SOME OF THE greatest legacies of U.S. presidents are the parks they leave behind. Today President Obama designated three new national monuments in California: Castle Mountains National Monument, Sand to Snow National Monument, and Mojave Trails National Monument. He now holds the record for protecting the most public land and water of any president.
The concept of protecting natural treasures for future generations can be traced back to the founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson wrote about the benefits of open space and the danger of cutting down all the trees. He also sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on a voyage of discovery to catalog the nature in the great West.
The ability to designate parks and other protected areas wasn't always enshrined in law. It look generations of activism and political pressure to make that happen. And as the nation expanded and become increasingly industrialized, the need for specific protections for natural treasures evolved, a process that continues to this day.
A Century of Parks
Over the past hundred years the National Park Service has grown from 37 protected areas to more than 400. From hallowed battlegrounds to Native American archaeological sites and breathtaking vistas, the NPS is working to ensure that the nation’s historical and natural treasures will be available for generations to come.
Visitors from around the world can now enjoy more than 400 national park units, from soaring mountains to pristine beaches. Protecting these natural and cultural treasures is "America's best idea."
Here's a look back at major milestones in the development of this great idea and the presidents who deserve the credit.
Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)
Jackson signed legislation in 1832 that permanently set aside land for recreation in the Arkansas Territory. What was then called the Hot Springs Reservation would eventually become Hot Springs National Park, where visitors can enjoy natural springs and scenic beauty.
Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)
Although Honest Abe had a lot on his plate during the Civil War, in 1864 he signed a bill establishing California’s Yosemite Valley and its Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias as an "inalienable public trust" to be administered by the state. That protection was an important first step in what would eventually become Yosemite National Park, now one of the most beloved parks in the world.