What is a National Park?
It seems strange to me that we even had to denote a piece of ground and literally have a start date we can trace back to when we began protecting and preserving our lands for future generations. To keep it safe from unscrupulous businesses that would take and build where ever they could to make a quick buck. It is here though, that we are part indebted to business, because without the expansion of a certain railway, the ideas of protecting an environment may have come too late!
Time reports that in 2014, 3.5 million people visited Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, USA. It also reports how Yellowstone Park came to be a National Park and not only be a beacon to America that land should be preserved for the sake of beauty, but it would also show the world that this was a precedent we could all follow.
As I work on this website and continue to catalogue National Parks around the world, and ultimately visit them too, I am constantly amazed that we are preserving land and the future landscapes and the wildlife that inhabits those spaces will remain in tact. Had it not been for the rail road explorers in the Northern Pacific and the forward thinking politician, Nathanial P Langford, we may have arrived too late to preserve some of the best landscapes of the world.
Defining a National Park
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as, “an area of land that is owned and protected by a national government because of its natural beauty or its importance to history or science”.
Wikipedia describes it as: “A national park is a park in use for conservation purposes. Often it is a reserve of natural, semi-natural, or developed land that a sovereign state declares or owns. Although individual nations designate their own national parks differently, there is a common idea: the conservation of ‘wild nature’ for posterity and as a symbol of national pride.”
In England and Wales a National Park must:
- Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage
- Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public
And in Scotland:
- To conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area.
- To promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area.
- To promote understanding and enjoyment (including enjoyment in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the area by the public.
- To promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities.
A National Park is more than just a piece of land owned by a government, it reaches out to protect areas of ‘outstanding’ natural beauty, to conserve and create a sustainable area for posterity, so that we all can enjoy it.
The First National Park
Thanks to the Northern Pacific Rail expedition and their desire to highlight to the beauty of Yellowstone to Washington D.C. for a railroad venture, an act was passed in Congress in March 1872 and would become known as the Yellowstone Park Act.
Ferdinand Hayden surveyed the area in 1871 and on his return he promoted and campaigned for the protection of the natural wonders he had seen. He even went so far as to lobby Congress, using photographs that William Jackson had taken while on the expedition and fuelled by the support of Jay Cooke, a railroad magnate looking to increase customers on the railway serving Yellowstone, and thus the Act was created.
On the 1 March 1872, the Yellowstone Park Act was passed in Congress creating, “a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
Since the creation of Yellowstone National Park with it’s awe-inspiring scenery, amazing Geysers and its wild life, National Parks have been spreading across the globe. More that 1200 exist today and they are being visited by more and more people each year. This first National Park wasn’t just for the benefit of a commercial venture, but for people. Out of it was born an fresh appreciation for our world and natural landscapes and as we see in the definitions above, National Parks are becoming far more than just a “pleasuring-ground”.
Uses for National Parks
Today, National Parks are maintained and accessible to many more people. The idea of travelling to a National Park to visit an area of outstanding beauty never fails to thrill. Even with a dvd on in the back of a car, or the noisy beat of some band in the headphones, stepping into a National Park, hearing the peace and seeing how large everything is, makes everything else pale to insignificance.
Above that, there is the scientific nature of National Parks. As we recognise beauty we are also preserving areas that specifically require protection. Perhaps it’s flood plains or bogs, marine areas and coral reefs. We are trying to protect what is so easily lost in our age of bigger and better technological advances.
When a hundred years ago it would take nearly half a day to cut and fell a tree and remove it to a place where it can be transported to where it is required, today we have machines which can do the same job in minutes. With an increase in efficiency we can very quickly decimate an area of scientific significance in a matter of hours and days. ( See a Tree Harvester here and watch a time-lapse of the deforestation of the Amazon here)
Where we used to collect the odd scallop here and there, the market has developed to include new methods (shown in this Scallop Dredging Footage) which create wastelands on the seabed as everything is destroyed in the way of harvesting one type of shellfish.
We are efficient as humans, we will try to find the quickest and least expensive way of harvesting a product and that ultimately can threaten whole ecological systems – National Parks go a little part of the way to preserve those areas.
We are also aware that there is a growing economic return from National Parks. As they are improved and made easier to access, clearer mapping systems and walking trails/routes established, so more and more people will visit for a day out.
They employ more people too. From a diverse range of backgrounds too. Rangers, ecologists, scientists, tour guides, adventure seekers, chefs, cleaners, etc. National Parks are funding their own way and giving back to the people who protect it.
What is a National Park?
I wanted to know what a National Park was, but as we discovered, it is more than just an area of scenic beauty. It is an area of scientific interest, a safe haven for wildlife and an example that we should treat our own back yard as a mini National Park, looking after it, protecting it, nurturing it for the benefit of everyone.
Imagine everyone paying the same respect their own space, how impressive our neighbourhood, area and ultimately our world would be!