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About “Abolished” National Monuments

Not all of the national monuments proclaimed by presidents over the past century are still national monuments. Eleven national monuments have been abolished by acts of Congress. Most often, the abolishment occurred because the nationally important resources for which the monument was established originally became diminished or were found to be of less than national significance. In these cases, the federal government transferred the areas to state or local governments, or incorporated them into existing federal land units. The Monuments List identifies the national monuments that have been abolished, as well as those redesignated as National Parks or other nationally important units.

Various reasons have been given to abolish national monuments. For management and budgetary reasons, the National Park Service divested itself of national monuments if other places under its care better exemplified a site type or historical event. Castle Pinckney in South Carolina and Shoshone Cavern in Wyoming are two examples. In another case, questionable national significance and limited federal development led to the transfer of Father Millet Cross to the state of New York, and the site is now part of Fort Niagara State Park.

Some national monuments were abolished because they were publicly inaccessible or ill-suited to park development. The U.S. Forest Service assumed the administration of remote national monuments such as Old Kasaan in Alaska, now part of Tongass National Forest. Its famous totem poles were taken to the Totem Heritage Center for curation. In another case, officials decided that unstable landscape conditions and fluctuating visitation at Holy Cross in Colorado made the development of the park not viable. The area is now managed by the U.S. Forest Service as part of White River National Forest.

A few national monuments were abolished due to mismanagement. Years of negligence at Fossil Cycad in South Dakota resulted in a site devoid of fossils and thus without a purpose to justify its existence. Other times, preservation-minded states argued that they could manage a national monument better than the NPS. For example, the budget for Papago Saguaro in Arizona was too small to repair damage by visitors to the landforms. Public outcry led to its transfer to the state. In a unique case, Verendrye in North Dakota was abolished after historians concluded that French explorer Sieur de Verendrye never reached the site. Notably, none of the abolished national monuments would meet today's standards of national significance for inclusion in the National Park System.

About Redesignated National Monuments

More frequently, national monuments have been redesignated as national parks, national parks and preserves, national historic parks or sites, or other management units as a result of Congressional action. When they were designated as national monuments by presidential proclamation, some national monuments, such as Grand Canyon in Arizona, Mount Olympus in Washington, or Mukuntuweap (now Zion) in Utah were controversial. Later, however, Congress confirmed their value by redesignating them as national parks and even approving expansion of their boundaries.

For more information, read:

  • “Gone, But Not Forgotten: The Delisted Units of the U.S. National Park System,” Alan K. Hogenauer. George Wright Forum 7:4 (1991) 26-28.


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