limerick, director of the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Applied History Initiative, told History.

“Yellowstone National Park is surrounded by Indian reservations. And their creation was directly related to the creation of the Yellowstone National Park boundary,” said Mark Fiege, professor of history at Montana State University.

Since the creation of Yellowstone National Park, Congress has designated dozens of national parks, bringing the total to 63. The National Park Service also operates 434 so-called “units,” including National Battlefields and National Historic Sites.

One of the most recent additions is the Amache National Historic Site in Colorado, the site of a sprawling concentration camp used to hold Japanese Americans during World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

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