The National Parks and Emergency Conservation Work
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Another group of reservations similar to the national parks in concept and administration are the national monuments. In order to insure the protection of places of national interest from a scientific or historic stand point, Congress in 1906 passed a law known as the "Antiquities Act", which gave to the President of the United States authority "to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments."

The exhibits in the 68 national monuments run the gamut from the ruined dwellings of Indians who lived a thousand or so years ago to historic areas of the middle nineteenth century; from trees and plants petrified—apparently turned to stone—millions of years ago, to magnificent groves of living trees.

By far the greater number of monuments are rich in human associations. Those of the Southwest in particular are a vast storehouse of treasures of antiquity. Research constantly brings to light new facts about the peoples who lived on that part of the continent long before the footsteps of the first white man were recorded only temporarily in the shifting desert sands.

For instance, by removing tons of earth literally shovelful by shovelful, by hand labor, a few years ago a vast apartment house was uncovered that was built and occupied probably a thousand years ago. Often a sealed-up cave is opened, to disclose a great earthen jar, perfectly preserved, that was made by hand hundreds of years ago. Such a find makes one think; think particularly of the fact that to make that bowl some person, probably an Indian woman, carried water on her back up a steep cliff from some far-away water hole or creek. Life was a very different thing in those days to what it is now.


Although the preservation of historic areas is provided for within the scope of the Antiquities Act, in addition Congress by special laws has established various national parks and military sites to include areas where the history of our country was written indelibly in the blood and sacrifice of its sons. The events so commemorated go back to the early French and Indian Wars and come down through the Revolution and the War of 1912 to the Civil War.

These areas and some national monuments of military significance formerly were under the jurisdiction of the War Department. President Roosevelt, recognizing the need for a unified system of Federal parks and allied reservations, by Executive order of June 10, 1933, transferred the military parks and monuments to the administration of the National Park Service of the Department of the Interior, together with certain national monuments formerly administered by the United States Forest Service of the Department of the Agriculture, and also the National Capital Parks.

Of military significance also is the Morristown National Historical Park, N. J., so far the only reservation in that category. Although not a battlefield, it is important in our military history, for had it not been for Washington and Baron von Steuben, who drilled the Colonial Army there, the glorious victory at Yorktown in all probability would not have been possible.

The four miscellaneous memorials transferred to National Park Service supervision under the consolidation of Federal park activities in 1933 and the 11 national cemeteries all are historical in character, and mostly military. One of the memorials includes Kitty Hawk, at Kill Devil Hill, N. C., the scene of the first sustained flight of a heavier-than-air machine. The cemeteries transferred to the National Park Service were those connected with military parks and monuments. The Emergency Conservation Work program was invaluable in providing labor, materials, and increased technical supervision for the task of careful development of values of such sites, particularly as no funds for their maintenance and development were made available to the National Park Service at the time of transfer.

A further increase in the activities of the National Park Service in the field of history was made when President Roosevelt on August 21, 1935, approved legislation empowering the Secretary of the Interior, through the National Park Service, to conduct a Nation-wide survey of historic sites and buildings. The act also authorized cooperation with State and local governments in preserving and restoring those shrines which are locally significant, but not linked with the country's history as a whole.


The National Capital parks provide the setting for the striking public buildings of Washington and are an essential ornament to the Nation's Capital.

The park system now embraces about 700 units, totaling approximately 7,000 acres of land, located in the District of Columbia and its environs.

Considered as one unit of the national park system, they are administered by a superintendent who reports to the headquarters office of the National Park Service as do the various field superintendents.

The park system was provided for in the L'Enfant plan for the city of Washington, prepared under the direction of George Washington, and was established under authority of Congress in 1790. For 18 years, from 1849 to 1867, these areas were under the control of the Department of the Interior. After being administered by the Corps of Engineers, United States Army, for the next 66 years, they were returned to Interior Department control in 1933 as a permanent unit of the national park system.

Maintenance of the majority of the federally owned buildings in the city of Washington, and of a few throughout the country, also is vested in the National Park Service. Notable exceptions are the Capitol and related buildings, the Library of Congress, and the Supreme Court Building.


The national park system is not yet complete. Nevertheless, only areas which meet the standards set up by the existing major parks are considered for inclusion in the system.

It is hoped eventually to make complete this national gallery of scenic, historic, and scientific displays. In the field of parks, for instance, Congress has already given authority for the addition of four important areas to the system. These are the Mammoth Cave region of Kentucky, a lodestone of travel for generations; Isle Royale, in Michigan, important for its island beauty and its great herds of moose; the Everglades in Florida, including tropical scenery and a rare tropical bird life; and the Big Bend area of Texas. These parks cannot be established until the lands within the approved boundaries have been acquired and donated to the United States. Acquisition of the necessary lands already is under way in the Mammoth Cave and Isle Royale areas. In connection with the Big Bend project, the Mexican Government has shown an interest in establishing a national park on its side of the international boundary, adjoining the proposed Big Bend park, the two to form a great international peace park. This would be similar to the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, including Canada's Waterton Lakes Park and our own Glacier National Park, now an established fact on our northern boundary.

Congress also has expressed definite interest in the establishment of eight national monuments in different parts of the country, by authorizing their creation under terms similar to those affecting the national park projects. In addition, the President may create new monuments from time to time as areas of historic or scientific interest demand national protection.

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Last Updated: 16-Feb-2010