From Yellowstone to Acadia and Zion

Celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service includes looking back at its founding, enjoying the current protected areas — parks, monuments, historic trails and recreational areas, presidential museums, seashores, marine sanctuaries — and expanding conservation for future generations. 

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation creating the National Park Service, to oversee the nation’s 35 (at the time) national parks. The Organic Act of 1916 established one federal agency responsible for the maintenance, preservation and protection of America’s cultural and natural resources.

One hundred years later there are Park Service sites in every state, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico. The total area under protection, 84.4 million acres, is almost three times the size of Pennsylvania.


This guide provides reprinted Washington Post articles about the centennial celebrations and two new national monuments, an editorial in support of conservation and a guest commentary seeking recommitment to national parks. Activities take students into the parks and monuments to meet and enjoy them, to draw and photograph them, to confront diverse views about establishing new protected areas, to write about them and to advocate for parks, monuments, reserves and preserves, sanctuaries, and heritage sites.


The National Park Service’s commitment to preservation continues as does the federal agency’s need for the American people to visit parks from Acadia to Zion, to help in maintaining these precious resources and to provide support for its mission. 



Atolls, Sanctuaries and Preservation Policy
Resource Graphic 

Develop Vocabulary
Botany, English, Government, Social Studies

Terms associated with the National Park Service, its defined organization and responsibilities, are found in In the Know. Teachers should review the terms in order to become familiar with the expectations, complexity of distinctions of protected areas, and varied activities of the National Park Service. Help students to use them correctly during the suggested activities in this guide.


Wish the NPS Happy Birthday
Career Education, Government, Social Studies, U.S. History

Do students know where parks are located in their community? What do they do when they visit one? Who is responsible for keeping them clean and safe? Teachers should explain the difference between a community, state and national park.


Teachers might introduce this discussion with a map. Together list the names of national parks in your state or region. Ask students to locate them on the map.
• Have your students visited any of these parks?
• What are their memories of the visit?
• What was the favorite part of the visit: areas for a picnic, an interpretive center, new animals or flowers, local history and cultural experiences?


Give KidsPost article “National Park Service marks 100 years of preserving natural treasures.” Discussion could include:
• On what day was the National Park Service established?
• What is the purpose and responsibilities of the NPS?
• What jobs are needed to make a visit to a national park special and safe — especially if there are 307 million visitors?


Become a Park Ranger
Career Education, Social Studies

In Oh, Ranger! the first NPS director, Stephen T. Mather, is quoted, describing the work of rangers:

They are a fine, earnest, intelligent, and public-spirited body of men, these rangers. Though small in number, their influence is large. Many and long are the duties heaped upon their shoulders. If a trail is to be blazed, it is “send a ranger.” If an animal is floundering in the snow, a ranger is sent to pull him out; if a bear is in the hotel, if a fire threatens a forest, if someone is to be saved, it is “send a ranger.” If a Dude wants to know the why, if a Sagebrusher is puzzled about a road, it is “ask the ranger.” Everything the ranger knows, he will tell you, except about himself.


Discuss the different roles of park rangers envisioned from the beginning of the NPS.

The National Park Service provides opportunities for high school and college students to volunteer or hold internships. There are full- and part-time jobs as well as seasonal positions. Visit the Work With Us section on the NPS website to learn details.


Give students the KidsPost article “What it’s like to be a national park ranger” to read and discuss.
• Discuss the interpretation and protection roles that rangers perform.
• Why does a park ranger need to be physically fit?
• In what ways has the job of park ranger remained the same? Expanded?
• Why does Ann Posegate encourage students to attend college? Volunteer at parks?
• Think about being the superintendent of a national park. What job opportunities will you have posted to run your park well?

Consider America’s Heritage
Geography, Government, Social Studies, U.S. History

The NPS Heritage Initiatives includes organizing its resources by ethnic groups and related topics. Through visits to the parks and heritage areas, reading the essays, and meeting the authors “the history of underrepresented groups can be recognized, preserved and interpreted for current and future generations.”


