This week the nation has celebrated the centennial of our national park system, widely regarded, in Wallace Stegner's immortal words, as "America's best idea." On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Parks Organic Act into law, creating the National Park Service and the national park system. Since then, the national park system has grown to 412 units covering nearly 85 million acres and stretching across all 50 states. (And President Obama's recent proclamation establishing a new North Woods National Monument in Maine adds to the system.) Recent polls show the American public overwhelmingly supports our national parks as well as the creation of new ones. The parks hosted a record 307 million visits last year.
National parks have long played an important role in Utah. The state boasts five major national parks Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion which it advertises as "the Mighty Five" to attract visitors and fuel local economies. A recent report details how national parks have come to serve as economic engines, revealing that national parks generate more than $30 billion in economic activity and support 252,000 jobs nationwide. In Utah, the figures are equally stunning: $693 million in visitor spending and 11,240 jobs, demonstrating the vital economic role our beloved landscapes play.
Congress can create new national park units, and Congress has empowered the president under the Antiquities Act to designate new national monuments, many of which have subsequently been converted into national parks. In Utah, four of our five national parks were first designated as national monuments, and then later converted by Congress to national park status. When originally created, none of the state's Mighty Five were welcomed warmly by local citizens, but their importance today for local communities is evident, as revealed by the governor's efforts to keep them open during the 2013 federal government shutdown.