What does the National Park Service do?

The National Park Service (NPS) is a federal agency in the United States that manages and preserves natural and cultural treasures across America. When you visit a national park, you step into a protected space where the beauty of nature and the significance of history come together. These parks are more than just scenic landscapes; they’re a testament to our nation’s rich heritage and commitment to preserving the environment.

The NPS oversees 425 sites, including national parks, monuments, historic sites, and recreation areas. These places encompass many ecosystems, from rugged mountains and pristine forests to vast deserts and coastal shores. They also showcase the diverse history of the United States, from ancient Native American sites to the battlefields of the Civil War and the homes of famous individuals.

So, let’s take a deeper look at the critical role this valuable federal group plays in preserving some of the most beautiful landscapes across America!

History of the National Park Service

entrance sign to Yellowstone National Park
The entrance sign to Yellowstone National Park. It became the nation’s and the world’s first national park in 1872.

The history of the National Park Service (NPS) dates back to the late 19th century. It all began in 1872, a pivotal moment when Yellowstone National Park was established as the first national park in the world. This iconic park, located primarily in Wyoming, with parts extending into Montana and Idaho, set the stage for preserving America’s natural wonders.

Yellowstone’s creation marked a significant shift in how the United States viewed its natural landscapes. It was recognized that these remarkable places needed protection and stewardship to ensure they would endure for years to come. Before this, the concept of national parks as we know them today didn’t exist.

Over the years, more national parks were added to the roster, each with its distinct natural and historical significance. However, it wasn’t until 1916 that the National Park Service itself was established. This agency was created to manage and oversee the growing number of national parks and monuments across the country.

Since its inception, the National Park Service has been dedicated to preserving and protecting these special places. They’ve worked tirelessly to maintain the natural beauty of the parks and ensure that their historical and cultural values remain intact. They also strive to make these treasures accessible to you and future generations.

The NPS has played a crucial role in expanding the national park system, from the iconic Grand Canyon to the lush Great Smoky Mountains and the rugged landscapes of Denali to the historic sites of Boston. Their mission is to safeguard these natural and cultural gems so that you can continue to experience and appreciate the beauty and history they hold.

Role of the NPS

A visitor to Yosemite National Park enjoys the view of the iconic Half Dome
A visitor to Yosemite National Park enjoys the view of the iconic valley down below. The iconic Half Dome can be seen looming in the background.

The NPS is responsible for safeguarding diverse public lands, including the 63 national parks showcasing the nation’s most pristine natural environments. These parks, like Yellowstone, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Acadia, offer a chance to experience the awe-inspiring beauty of nature in its unspoiled state.

Including the 63 “major” national parks, they manage a total of 425 national park units encompassing various categories. These include Cultural and Historical Sites where you can explore fascinating aspects of American history. Also, landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and artifacts such as the Wright Brothers’ plane are preserved for you to discover and appreciate the nation’s heritage.

The NPS also has Recreational Opportunities in places like the Great Smoky Mountains, allowing endless activities such as hiking, camping, and viewing wildlife.

Additionally, the NPS oversees national monuments, seashores, battlefields, and scenic trails, each permitting unique experiences. For instance, at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, you can marvel at the iconic presidential sculptures. Meanwhile, the Appalachian Trail comprises a long-distance hiking adventure that stretches across multiple states.

Educational and Interpretive Programs 

A park ranger educates visitors about the Old Faithful Geyser inside Yellowstone National Park
A park ranger educates visitors about the Old Faithful Geyser inside Yellowstone National Park. NPS / Neal Herbert

The NPS also provides various educational and interpretive programs across the parks to enhance your understanding and appreciation of these extraordinary places. One of their key arrangements is Ranger-led talks and tours, where knowledgeable park rangers guide you through the park’s natural and historical features. For instance, at Yellowstone, rangers might lead a discussion on geothermal wonders like geysers and hot springs.

In addition to guided programs, the NPS manages exhibits and visitor centers within the parks. These centers serve as informative hubs, giving insights into the park’s characteristics, history, and significance. For instance, at the visitor center in the Grand Canyon, you can explore exhibits about the park’s geology and the various ecosystems it encompasses.

They also conduct outreach and educational initiatives for schools and communities. Through these programs, they work to instill a sense of stewardship and a deeper understanding of the natural world and historical heritage. Additionally, the educational outreach helps connect people of all ages to the parks’ values and conservation efforts.

Preserving the Environment, Nation’s Heritage, & Diverse Cultures 

A park ranger educates young students on some native wildlife
A park ranger educates several young students on some native critters. NPS photo

The NPS is committed to raising your awareness of environmental issues and educating you about the nation’s heritage and diverse cultures. Here are some of the ways they do just that:

  • Interpretive Programs: In parks like Yosemite, the NPS conducts interpretive programs highlighting environmental challenges like habitat preservation and wildfire management. These programs give you a firsthand understanding of the issues affecting these areas.
  • Cultural Heritage Sites: They also manage cultural heritage sites, such as the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, where you can learn about important figures and events in American history.
  • Exhibits: Visitor centers at parks like Great Smoky Mountains feature exhibits that delve into the region’s history, showcasing the stories of diverse communities and their contributions to American culture.
  • Educational Outreach: They collaborate with schools and communities to offer educational programs that emphasize environmental stewardship and cultural understanding. This outreach fosters a sense of responsibility toward preserving the environment and celebrating diversity.
  • Ranger-Led Talks: The ranger-led talks and tours often include discussions about the natural and cultural significance of the park, providing insights into both environmental issues and the nation’s heritage.