Telling All Americans’ Stories may be used for student activities that include:
• Plan field and family trips that focus on diverse peoples, their arts and cultural contribution to the American society.
• Study the racial composition and contributions of different races and ethnic groups to America.
• America is founded on a democratic ideal. What contradictions to this ideal can be found by visiting national parks and historic places? In what ways does America continue to struggle with actualizing this idea?


Keep in mind that the resources listed online will vary as the activities change during a year. With that in mind, the student handout, Telling All Americans’ Stories, has been worded generally to allow teachers to make an assignment to meet their goals.



Teachers should consider a visit to one or more of these national parks for students to experience the historic site and the stories preserved through it, take advantage of its interpretive services and understand the impact upon and influence of diverse peoples that compose the American people. Fourth graders, in particular, are given free admission in order to encourage their experiencing a NPS site.


Help a Park
Art, Botany, Environmental Science, Government, Social Studies

Green spaces are important to a community. They offer a refuge for humans and animals, a natural ecosystem and biodiversity, a place for recreation and public meetings. Ask students to consider each of these:
• How many parks and public spaces are in your community? What kinds of activities take place in them?
• Is there an abandoned lot in your town that might be turned into green space?
• Is there a community, state or national park at which they may volunteer?
• Students can inform their school community of parks available to them, events to be held there, and needs for repair and new equipment with articles in student media.
• Literary-art magazine staffs could organize an art exhibit in your school’s garden or a community park.  

The National Parks
Resource Graphic 

Get Acquainted with National Parks
Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History

Teachers are encouraged to post or give students U.S. maps on which they can locate the national parks and monuments named in the following article. Read one or more of The Washington Post articles and discuss:
Most- and least-attended national parks
• Oldest, newest, largest, smallest — a roundup of U.S. national park superlatives
• As the National Park Service turns 100, a look at 59 wonders it works to preserve

Give students "Where Will You Find …?" to quiz their knowledge of the national parks.


Plan a Visit to a National Park
Geography, Mathematics, Social Studies
Teachers might begin this activity by asking students to locate on a U.S. map the national parks they have attended. Interest in the national parks may also be garnered from doing “Where Will You Find …?


This is a road trip that combines fun and adventure with definite requirements. Give students 3 Parks in 3 Days activity pages that outline the assignment, give a sample itinerary in Utah, and guidelines for the written itinerary that will take them to three national parks in three days.


Hear All of It
English, Reading, Media Arts

Do you have sight-impaired students or reluctant readers? The e-Replica edition of The Washington Post has a special service you should try. Teachers should review “Hear All of It” with the class or with the students who would most benefit using this feature. For example, this could be used for a note-taking exercise — either for recording main ideas or for listening and jotting down questions as well as key points.


Nominate a Park
English, Environmental Studies, Government, Marine Biology, Social Studies, U.S. History

National and state parks preserve natural environments — forests, deserts, caves, mountains, seashores and underwater domains — and the animals who dwell there. All 50 states, D.C. and U.S. territories have parks.

• Where would students want the next national park to be located? A new state park?
• Are there animals or plant life, flora or fauna, that need to be protected?
• What characteristics would their next national park have?
• Why should this area be preserved and protected for now and the future?


After students have determined where and why they would nominate another area to be a national or state park, to whom might they send a letter making their suggestion? Work together to write a persuasive and informed letter. Consider photographs, charts and maps that may be attached. Send the suggestions to one to four best recipients of such a nomination.


Commit to National Parks?
English, Social Studies, U.S. History

Read “We must recommit to national parks, America’s cathedrals” by Jonathan B. Jarvis, director of the National Park Service. Jonathan Jarvis likens his leadership of the NPS to that of its first director. What is the similarity?

For a guided discussion, give students Enjoy America’s National Parks. Questions are directed to Jarvis’ commentary as well as responding to a short descriptive passage. The last question refers to Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument and the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.


For more background, teachers may wish to read the Q&A with Jarvis conducted by The Post’s Brady Dennis who reports on the environment and public health issues. See ‘Climate change is going to drive a lot of change in the national parks.’ 



