Our National Parks: The Roots of Conservation in America- Part 1

Freya, one of our monthly correspondents and former Bucktail and Ursids student, writes a featured Three Week Blitz on our National Parks! A great read but stay tuned for more!

The creation of the National Parks marks the beginning of conservation in America.  They’re the ultimate destination, and also offer some really cool conservation jobs (22,000 positions to shoot for guys!)  The parks draw nature-lovers from far and wide, and they spark new love for the outdoors all the time.  Last summer, more than 307 million people visited the parks – that’s more than the all the visitors to every Disney park, every NBA, NFL, MLB game and Nascar race combined!   American novelist Wallace Stegner proclaimed “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”   The parks become more and more important as undeveloped areas become even more rare.  I know the people reading this blog have a love for the outdoors and know the importance of conservation, so they, like me, might find the parks and the history behind them pretty interesting.  I’m going to tell you about the history of the national parks, and about a couple parks I’ve gotten to visit recently.


Our National Parks System now preserves more than 400 national parks, monuments and historical sites, but when Yellowstone, our first national park, was established, it was really the first of its kind.  What got everything moving?  People had always had the attitude of ‘man against nature’; nature was powerful and scary and we had to conquer it.  But by 1872, the year Yellowstone was founded, it was becoming clear to many that the tables had turned: man was definitely winning.  Some saw the dwindling of once seemingly infinite resources, and realized we needed to start thinking about the long term consequences our actions.


Actually, it was thanks to the work of artists and writers, that people began seeing wilderness differently.  Pennsylvanian artist George Catlin, who grew up hunting and fishing in the early 1800s, is credited for the idea of the ‘National Park’.  He was always fascinated by Native American cultures and in 1830, managed to get himself on a diplomatic mission with William Clark (of ‘Lewis and Clark’) up the Mississippi into Native American territory.  Over the next decade, he travelled throughout the west, interacting with many tribes and making hundreds of paintings of Native Americans and western landscapes.  When he returned to the East, he gave talks and published books to raise awareness about what he’d seen and learned.


Catlin wasn’t alone: many other artists like Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Edwin Church, and writers like David Henry Thoreau began portraying nature as beautiful and precious.  This had a huge influence on people and the mindset slowly changed.  Just goes to show how artists and writers can change the world!

A painting of Yosemite Valley in Yellowstone Park – Albert Bierstadt.





Oh, my, gosh, the fossils! The earliest badlands fossils come from the late Cretaceous, when the area was covered by a shallow sea.  Newer layers hold early horses, camels and rhinos.   Plant and animal remains from shallow seas, wetlands, forests and grasslands are uncovered with every rainstorm.  We found ammonites, fossil mammal poop, jaws and teeth of early horses, sea turtle shells and a brontothere (think giant rhino) thigh bone as long as my leg.