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February 2015

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U.S. Census Bureau History: America's National Parks and Forests

Calvin Coolidge
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President Calvin Coolidge signed legistlation
establishing Grand Teton National Park on
February 26, 1929.

Since Yellowstone became the nation's first national park in 1872, American presidents have signed legislation protecting approximately 768 million acres of land and water within national parks, grasslands, forests and monuments. Preservation of these areas' natural beauty and historical significance is the responsibiltiy of several federal government agencies, including the National Park Service, which oversees 401 national parks and the majority of America's 110 national monuments; the U.S. Forest Service, which manages 154 national forests, 20 grasslands, and 439 wilderness areas; and the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees Washington's San Juan Islands and Arizona's Sonoran Desert national monuments and millions of acres of government-owned land.

February is a significant month for America's wilderness and natural wonders. Many of its most majestic national parks, forests, and monuments celebrate anniversaries this month. Below, you can learn more about these and other protected sites through the statistical data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and other federal agencies.

  • National parks established in February include: Denali (AK) on February 26, 1917; Acadia (ME) and Grand Canyon (AZ) on February 26, 1919; Bryce Canyon (UT) on February 25, 1928; and Grand Teton (WY) on February 26, 1929.
  • President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation creating Colorado's Pike National Forest on February 11, 1892. One year later, he established California's Sierra National Forest on February 14, and the Cleveland, Angeles, and San Bernadino National Forests on Febrary 25, 1893.
  • On February 22, 1897, President Grover Cleveland protected more than 18.2 million acres when he established the Bighorn (WY), Bitterroot (MT/ID), Black Hills (SD, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie (WA), Flathead (MT), Bridger-Teton (WY), Lewis and Clark (MT), Olympic (WA), Stanislaus (CA), and Uinta-Wasatch-Cache (UT/WY/ID) National Forests.
  • During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation establishing 5 national parks; 150 national forests (including North Carolina's Nantahala National Forest on February 6, 1907, and Minnesota's Superior National Forest on February 13, 1909); and 18 national monuments (including South Dakota's Jewel Cave, on February 7, 1907.)
  • Calvin Coolidge established three national parks—Shenandoah on May 22, 1926; Bryce Canyon on February 25, 1928; and Grand Teton on February 26, 1929. In establishing these parks, Coolidge protected approximately 544,875 acres of wildlife habitat, untouched wilderness, and unique vistas and natural wonders. In 2013, more than 4.1 million people visited these parks to hike, fish, hunt, birdwatch, and enjoy many other outdoor activities.
  • According to the National Park Service, more than 297 million people visited America's national parks and monuments in 2021. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that between fiscal years 2010 and 2012, nearly 137 million people visited America's national forests.
  • Millions of Americans visit national parks and forests every year, and the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau) collects data on their participation in a variety of outdoor recreational activities. In 2011, 90.1 million U.S. residents age 6 and older participated in wildlife-related recreational activities. Fishing was a popular pastime, with expenditures amounting to $41.8 billion. Approximately 13.7 million people went hunting, with the majority (11.6 million) seeking big game such as deer, wild turkey, elk, and bear. The survey also found that 71.8 million reported observing, photographing, and/or feeding wildlife at home or at parks and natural areas.
  • Along with elk, deer, bison, and waterfowl, many U.S. residents also live in or near America's national parks and forests. For example, the American Community Survey estimates that, Grand Canyon Village, AZ was home to 2,239; bordering Denali National Park, Healy, AK counted 968; the 10,553 people living in Jackson, WY, are nearly surrounded by Grand Teton National Park; Wrightwood, CA's 3,984 inhabitants live within the borders of the Angeles National Forest; and many of the 1,754 people living in Mount Desert, ME enjoy visiting nearby Arcadia National Park.
  • President Barack Obama signed legislation establishing the most recent addition to America's roster of national parks—Pinnacles National Park—on January 10, 2013. Near Soledad, CA, and residing within San Benito and Monterey counties, Pinnacles National Park participates in California's Condor Recovery Program, with 25 free-flying condors calling its 26,606 acres home.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southwestern Utah. Despite its name, Bryce Canyon is not a canyon but a collection of giant natural amphitheaters along the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.

Bryce Canyon is famous for its "hoodoos"—pillars of multicolored sandstone formed by frost and water erosion of the area's sedimentary rocks. The area was settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1850s and
was named after Ebenezer Bryce, who homesteaded in the area in the 1870s and 1880s. The area around Bryce Canyon became a National Monument in 1923 and President Calvin Coolidge designated
35,835 acres as Bryce Canyon National Park on February 25, 1928.

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Horatio Nelson Jackson and his 1903 Winton Automobile

This Month in Census History

On February 18, 1907, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that automobile manufacturing grew 461% between 1900 and 1905. Data from the 1905 Census of Manufacturing also found that of the 22,830 automobiles built in 1905, 86.2% were propelled by gasoline, 7.2% by steam, and 6.6 by electricity.

Early motorists found the nation's road network consisted of little more than muddy cart paths once they drove beyond the borders of major cities. When Horatio Nelson Jackson completed the first transcontinental automobile trip between San Francisco and New York City in 1903, the journey in his 1903 Winton (pictured left) took 63 days to complete! Today, a family can comfortably drive from coast to coast in 3 to 4 days and daring rally drivers have (illegally) made the journey in less than 32 hours!

Yellowstone National Park poster
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Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is the oldest and probably best known national park in the United States. The park was established by legislation signed by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.

Yellowstone National Park resides in the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. When the park was established, the population of the three states was 44,712. The 2010 Census found Wyoming's population had grown to 563,626; Montana's was 989,415; and Idaho was home to 1,567,582.

The park's greatest features—and primary reason Yellowstone National Park was established—are the existence of the majority of the world's geysers, including the "Old Faithful" geyser depicted on this poster. Although not the largest geyser in Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful erupts more frequently than any of the other big geysers. It was named for its consistent performance by members of the Washburn Expedition in 1870. Although its average interval has lengthened through the years (due to earthquakes and vandalism), Old Faithful eruptions still occur every 60 to 110 minutes. The geysers 1 1/2 to 5 minute long eruptions can blast 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of boiling water as high as 184 feet into the air.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Did You Know?

The 2012 Census of Governments found that federal, state, and local governments employed 418,491 full- and part-time parks and recreation employees and 369,484 natural resource employees. The majority of natural resource employees (49.7 percent) worked for the federal government, while 83.6 percent of parks and recreation employees were employed by state and local governments.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: May 23, 2022