Who Maintains and Preserves the National Mall?
Botany, Environmental Science, Government, Social Studies

The National Mall in Washington, D.C., is an example of jurisdictions that share the work of maintaining, restoring and preserving the land, monuments and memorials within national parks, historic sites and designated areas. The National Park Service and its rangers are the most visible presence on the Mall. Look for the NPS logo.


The Trust for the National Mall works on major projects, especially in seeking funding. The Smithsonian Institution maintains its museums and the Smithsonian Gardens is responsible for the landscapes and gardens. The National Fund for the U.S. Botanic Garden shares responsibility for another area.


Teachers could introduce students to these different organizations through their websites. Follow this with looking at a map of the National Mall. Ask students to do a web search of the monuments, memorials and buildings to confirm who is responsible for them.



View a Ken Burns Documentary
English, Media Studies, U.S. History

PBS provides lesson plans to accompany viewing of Ken Burns’ documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. These cover social studies, U.S. History, geography, government as well as language arts, music and mathematics standards.

Read Within National Parks

Locate a Protected Area
Career Education, Geography, Government

KidsPost introduces their readers to Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine, America’s 413th park unit managed by the National Park Service.

Read and discuss “Meet the National Park Service’s newest protected area.” Questions could include:
• Who donated the land? How did she acquire so much land in Maine?
• Katahdin Woods has both historic associations and natural resources. What are they?
• Who and why were there opponents to the donation of private land and Obama’s creation of a national monument?
• What kinds of jobs will the park provide?

President Obama established the first marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean. Read "Obama designates the first-ever marine monument off the East Coast, in New England."

Read an Editorial
English, Government, Journalism, Media Literacy, U.S. History


Before assigning the editorial, teachers should define “benefit-cost ratio,” “biodiversity,” “ecosystem” and “marine sanctuary.”


Read the Post editorial, “Why conservation matters.” Discussion could include both content and writer’s approach:


• A national monument is established by executive order. Which president initially established Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument ten years ago?
• What are “planetary boundaries”?
• What are the benefits of “unharmed ecosystems” to humans?
• What findings were reported in Nature?
• In what ways do the studies cited in Science and Nature relate to President Obama’s creation and expansion of existing national monuments? To the editorial position?
• Where does the editorial writer make a concession?
• Why do editorial writers include studies?
• The editorial begins and ends with addressing “conservation balance.” What is it? What is the cautionary conclusion of the editorial?

Contain Man and Beast
Art, Environmental Science, Journalism, Media Literacy, Photography

Whether students send their photographs of visits to state and national parks to the Capital Weather Gang, display their drawings in the classroom or share their paintings with friends, they “contain man and beast.”


They are following in the footsteps of Ansel Adams, George Catlin and many more who take camera, paint brush or pencil and pad with them into parks. Give students “Containing Man and Beast” handout to give examples of the diverse techniques and stories told.


For background, read “The Nature of Art: Communicating Park Science, Nature and Culture through Art.” Although Alaska’s national parks are the canvas, these connections can be made in local, state and national parks.

Teachers may also share “13 Photographers Who Captured the Epic Beauty of America’s National Parks.”


Play a Role, Become a Stakeholder
Career Education, Civics, Economics, Government, Social Studies

Read “Obama creates the largest protected place on the planet, in Hawaii.” Teachers may approach discussion of the news through the lens of the stakeholders and their different perspectives.


This article can serve as a foundation document before conducting “Role Play: Science and Expert Testimony — Discovering the Interconnections Between Science, Law and the Public.” Teachers are encouraged to review Teachers Notes.

Review the advertisement, "Thank you, President Obama." What organizations have sponsored the full-page ad? 

Teachers who do not have time to conduct the entire role play activity could focus on the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (see page 8).

• Why are marine sanctuaries important? How do they fulfill the founding mission of the National Park Service?
• Locate marine sanctuaries. Where are most located?
• Discuss what the Act allows and restricts.
• How might students modify the Act during reauthorization?

