What Is a National Park?
A National Park is an
area where natural scenery and wildlife is protected by law to preserve them
for future generations. It is only recently that man has realized that he must
make a positive effort if many species of wildlife and areas of great beauty are
not to disappear for ever. There are many kinds of areas of conservation and
their central priorities may differ slightly. In the United States, a national
park such as Yellowstone safeguards natural features and wildlife in a way that
will contribute to public enjoyment.
In Africa generally, as in the Amboseli Game Reserve, the chief purpose is the preservation of the remnants of the great herds of animals which once roamed the country. National Parks depend on tourists for revenue but the animals must remain unmolested. To solve the problem many parks restrict visitors’ movements by setting aside areas for hotels, restaurants and parking places and providing a limited number of roads through the park. National parks may be small or large, privately or government owned.
National parks are almost always open to visitors. Most national parks provide outdoor recreation and camping opportunities as well as classes designed to educate the public on the importance of conservation and the natural wonders of the land in which the national park is located.
Although individual nations designate their own national parks differently, there is a common idea: the conservation of ‘wild nature’ for posterity and as a symbol of national pride. An international organization, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and its World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), has defined “National Park” as its Category II type of protected areas.
While this type of national park had been proposed previously, the United States established the first “public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people”, Yellowstone National Park, in 1872. Although Yellowstone was not officially termed a “national park” in its establishing law, it was always termed such in practice and is widely held to be the first and oldest national park in the world. However, the Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve (established in 1776), and the area surrounding Bogd Khan Uul Mountain (1778) are seen as the oldest legally protected areas, predating Yellowstone by nearly a century. The first area to use “national park” in its creation legislation was the U.S.’s Mackinac, in 1875.
Australia’s Royal National Park, established in 1879, was the world’s third official national park. In 1895 ownership of Mackinac National Park was transferred to the State of Michigan as a state park and national park status was consequently lost. As a result, Australia’s Royal National Park is by some considerations the second oldest national park now in existence. Canada established Parks Canada in 1911, becoming the world’s first national service dedicated to protecting and presenting natural and historical treasures.
The largest national park in the world meeting the IUCN definition is the Northeast Greenland National Park, which was established in 1974. According to the IUCN, 6,555 national parks worldwide met its criteria in 2006. IUCN is still discussing the parameters of defining a national park.