National Park or National Monument?

National Park or National Monument: Sipapu Natural Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Courtesy and Copyright Anna Bengston
Sipapu Natural Bridge
Natural Bridges National Monument
Courtesy & Copyright Anna Bengston

National Park or National Monument: Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Courtesy and Copyright Anna BengstonDelicate Arch
Arches National Park
Courtesy & Copyright Anna Bengston

Established in 1916 the National Park Service manages all properties included in the National Park System. This system includes over 400 areas that encompass more than 84 million acres of land. These areas can go by one of 31 different titles. Within this system, Utah boasts 1 national historic site, 2 national recreation areas, 7 national monuments, and 5 national parks. While the reason for some of these titles is self-explanatory, the reason for others is less clear. National Park or National Monument?

For example, what makes one area a “national park” and another a “national monument?” Most people – including myself – would probably guess that the difference is in size. And while this is sometimes true, the primary difference is the reason for which each is established, because these two designations grew from historically separate concepts. The notion of the national park, which was simply the idea of large-scale natural preservation for public enjoyment, grew in popularity throughout the 1800s. As a result you can typically think of a national park as a spectacular scenic feature or natural phenomena preserved for inspirational, educational, and recreational value.

On the other hand, the idea of the national monument arose as a result of the need and desire to also protect prehistoric cliff dwellings, pueblo remains, and other historic ruins found by explorers of the American West and Southwest. Efforts to protect these sites resulted in the passing of the Antiquities Act of 1906. Therefore a national monument is usually designated to preserve objects of prehistoric, historic, cultural, and/or scientific interest. However, the Antiquities Act has been used more widely to preserve natural features as well, meaning the content of national monuments can be quite varied from wilderness areas to military sites to buildings and ruins.

There are also a couple of legal differences between these two designations. National parks are established through acts of Congress, whereas national monuments are established by Presidential proclamation. Administratively, the National Park Service manages all national parks. While national monuments, depending on their location and content, can fall under not only under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, but also that of the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Defense, or the Bureau of Land Management.

So, it’s not just size that makes the difference, its intent, content, process of establishment, and administration. The next time you visit one of Utah’s national parks or monuments, will you be able to tell the difference?

For Wild About Utah, I’m Anna Bengtson of Park City.

Arches National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Capitol Reef National Park
Canyonlands National Park
Zion National Park

Golden Spike National Historic Site
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument
Grand Staircase National Monument
Hovenweep National Monument
Natural Bridges National Monument
Pipe Spring National Monument(Border Utah/Arizona)
Rainbow Bridge National Monument
Timpanogos Cave National Monument

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Image: Courtesy and Copyright Anna Bengston
Text: Anna Bengston

Additional Reading:

Biggers, Ashley. “National Parks Versus National Monuments.” Outside Online. 22 Apr. 2014. Web. 8 June 2014.

McDonnell, Janet. The national parks: shaping the system. 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 2005. Web, 8 June 2014.

O’Connor, Mary. “Killing A Bill that Could Save National Parks.” Outside Online. N.p., 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 8 June 2014.

“Parks and Monuments.” Utah. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 June 2014.

Righter, Robert. “National Monuments to National Parks:
The Use of the Antiquities Act of 1906”, National Park Service History: National Monuments to National Parks. N.p., Aug. 1989. Web. 8 June 2014.

United States. National Park Service. “National Park Service History: National Park System Nomenclature.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 8 June 2014.

United States. National Park Service. “Frequently Asked Questions.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 28 May 2014. Web. 8 June 2014.

Yard, Robert Sterling, and Isabelle F. Story. “Parks vs. Monuments.” The national parks portfolio. 6th ed. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1931. Web, 8 June 2014.