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10 Bizarre and Interesting Facts About the U.S. National Parks
Here are 10 fascinating, and sometimes bizarre, facts about the U.S. national park system that you know and love.
1. Yellowstone may not have been the first national park
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Though it's fairly well known that Yellowstone was the first national park in the world, some people argue that Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas (pictured) should have that designation.
The Hot Springs was the first federally protected piece of land in the United States, with President Andrew Jackson signing legislation in 1832 to preserve the area.
Hot Springs didn't become an official national park until 1921, nearly five decades after Yellowstone received the designation. However, the Hot Springs was the first park chosen and minted for the national park quarter series. Hot Springs remains the smallest national park in the system and the only park located in an urban setting.
2. The second U.S. national park is now a state park
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The second U.S. national park created is no longer a national park at all. Mackinac National Park was established in 1875 as a resort island in Lake Huron, Michigan. The park was turned back over to the state in 1895 and became Michigan's first state park.
3. NPS was founded 44 years after Yellowstone was signed in
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Despite Yellowstone becoming the first national park in 1872, the actual National Park Service wasn't established until 1916, when the government decided there needed to be an autonomous agency to manage the protected land.
The National Park Service is overseen by the Department of the Interior puts the large amount of revenue made from entrance fees almost entirely back to the park where it was collected. This money funds repairs, habitat restoration and administration.
4. The park ranger uniform was created by the U.S. Army Cavalry
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The parks had many different caretakers before the establishment of the National Park Service, the most prominent being the U.S. Army Cavalry from 1886 to 1916. During this time, the Cavalry introduced the prototype for today's uniforms, the wide-brimmed hat being the most recognizable feature. Rangers today still wear these uniforms in homage to the early protectors of the parks.
5. NPS oversees more than 400 units
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In 1933, it was decided that the National Park Service should oversee multiple types of federally protected land. This reorganization transferred land from the war department and the forest service over to the NPS, including national monuments, historic sites, battlefields, lakeshores and recreation areas.
NPS started with a single public unit in 1872, and now oversees more than 400 units (a unit being any type of land previously listed). Fifty-nine of these units are actual national parks.
6. The U.S. government loans land from locals
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The National Park Service has come to include federally protected land that resides within U.S. protectorates. This includes Guam, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The national park of American Samoa (pictured) is the only one in which the U.S. government actually leases the land from local villages on the islands; every 50 years a new contract has to be negotiated.
7. The Carlsbad Caverns lunchroom debate continues
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There's been a continual debate regarding the appropriateness of a cafeteria inside Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico (750 feet underground). Many people think the institution goes against the NPS code of keeping the parks natural and limiting in-park commercialism.
Acts of Congress keep the cafeteria going every year, despite the 1991 Vail Agenda, which called to remove unnecessary facilities from the parks. Environmental studies have shown that the lunchroom currently poses no potential harm to the cave system.
8. Visitors were once encouraged to watch bears eat from dumpsters
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In the early years the NPS did very little to keep bears from obtaining human food. In fact, they encouraged it by setting up viewing areas for visitors to sit and watch the bears riffle through dumpsters. This led to issues of public safety and problematic bears. The picture depicts onlookers at the Adirondack Forest Preserve in 1973.
The most disturbing of these stories comes from Glacier National Park; during construction of Going-to-the-Sun Road, deceased horses were thrown over a specific cliff on Saint Mary Lake where grizzlies waited below. Visitors would sit and watch the activity.
9. Theodore Roosevelt NP was Teddy's mourning location
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Teddy Roosevelt's wife and mother both died on the same day, Valentine's Day of 1884. Because of this, Teddy fled to the badlands of North Dakota, an area where he had once hunted bison. He liked this area because he thought the desolate landscape matched the condition of his heart and thus offered an adequate place to begin the healing process.
This area was later named Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
10. A Shenandoah NP park ranger was hit by lightning seven times in his career
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Park ranger Roy Sullivan was hit by lightning seven times—and survived them all—during the course of his career. He worked at Shenandoah National Park between 1942 and 1977. Sullivan claims he was also struck by lightning once as a child, but never officially documented the account. He is reported as saying his first strike in Shenandoah was the most painful.