On August 25, 2023, the National Parks system is celebrating a big birthday — 107! On August 25, 1916, then-President Woodrow Wilson signed the law that created the National Parks Service to be a part of the Department of the Interior and to protect the already existing 35 parks across the country.
For more than a century now, the National Park Service has been at the helm of some of the most incredible landscapes nationwide, and a strong advocate of preserving these spaces for centuries to come. The system also includes areas determined to hold historical and scientific significance.
On March 1, 1872, Congress established the very first National Park in the country, Yellowstone National Park in Montana and Wyoming. At the time, it was protected “under the exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior” to be used “as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” according to the National Park Service.
The second National Park was designated in 1875 — Mackinac National Park in Michigan — however, 20 years later, the park was returned to the state after the army's departure and is now considered one of Michigan’s State Parks.
Since then, other parks have lost their federal designation or disappeared, according to National Parks Traveler, including Sullys Hill National Park, which was delisted in 1931 and re-purposed as a big game preserve, Chattanooga National Cemetery, Tennessee, which was delisted in 1944, and Mar-a-Lago National Historic Site, which was delisted in 1980 and sold to former president Donald Trump five years later.
But many more parks have joined the ranks of the NPS. Today, across the United States, 63 National Parks “cover more than 84 million acres in 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands,” per the park’s history page. In addition to the National Parks, the NPS oversees an additional 360 national park sites, including National Historic Sites, National Monuments, National Seashores, National Recreation Areas, and more.
Our National Parks are home to more than 600 threatened and endangered species, with more than half of all national park sites in the U.S. home to at least one threatened or endangered species. This includes the Desert Tortoise at Mojave National Preserve in California, the Bull Trout in Glacier National Park in Montana, and the Humpback Whale in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.
Since 1904, there have been more than 15.7 billion recreational visits to parks and other services across the country. In 2022, nearly 312 million recreation visits were logged by the National Park Services. Seventy-five sites hosted 1 million or more recreational visits in 2022, logging 1,358,946,990 recreation visitor hours and more than 13 million overnight campers during the year.
How can you celebrate the National Park’s 107th birthday?
Various in-person and virtual events will be offered across the country to celebrate the National Park Service's birthday. The events will be specific to each National Parks location, including a mix of children’s programs, guided tours, new exhibitions, entertainment, and more.
In-person events to celebrate the National Park Services' birthday include:
- Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument in Kentucky will host a Children's Program to discover "what makes a national park special." The free drop-in event will run on August 26 from 10 am to 3 pm.
- Gateway National Recreation Area in New York is hosting a one-hour event on August 25 at 11 am at the Fort Wadsworth Campground. "Observe what fish and crabs live along our shoreline in celebration of our birthday. Bring water, snacks, and wear closed shoes," the event page says. This event does require a reservation, so be sure to call to save your spot ahead of time.
- Gateway National Recreation Area will also celebrate at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge by offering a guided tour hike on August 25 at 11 am. The free all-weather event will include "a guided walk around one of the trails at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and learn what it takes to become a Jr. Ranger!" Kids will use different senses to explore the park, and an official Jr. Ranger “swear-in” ceremony will follow the hike.
- Scotts Bluff National Monument in Nebraska is hosting a one-hour exhibition show on August 25 at 1 pm at the Visitor Center to kick off the birthday celebrations with a new exhibit. The event will include a birthday cake, and the entrance is free.
- Steamtown National Historic Site in Pennsylvania is hosting a free birthday festival on August 26 from 10 am to 4 pm. The event will include live music, face painting, craft making, guided tours, and free rides on Steamtown's short train.
- Celebrate a double birthday: Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah turned 100 (100!) in June of this year, making it just 7 years younger than the NPS itself. There are many events in the park that weekend!
- Or visit the newest national park, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia, home to 70,000 acres of nature and set along one of the oldest rivers in the world. Yes, the world!
A variety of virtual events will also be available for families who want to celebrate from afar. The National Park Service is encouraging families to follow its official social media channels for a day of games, trivia, and more. And remember, if you have a 4th grader, entrance is free to most National Parks.
To find a park near you, or explore in-park and virtual events hosted by National Parks across the country, the National Park Service has a search tool with up-to-date information about events and family-friendly fun!