Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone National Parks (NPS) are operated by the National Park Service as museums -- much like the Smithsonian Institution's National Gallery of Art, the Air and Space Museum, and the Museum of American History.
The Park Superintendent is the museum director and his/her staff fulfill the roles of curators, interpreters, security officers, exhibit designers, registrars, and educators. Parks also have personnel and budget officers, maintenance staff, landscape specialists, historians, and, yes even scientists.
Museums are generally established by a group of interested citizens. In the NPS, parks are established by the Congress. The Senate and the House of Representatives pass a bill designating an area as a National Park, Historic Site, Battlefield, or Seashore, with what is known as an "enabling legislation". The President then signs the bill into a law. The "enabling legislation" is a document stipulating the park's mission, goals, and scope of interpretation. Thereafter, the park's interpretive, exhibit, and visitor services programs must reflect this mandate. Once parks have developed their interpretive and museum programs, they can seek accreditation, from the American Association of Museums.
Museums exhibit objects for the purpose of educating and enlightening their visitors. In the NPS, these objects are the natural, cultural, and archeological resources found within the park boundaries. Park Rangers use the objects to make the connection between the history of the park and the significance of that history to the visitor. Non-NPS museums go into the community to collect objects to organize into displays of specific subjects, such as the history of airplanes and dinosaurs or into a collection of glassware from the turn of the century.
In 1995, the NPS Collection Management Reports from 292 park units reported a total of 33,736,538 objects and 21,424.03 linear feet of archives. One linear foot of archives equals l,600 objects. Therefore, the NPS has a grand total of 68,000,000 objects with 372,209 of these objects on exhibit and 67,627,791 in storage.
In the Greater Washington Metropolitan area, there are 11 parks with l,367,068 objects. These figures increase through donations, purchases, transfers from other agencies, and archeological excavations. Unusual increases come from "Mother Nature". Floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes often uncover objects whose existence were not previously known or even suspected! For example, twice in 1996 the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal suffered extensive damage from two ravaging floods. Artifacts of historical significance to life along the C&O Canal are still being discovered from these events.
The NPS museums are under the Secretary of the Department of the Interior. There are other federal museums, such as those under the Department of Defense (the Navy, Army, Marine, and Air Force national network of museums), Transportation (Coast Guard); the Departments of Treasury, State, and Justice (the Federal Bureau of Investigation); the Supreme Court; and the National Gallery of Art, National Museum of Health and Medicine, National Archives, and the Smithsonian Institute. Even the Department of Interior has its own museum.
A Photo Essay
A Park in the Process
|MRCE Main Page||Navigation Index||Related Sites|