Post NIE Guide Editor & Writer | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 


Wise use of natural resources; protect from loss or harm. The NPS requires the resource be dedicated to the highest uses for which it is suited. The second requirement is for immediate protection against all influences adverse to this highest use.


 Ecosystem A biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment; complex set of relationships among the living resources, habitats and residents of an area. A healthy ecosystem is sustainable; all species and elements live in balance and are capable of reproducing themselves

System of government in which several states unify but remain independent for internal affairs; the central government


Provide explanation or understanding, expound; helping others to know the worth, purpose, meaning or use of something

Maritime Archeology Curation, preservation and display of marine artifacts
Marine Resources 

Broadly defines the living marine resources (plants and animals), the water and currents, and the ocean floor and shoreline with a sanctuary. It also includes the historical and cultural resources within a sanctuary, from shipwrecks and lighthouses to archaeological sites and the cultural history of native communities


National Monument 

 In the U.S., the president has discretionary power to designate natural areas, historic places and nearly every other type of place that has preservation value a “national monument” under the Antiquities Act of 1906. The Grand Canyon, Zion Canyon, the Olympic Mountains, the Petrified Forest and Chaco Canyon were all national monuments until congress approved their designation as national parks.

National Park 

National parks are created by an act of Congress. Before 1916, they were managed by the Secretary of the Interior; in 1916, the National Park Service was established. Taking the Nation as a whole, there are, again, areas of such superlative quality, because of their primeval character or scenic excellence, or historical, archeological or scientific importance, or because of some combination of these factors, that they are objects of national significance. It is the responsibility of the Federal Government to acquire and administer these.  
National Park Service

A federal agency established in 1916 to manage the national parks (14) and national monuments (21) at the time and all future ones. Its purpose was to conserve the scenery, natural and historic object and wild life within for future generations.

No Take Zone 

Area set aside by the government where there are no extractive activities allowed (activities that remove resources – fishing, drilling, logging, mining). Even archaeological excavation and shell collecting!


Area set aside for recreation, especially characterized by landscape either natural or designed; a retreat for rest, relaxation and inspiration, in an environment of quietness and natural beauty, where such activities do not essentially conflict with the character of a naturalistic landscape

Park Ranger

Federal employee of the National Park Service is responsible for managing, protecting and preserving natural, historical and cultural resources set aside by the American people for current and future generations. This includes developing and presenting interpretive and recreational programs.


Act or process of depicting, by means of new construction, the form, features and detailing of a non-surviving site, landscape, building, structure or object for the purpose of replicating its appearance at a specific period of time and in its historic location

Preservation of Wilderness and Wildlife Law

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires the government to ensure safe, healthful, productive and aesthetically pleasing surroundings and protect important aspects of the national heritage. The federal government has three land preservation categories: the National Park System, the National Wilderness Preservation System, and the National Wildlife Refuge. They are to protect from degradation, misuse and spoliation.


Unspoiled, spotless, in its original condition


Area where protection is given to selected species of animal life. Established for either game or nongame, or in some cases both, they involve the protection of the selected species for some particular purpose — aesthetics, scientific investigation, hunting or commerce.


A wildlife sanctuary is an area set aside and maintained for the inviolate protection of all of its biota. Set aside for pleasure of seeing and studying the biota, and is not subject to hunting, trapping or any other commercial utilization. Its main objective is protection.

Social Scientist

Focuses on understanding how humans interact with natural and cultural resources and how they depend upon these resources for their lives and livelihoods. Provide the best possible social science to give all stakeholders a voice in the management of sanctuary resources and foster a more cooperative management process.

 State Park  

Every State has areas either of such high scenic value or of such high value for active recreation, or both, or possessing such interest from the scientific, archeological, or historical standpoint, that their use tends to be State-wide in character. Acquisition of such areas, and their development and operation, appear to be primarily a function of the State, though this should not preclude joint participation in acquisition, and possibly in development and operation, by the State and, by such community or communities as might receive a high proportion of the benefits flowing from their establishment.


