Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by braden. braden Wonders, “What states don't have national parks?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, braden!

Although the National Park Service began in 1916, the concept to set up these nature preserves started long before then. As soon as 1832, artist George Catlin thought about how America’s westward spread would change the country’s wildlife and wilderness spaces. He hoped “a nation’s park” managed by the government might be the answer.

The idea of setting aside large pieces of land for the public was unheard of at the time. Most settlers wished to own new land they could develop or use for its resources.

The idea of saving these lands slowly gained notice, though. In 1864, Congress gave Yosemite Valley to California to keep as a state park. Yosemite soon inspired people to seek these safeguards for other areas.

On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant named Yellowstone as the country’s first national park. This big milestone was the first time the federal government set aside land “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Over the next 40 years, they set aside more tracts of land. There was no organized system of national parks, though, until President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act on August 25, 1916. This Act set up the National Park Service.

The logo for the National Park Service has a lot of symbolism. A Sequoia tree and a bison portray plants and wildlife. The mountains and water depict scenic and recreational values. Shaped like an arrowhead, the outline shows historical and archeological values.

Today, the National Park Service handles a country-wide system. Each site has cultural, scientific, scenic, or historic value. In all, the National Park Service runs 423 areas that total over 85 million acres in every state.

Only about half the states have large national parks like Yellowstone or Glacier National Park. Many fall into one of the other 19 groups the National Park Service uses to describe them. They include monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, and historic sites. They also include lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails. And the White House, too!

Some WONDERful facts about national parks:

  • The largest national park is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska (13.2 million acres).

  • The smallest national park is Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania (0.02 acres).

  • In 2021, there were over 297 million visitors to the national parks—a record year.

  • Almost 16 million visits to the Blue Ridge Parkway occurred in 2021, earning the spot of most visited. With just over 14 million visits, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park came in second.

Standards: CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.5, CCRA.R.9, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.4, CCRA.L.5, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.SL.3, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.W.4, C3.D2.Geo.6

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