In the Antiquities Act of 1906, Congress authorized the President to proclaim features of historic and scientific interest on public lands as national monuments. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service. Later President Theodore Roosevelt named national monuments such as the cliff dwellings in Montezuma Castle, Arizona and large natural areas like Death Valley, California. Some areas initially protected as national monuments, like Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon, and Death Valley, were later made national parks by Congress. By 1916, the Department of Interior oversaw 14 national parks and 21 national monuments, but it was without effective administration. Therefore Congress created a new bureau within Interior to manage these areas to conserve natural scenery and wild life for the enjoyment of many future generations. The first director was Stephen T. Mather.
At first the National Park Service dealt mostly with natural areas west of the Mississippi.
Beginning in the 1890s, a number of historic battlefields and other national monuments fell under the War Department and the Department of Agriculture. In a 1933 government reorganization, all of these areas were united under Park Service administration forming a single national park system. Later the Blue Ridge Parkway and Natchez Trace Parkway, begun as Depression period public works projects, were landscaped for recreational motoring over scenic terrain. The National Park Service began to build and administer recreational facilities on several major bodies of water, such as the Lake Mead National Recreation Area behind Hoover Dam. The last major
expansion of the system came in 1980 when Congress directed additions in Alaska totaling about 47 million acres which was remote and unspoiled, with mountains, glaciers, wildlife and archaeological sites. At present, there are 388 units within the National Park System. Approximately 290 million people visited...