National Parks Law and Legal Definition

Today's system of national parks in the United States was created on August 25, 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act creating the National Park Service (NPS). Established under the umbrella of the Department of the Interior, the NPS was responsible for protecting the 40 national parks and monuments then in existence.

An Executive Order in 1933 transferred 63 national monuments and military sites from the Forest Service and the War Department to the National Park Service, helping further our national system of parks. The parks system includes areas of historical, cultural, scientific, and scenic importance, such as lake shores, seashores, and battlefields, and many others.

Additions to the National Park System are now generally made through acts of Congress, and national parks can be created only through such acts. But the President has authority, under the Antiquities Act of 1906, to proclaim national monuments on lands already under federal jurisdiction.

The Antiquities Act states that a U.S. President is authorized to declare historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments. Congress also has the power to declare national monuments.

It is not unusual for national monuments to eventually be re-designated as national parks. In fact, nearly 25% of the parks that comprise our National Park System were originally designated under the Antiquities Act, including the Grand Canyon, Arches, and Brice Canyon.