By Joy Martin /

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Happy 100th birthday to the National Park Service!

One hundred years ago, on August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson approved the National Park Service Organic Act, officially launching the National Park Service (NPS).

With dozens of trips in Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Crater Lake and beyond, Austin Adventures is stoked to raise a glass to the centennial celebration of the NPS! The people influencing this monumental decision and the innumerable fascinating details wrapped into the national park story is worth a lifetime of books, but for the sake of space, we’ll take a quick journey to uncover 10 of our favorite frequently-asked questions about the NPS:

1ZionFB0. What exactly is the NPS?

The NPS is an agency of the US federal government under the Department of the Interior that manages 59 national parks and over 350 monuments and conservation and historical sites, including battlefields, shorelines, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House. Its job is to preserve the integrity of these places while making them accessible for public use “by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

9. What was the first national park?

In 1872, there was no state government to manage 2.2 million acres of protected space in Wyoming, so the federal government acquired the first national park: Yellowstone. However, Yosemite is considered the very first, as it was set aside in 1864 by the federal government and put under control of the state of California. By 1916, there were 14 national parks and 21 national monuments – thus the obvious need for oversight from the NPS.

8. How big is the NPS?

Interesting question! Land-wise, the NPS encompasses 84.4 million acres, with the largest being Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska at 13.2 million acres, and the smallest, Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania, at .02 acres. Culturally, the NPS protects nearly yosemitenationalparkFB70,000 archaeological sites and 16 of the 19 World Heritage Sites in the US. Travel-wise, there are over 12,250-miles of trails and 9,000-miles of roadways. Organization-wise, the NPS employs 22,000 permanent, temporary and seasonal workers and 221,000 volunteers.

7. What makes a place national park-worthy?

In short, unrivaled scenery. But the NPS has four standards for national park status: First, it must be “an outstanding example of a particular type of resource.” Secondly, it must possess “exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the natural or cultural themes of our nation’s heritage.” Third, a national park must offer “superlative opportunities for recreation, for public use and enjoyment, or for scientific study.” And finally, it must retain “a high degree of integrity as a true, accurate and relatively unspoiled example of the resource.”

kenaifjordsFB6. How many people visit the national parks each year?

In 2015, the NPS saw a record-breaking 307-million visitors, a number that is expected to be surpassed in 2016, thanks to the centennial – and cheaper gas prices.

5. Who are some of the NPS’ most interesting characters?

From mountain man, Harry Yount, the first national park ranger, to business-mogul, Stephen T. Mather, who encouraged Congress to pass the 1916 Organic Act and also served as the first NPS director, players in the NPS story come from all backgrounds and passions. There’s Ansel Franklin Hall, the first park naturalist for Yosemite, and Ansel Adams, whose photographs continue to inspire generations of national park aficionados. And then, of course, there’s John Muir, the father of the national parks, and President Theodore Roosevelt, and architect Mary Colter, and Charles Young, the first black superintendent of the NPS in 1903, and the list goes on…

4. What’s the significance of the NPS arrowhead symbol?

Authorized in 1951, the trademarked NPS arrowhead symbolizes historical and archaeological values, while the differing components signify the crux of the NPS: the sequoia tree and bison stand for vegetation and wildlife, while the mountains and water represent scenic and recreational values.

3. How much does it cost to visit a national park?YellowstoneFB

Depends on the park, your itinerary, and how many ‘concessions’ you take advantage of (concessions are vendors of food, drinks, lodging, and other commercial endeavors). But good news for 2016 visitors! There are 16 fee-free entry days this year, including the centennial weekend (August 25-28). As well this year, fourth graders visit for free – and travel for free on any Austin Adventures national park trip!

2. Are national parks the greatest treasure of the United States?

Yes.

1deathvalleyFB. Where can I find more information about the NPS and its centennial festivities?

For more information on NPS history, please visit www.nps.gov. To discover NPS sites closest to you or that best fit you and your family’s travel style, checkout findyourpark.com. If you’re ready to lace up your hiking boots and feast your senses on pine breezes, awe-inspiring monoliths, soul-stirring rivers and wildlife-animated expanses, then give us a call to see what national park experience is for you. Cheers, NPS!

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