National Park Service Maintenance 

Conservation efforts by the NPS led to the reintroduction of the fisher in Mount Rainier National Park
Conservation efforts by the NPS led to the reintroduction of the fisher in Mount Rainier National Park. NPS photo/K. Bacher

They also make significant efforts to maintain the parks, ensuring your visits are safe and enjoyable. Here are some key aspects of their park maintenance initiatives:

  • Infrastructure Upkeep: They maintain essential park infrastructure like roads, trails, and buildings. They repair and upgrade these facilities to ensure they meet safety standards and withstand natural elements. For instance, Acadia National Park maintains the historic carriage road system for your use and enjoyment.
  • Fire Management: They also manag wildfires to protect park resources and visitor safety. Fire management teams, like those at Grand Teton National Park, work to prevent and control wildfires, preserving the park’s natural ecosystems.
  • Conservation Projects: They are actively engaged in conservation projects to protect and restore park ecosystems. For example, in Everglades National Park, they undertake efforts to combat invasive species and restore critical habitats.
  • Visitor Facilities: They maintain visitor facilities such as campgrounds and restrooms to ensure comfort during your stay. These facilities are designed to harmonize with the natural environment while meeting your basic needs.
  • Historic Preservation: They preserve historic structures within parks, like the Alcatraz Island facilities in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This involves ongoing maintenance to safeguard these sites’ historical and cultural integrity.

Partnerships and Volunteer Opportunities

National park volunteer program where two volunteers feature the NPS patches on their jackets
Two individuals show off their NPS volunteer patches on their jackets. NPS photo

There are also various organizations and government entities they partner with to offer you opportunities to volunteer in national parks. Here’s how they make this happen:

  • Partnerships: They partner with nonprofit organizations, such as the National Park Foundation and local Friends of the Park groups, to coordinate volunteer efforts. These partnerships help expand the range of volunteer opportunities available in parks nationwide.
  • Government Agencies: They work with federal, state, and local government agencies, as well as tribal nations, to develop volunteer programs that align with the goals of park management and conservation. This ensures a coordinated approach to volunteer initiatives.
  • Community Engagement: They actively engage with nearby communities to encourage local residents to get involved as volunteers. They recognize that individuals who live close to the parks often have a vested interest in their preservation.
  • Online Resources: They provide online resources and platforms where you can easily find volunteer opportunities that match your interests and skills. These resources make it convenient for you to get involved and contribute to the well-being of the parks.
  • Training and Support: They provide training and support to volunteers, helping them gain the necessary knowledge and skills to carry out their roles effectively. This ensures that your volunteer experience is meaningful and valuable.

Final Thoughts

The National Park Service (NPS) plays a pivotal role in safeguarding our nation’s natural and cultural heritage. Through their tireless efforts, they ensure that you have access to a broad range of public lands, from pristine wilderness areas to historical sites, offering countless opportunities to explore, learn, and connect with the richness of America’s past and present.

The NPS serves as a steward, preserving the integrity of these remarkable places for your enjoyment and future generations. They maintain essential infrastructure, manage environmental challenges, and facilitate volunteer engagement, all to uphold the beauty and significance of these national treasures.

Their educational programs, interpretive initiatives, and collaborative partnerships deepen your understanding of environmental issues and the nation’s diverse cultures, instilling a sense of responsibility toward conservation and cultural appreciation.

In essence, the National Park Service is your gateway to experiencing the natural wonders, historical legacies, and cultural significance of the United States. Their mission is not just about protection; it’s about ensuring that these unique landscapes and stories endure so you can continue to explore and appreciate our nation’s incredible diversity and heritage.

National Parks List, Map, and Complete Guide (All 63 Parks + Downloadable List & Map)

Want a FREE complete list and recap of all our US National Parks as well as downloadable maps and other great resources? Check out our US National Parks List and Map guide!

national parks map and list printable checklist
Visit our complete National Parks Guide for FREE Downloadable National Parks List & Map (multiple versions)


What is protected by the NPS?

The National Park Service (NPS) protects a wide range of natural and cultural resources within the national parks, including remarkable landscapes, ecosystems, historic sites, and cultural landmarks.

Is the National Park Service part of the military?

No, the National Park Service is not part of the military. It is a civilian federal agency that manages and preserves national parks and other protected areas.

What is the best charity for national parks?

Several reputable charities, including the National Park Foundation and the Sierra Club Foundation, support national parks. The choice of the best charity may depend on your specific interests and goals for supporting these parks.

Who runs the National Park Service?

The National Park Service is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, and its director is appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate.

Who funds the National Park Service?

The National Park Service receives funding from the federal government through the annual budget appropriations process. Additionally, some revenue is generated from park entrance fees and donations.

Who owns national parks in the USA?

National parks in the USA are owned by the federal government, which means they are collectively owned by the American people. The management and protection of these lands are entrusted to the National Park Service.

How does the NPS protect the environment?

The NPS protects the environment through various means, including conservation programs, ecosystem restoration, wildlife management, and sustainable visitor management practices. They also work to minimize the impact of climate change on park resources.

What powers do the National Park Service have?

The NPS has the authority to manage and regulate activities within national parks to protect park resources and ensure visitor safety. They also have the power to enforce park rules and regulations.

Why was the NPS created?

The National Park Service was created in 1916 to manage and preserve the country’s national parks and monuments, ensuring that these special places are protected and made accessible for the enjoyment of present and future generations.

What are three reasons why national parks are important?

National parks are important because they preserve biodiversity, protect natural and cultural heritage, provide recreational opportunities, and contribute to scientific research and education.

How does the NPS protect national parks?

The NPS protects national parks through a combination of resource management, law enforcement, public education, and conservation efforts. They work diligently to ensure that these cherished places remain unspoiled and available for everyone to enjoy.

About Me

My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

Let us know what you think about our content and if you have any questions, suggestions, or have any favorite memories or tips you would like to share. We would love to hear from you!

Happy Travels! Sandy

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