National parks are reserves of land, usually owned by national governments, that are protected from most human development and pollution.
The idea of a national park was first formulated by painter George Catlin. In his travels though the American West, he became concerned about the future of the Native Americans he met and the natural wonders he saw. In 1832 he wrote that they might be preserved:
[B]y some great protecting policy of government ... in a magnificent park ... A nation's park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature's beauty!
The first effort by any government to set aside such protective lands was in the United States, when President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act of Congress on June 30, 1864, ceding the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (the heart of what would become the world-famous Yosemite National Park) to the state of California:
- [T]he said State shall accept this grant upon the express conditions that the premises shall he held for public use, resort, and recreation; shall be inalienable for all time.
However, the vision of the National Park was not yet complete in Yosemite, and required the efforts of John Muir to bring it to fruition. Yosemite would not legally become a national park on October 1, 1890.
In 1872, Yellowstone National Park was established as the world's first truly national park. Following the idea established in Yellowstone there soon followed other parks in many other nations. In Canada, Banff National Park (then known as Rocky Mountain National Park) became its first national park in 1887. New Zealand had its first national park in 1887. In Europe the first national park was established in 1910 in Sweden. Particularly after World War II national parks were founded all over the world.
National parks are usually located in places which have been largely undeveloped, and often feature areas with exceptional native animals, plants and ecosystems (particularly endangered examples of such), biodiversity, or unusual geological features. Occasionally, national parks are declared in developed areas with the goal of returning the area to resemble its original state as closely as possible. In some countries, the designation of an area as a national park does not entail national ownership of the land, but simply enforces conservation through planning regulations.
Most national parks have a dual role in offering a refuge for wildlife and as popular tourist areas. Managing the potential for conflict between these two roles can become problematic, particularly as tourists often generate revenue for the parks which, in turn, are spent on conservation projects. At times, mineral resources are discovered in national parks — if attempts are made to exploit such resources, this usually leads to considerable conflict with environmentalists who argue that no such activities should be conducted within parks.
National parks have been subject to illegal logging and exploitation through political corruption. This threatens the integrity of many valuable habitats. It is widely believed that as natural resources become more scarce, the increase in a park's land value will result in greater risk to its existence as a "protected" area.
Some countries also designate sites of special cultural, scientific or historical importance as national parks, or as special entities within their national park systems. Other countries use a different scheme for historical site preservation. Some of these sites are awarded the title World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
In many countries, local governmental bodies may be responsible for the maintainance of park systems. Some of these are even called national parks.
- List of national parks (arranged in lists by country)
- National Forest
- United Nations Environment Programme
- International Park
- International Network of Geoparks
- Sustainable development
- Earth science
- New Zealand
- People's Republic of China
- Russiaan Federation
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
- United States