One who has executive oversight of and directs an organization

Wildlife Preserve

Area set aside and maintained for the production and harvesting of any or all forms of the native biota on a sustained yield basis

  SOURCES:, national park service history, other online dictionaries. For distinguishing state parks, recreational reserves, monuments, waysides and parkways, check out Recreational Resources, State Components 

Where Would You Find …?

1. o, 2. j, 3. e, 4. r, 5. h, 6. m, 7. u, 8. a, 9. p, 10. f, 11. s, 12. b, 13. n, 14. k, 15. v, 16. c, 17. q, 18. g, 19. t, 20 i, 21. w, 22. d, 23. l. Bonus: 1. Mount Whitney; 2. Cadillac Mountain, previously Green Mountain.

Enjoy America's National Parks
1. Congress establishes national parks and oversees funding. The President may establish national monuments and departments of the executive branch oversees the maintenance, preservation and protection of National Park Service protected areas. 2. a. metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable;  b. answers will vary. 3. Responses will include: Americans can receive happiness in sharing the parks and other natural areas they have protected; they experience awe and spiritual renewal in its prsence. 4. 3. a. “emerald moss” adds rich color, the verb “carpets,” “dreamy,” and “smoky mist”; b. Note the roads; c. Answers will vary. 5. a. Both are marine protected areas rich in species, some of which have never been discovered before. b. Answers will vary, but include Hawaii's cultural heritage tied to the waters and Atlantic Ocean closeness to land and large populations.

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.


Social Studies. 6.6. Students analyze ways in which humans affect and are affected by their physical environment.

1.     Identify human-caused threats to the world’s environment: atmospheric and surface pollution, deforestation, desertification, salinization, overfishing, urban sprawl, and species extinction. 
2.     Identify ways in which occurrences in the natural environment can be a hazard to humans: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, flooding, hurricanes and cyclones, and lightning-triggered fires. 

Science. Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment (5-ESS3-1)


Academic Content Standards may be found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Political Systems. The student will demonstrate understanding of the structure and functions of government and politics in the United States (Expectation 1.1)

1.1.3 The student will evaluate roles and policies the government has assumed regarding public issues: Environment (pollution, land use), Equity (race, ethnicity, religion …)

1.1.4 The student will explain roles and analyze strategies individuals or groups may use to initiate change in governmental policy and institutions.


Geography. The student will demonstrate an understanding of the relationship of cultural and physical geographic factors in the development of government policy (Expectation 3.1)

3.1.2 The student will evaluate the role of government in addressing land use and other environmental issues.


Biology. The student will investigate the interdependence of diverse living organisms and their interactions with the components of the biosphere.

3.5.3 The student will investigate how natural and man-made changes in environmental conditions will affect individual organisms and the dynamics of populations.


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at 

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Government.9. The student will demonstrate knowledge of the process by which public policy is made by
a)   examining different perspectives on the role of government;
b)   describing how the national government influences the public agenda and shapes public policy;
d)   describing the process by which policy is implemented by the bureaucracy at each level;
e)   analyzing how individuals, interest groups, and the media influence public policy;
f)   formulating and practicing a course of action to address local and/or state issues.

Civics and Economics. The student will develop the social studies skills responsible citizenship requires, including the ability to
a)   examine and interpret primary and secondary source documents;
b)   create and explain maps, diagrams, tables, charts, graphs, and spreadsheets;
c)   analyze political cartoons, political advertisements, pictures, and other graphic media;
g)   formulate an informed, carefully reasoned position on a community issue
h)   select and defend positions in writing, discussion, and debate.


Civics and Economics.3. The student will demonstrate knowledge of citizenship and the rights, duties, and responsibilities of citizens by
e)   evaluating how civic and social duties address community needs and serve the public good.


Civics and Economics. CE.14.          The student will demonstrate knowledge of personal finance and career opportunities by
a)   identifying talents, interests, and aspirations that influence career choice;

Academic Content Standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

English Language Arts/Informational Text. Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.3)


English Language Arts/Reading Informational Text. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.6)


English Language Arts/Anchor Standards, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7)


Common Core standards may be found at