What Was the First National Park?

Having been a reader of the National Geographic Magazine for many years, I’ve always been intrigued by the American National Parks. Maybe one day I’ll come to this part of the world and explore them. In the meantime, I thought of writing about their creation!

What Was the First National Park in America?

The answer is Yellowstone. It’s the most famous, and not because of that Kevin Costner TV show, or maybe it is now, that would be sad.

Anyways, prior to Yellowstone becoming the world’s first national park, several natural places in the United States were designated for protection. According to some accounts, Hot Springs in Arkansas was the first national reservation. It was founded in 1832, forty years before Yellowstone, with the primary goal of preserving and disseminating the utilitarian resource of hot water. A congressional legislation established Hot Springs National Park in 1921.

Yosemite, on the other hand, was established as a state park before Yellowstone, but its early years as a protected region are considered uninspiring. It received its designation as a state park in 1864, 26 years before Yellowstone was designated as a national park in 1872. Congress, however, was disappointed with the outcomes in Yosemite, and in 1890, it designated Yosemite as one of three new national parks, along with Sequoia and General Grant (now part of Kings Canyon). In 1899, Mount Rainier followed suit.

The history of Yosemite as an earlier state park influenced the establishment of Yellowstone in 1872. The Yosemite State Park Act was really adopted as a model by Congress. Yellowstone would have been a state park like Yosemite if it hadn’t been for geographical problems that put it inside three territorial boundaries. In that year, disagreements between Wyoming and Montana territories led to the decision to federalize Yellowstone.

The Hayden Expedition Changed Everything

The Hayden Expedition of 1871-72, commanded by Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, was a turning point in Yellowstone’s history. The Yellowstone area was one of the remaining uncharted areas in the continental United States at the time. It had been bypassed by westward migration, and even the finding of gold in neighboring Montana had failed to spur research into the area.

Hayden’s expedition set off in early June 1871, aided by a $40,000 subsidy from Congress. It was made up of scientists, artists, and a photographer. The painters and photographers were crucial since their paintings and images displayed Yellowstone’s natural beauty. Hayden’s team investigated geysers, boiling springs, and other unusual phenomena, naming them Beehive and Mud Puff.

When they returned, Hayden gave a 500-page report to Congress outlining their conclusions. This report, together with pictures, drawings, and paintings, was instrumental in persuading Congress to designate Yellowstone as the world’s first national park.

The Yellowstone National Park Protection Act

President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law on March 1, 1872, establishing the land as a public park or pleasure ground for the use and enjoyment of the people.

The legislation restricted and removed the Yellowstone River’s headwaters from settlement, occupancy, or sale, designating and establishing it as a national park. This daring decision deviated from the current strategy of transferring public lands to private hands, displaying the federal government’s forethought in conserving Yellowstone’s unique natural beauties.

Hotsprings in the Yellowstone National Park

The early management of Yellowstone National Park was difficult. Nathaniel P. Langford, a member of the Washburn Expedition and an early supporter of the Yellowstone National Park Act, was selected as the park’s first superintendent but worked on a volunteer basis. He lacked the power and resources to safeguard the park’s animals and natural characteristics. Political pressure finally forced his resignation in 1877.

Philetus W. Norris was appointed as the park’s second superintendent and took substantial measures to conserve and maintain it. He built roads, established a headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs, and waged a battle against hunters and vandals. Norris, too, encountered problems, such as insufficient finance and political manipulation. He was fired from his position in 1882.

The Army took over Yellowstone

When Congress refused to authorize funding for park management in 1886, the Secretary of the Interior sought the aid of the United States Army. The Army took over Yellowstone on August 20, 1886, stiffening restrictions, evicting troublemakers, and guarding prominent attractions. This military presence aided in the protection of the park from poachers and vandals.

Yellowstone suffered greatly as a result of World War II, which drew away personnel, visitors, and finance. During the war, the park’s infrastructure deteriorated, and suggestions to use its natural resources for the war effort were discussed. Yellowstone’s unique treasures, however, were eventually saved.

Mission 66

Yellowstone’s popularity skyrocketed after the war, reaching one million visitors per year by 1948. The park’s budget was unable to keep up with this expansion, resulting in the neglect of amenities and roadways. In response, National Park Service Director Conrad Wirth persuaded Congress to finance Mission 66, a visitor facilities and road repair initiative. Many national parks were rejuvenated as a result of this effort, notably Yellowstone, which became its centerpiece.

Mission 66 modernized tourist facilities and road upgrades in Yellowstone, with Canyon Village being one significant effort. The infrastructural improvements were designed to improve the tourist experience while safeguarding natural and cultural elements.

Yellowstone’s limits have also been revised throughout the years to reflect more natural topographic characteristics. Attempts to use the park’s resources were frequently foiled, confirming the park’s position as a location to be protected from economic exploitation.

Yellowstone National Park’s trajectory from its formation in 1872 to the current day demonstrates growing conservation principles and the problems faced in conserving its unique natural beauties for future generations.

Interested in that type of history? I recently wrote about the discovery of the Grand Canyon, the Northwest Passage, Macchu Pichu, and the first person who climb Mount Everest. Give it a read!

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