Calling all NPS History Buffs!

The National Park Service has a long and storied history.  Starting with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, NPS has taken seriously its mission of preserving and protecting America’s natural resources and historical places for the benefit of current and future generations.  Over the years, the agency has collected more than four million artifacts, photographs, documents, uniforms, and other memorabilia that document the stories of our nation’s culture and history.  Most of those items are carefully stored and preserved at the NPS Harper’s Ferry Center in West Virginia, where few of us will ever be privileged to see them.

But now there’s good news for NPS history buffs – the agency’s history collection can be accessed virtually through a new behind the scenes experience. You can follow the guided tour or choose your own path to discover objects, art, photographs, and uniforms that span over 100 years of NPS history. 

Another fascinating resource is the NPS online museum collection, a searchable online database that provides access to thousands of images and records from numerous parks’ individual museum collections. You can simply browse the online database or search the themed collection highlights that group together the parks’ artifacts by particular themes, types of objects, or locations.  Each week, NPS features a Collection Highlight of the Week that can range from historic clothing to model ships to prehistoric artifacts.  (Warning – you can quickly get absorbed by these fascinating items and lose all track of time!)

Finally, teachers will want to check out the NPS online resource  Teaching with Museum Collections. The site provides lesson plans by theme and park as well as guides on How to Read an Object and How to Read a Photo.  

Happy snooping!

Who doesn’t love a birthday?

The National Park Service is turning 106 this Thursday, and you’re invited to help celebrate.  With more than 400 park units across the country, there are countless ways to join in the fun.

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson charged the Department of the Interior with establishing a new federal bureau to protect the 35 national parks and monuments then managed by the department.  The new agency, dubbed the National Park Service, was directed “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Kerry on

The creation of the iconic Yellowstone National Park in 1872 actually pre-dated the establishment of the Park Service.  In subsequent years Congress authorized additional national parks and monuments, many of them carved from the federal lands of the West.  But it was not until the National Park Service was created that all of these parklands were administered by one centralized agency.

Today, the national park system has expanded to 423 sites, covering more than 84 million acres in 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands.  These sites range from national battlefields and military parks to national rivers and lakeshores to national historic sites and monuments. 

Voyageurs National Park

In honor of its 106th birthday, the Park Service wants you to share your favorite WOW moments from past visits to any NPS location.  These could include an occasion when you encountered breath-taking scenery, heard an inspirational ranger talk, or were surprised when you learned about a compelling historical event.  You’re invited to share your WOW moments via social media and tag it with #NPSBirthday.

The NPS app

You’re also encouraged to experience parks virtually.  There’s the NPS app, where you can learn about all of the national park sites and get tips to help you on your next visit, as well a number of  podcast series that highlight the stories and wonders of various national parks.  And for kids (of all ages), be sure to check out NPS Games and Challenges where you can test your park knowledge or learn something new about many national parks.  One of our favorites is Where the “Park” Am I? – it’s not as easy as it sounds!

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

However you decide to celebrate the long history of the National Park Service, we’re sure you agree with author Wallace Stegner, who famously said “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

Happy Birthday, NPS!!!