An elephant safari through the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary in West Bengal, India A national park is a reserve of natural or semi-natural land, declared or owned by a national government, set aside for human recreation and enjoyment, and protected from most development. While ideas for national parks had been suggested previously, what is held to be the first one established was the United States' Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872.
An international organization, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and its World Commission on Protected Areas, has defined National Parks as its category II type of protected areas. 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, there are now 6,555 national parks worldwide (2006 figure).
Landsat 7 image of Kavir National Park, Iran. In 1969 the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) declared a national park to be a relatively large area with particular defining characteristics. A national park was deemed to be a place where:
In 1971 these criteria were further expanded upon leading to more clear and defined benchmarks to evaluate a national park. These include:
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada In 1810, the English poet William Wordsworth described the Lake District as a "sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy". The painter George Catlin, in his travels through the American West, wrote in 1832 that the Native Americans in the United States might be preserved "by some great protecting policy of government . . . in a magnificent park . . . A nation's park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature's beauty!" Similar ideas were expressed in other countries—in Sweden, for instance, the Finnish-born Baron Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld made such a proposition in 1880. The Scottish-American naturalist John Muir was inspirational in the foundation of national parks, anticipating many ideas of conservationism, environmentalism, and the animal rights movement.
The first effort by any government to set aside such protected lands was in the United States, on April 20, 1832, when President Andrew Jackson signed legislation to set aside four sections of land around what is now Hot Springs, Arkansas to protect the natural, thermal springs and adjoining mountainsides for the future disposal of the US government. It was known as the Hot Springs Reservation. However no legal authority was established and federal control of the area was not clearly established until 1877.
The next effort by any government to set aside such protected lands was, again, in the United States, when President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act of Congress on June 30, 1864, ceding the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (later becoming the Yosemite National Park) to the state of California:
In 1872, Yellowstone National Park was established as arguably the world's first truly national park  When news of the natural wonders of the Yellowstone were first promulgated, the land was part of a federally governed territory. Unlike Yosemite, there was no state government that could assume stewardship of the land, so the federal government took on direct responsibility for the park, a process formally completed in October 1, 1890—the official first national park of the United States. It took the combined effort and interest of conservationists, politicians and especially businesses—namely, the Northern Pacific Railroad, whose route through Montana would greatly benefit by the creation of this new tourist attraction—to ensure the passage of that landmark enabling legislation by the United States Congress to create Yellowstone National Park. Theodore Roosevelt, already an active campaigner and so influential as good stump speakers were highly necessary in the pre-telecommunications era, was highly influential in convincing fellow Republicans and big business to back the bill.
Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California, USA. The "dean of western writers", American Pulitzer prize-winning author Wallace Stegner, has written that national parks are 'America's best idea,'—a departure from the royal preserves that Old World sovereigns enjoyed for themselves—inherently democratic, open to all, "they reflect us at our best, not our worst."http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/hisnps/NPSThinking/famousquotes.htm Even with the creation of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and nearly 37 other national parks and monuments, another 44 years passed before an agency was created in the United States to administer these units in a comprehensive way — the U.S. National Park Service (NPS). Businessman Stephen Mather and his journalist partner Robert Sterling Yard pushed hardest for the creation of the NPS, writing then-Secretary of the Interior Franklin Knight Lane about such a need and spearheading a large publicity campaign for their movement. Lane invited Mather to come to Washington, DC to work with him to draft and see passage of the NPS Organic Act, which was approved by Congress and signed into law on August 25, 1916. Of the sites managed by the National Park Service of the United States, only 58 carry the designation of National Park.
Following the idea established in Yellowstone there soon followed parks in other nations. In Australia, the Royal National Park was established just south of Sydney in 1879. Rocky Mountain National Park became Canada's first national park in 1885. New Zealand had its first national park in 1887. In Europe the first national parks were a set of nine parks in Sweden in 1909; Europe has some 370 national parks as of this writing. http://jozef.phpnet.us/index.php/National_parks_in_Europe In 1926, the government of South Africa designated Kruger National Park as the nation's first national park. After World War II, national parks were founded all over the world. The Vanoise National Park in the Alps was the first French national park, created in 1963 after public mobilization against a touristic project.
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