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The United States' national parks and monuments were originally managed under the Department of the Interior. The movement to create an independent agency to oversee the national parks was led by businessman and conservationist Stephen Mather, who ran a publicity campaign praising the parks' scenic qualities and possibilities for educational, inspirational, and recreational benefits. On Aug. 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill that created and mandated the National Park Service "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife 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."
In 1951, Conrad Wirth became director of the National Park Service and began a campaign to improve the parks system, which had been underfunded for decades and had largely fallen into disrepair. The demand for parks after the end of the World War II had left the parks overburdened with demands that could not be met. In 1952, with the support of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, he began Mission 66, a ten-year effort to upgrade and expand park facilities for the 50th anniversary of the Park Service. New parks were added to preserve unique resources and existing park facilities were upgraded and expanded. In 1966, as the Park Service turned 50 years old, its emphasis moved from just saving the parks' wonderful scenery and unique natural features to making them more accessible to the public. Today, more than 275 million visitors enjoy more than 400 national parks and monuments every year.
Yellowstone: The first national park in the world, Yellowstone was established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. Located primarily in Wyoming, it also extends into Montana and Idaho.
Grand Canyon: Widely considered to be one of the natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon became a national park in 1919.
Zion: Home to the Anasazi tribe in antiquity, the Zion area was discovered by Mormons in 1858 and was settled by that same group in the early 1860s. It became a national park in 1919.
Bryce Canyon: The Bryce area was settled by Mormons the 1850s and was named for Ebenezer Bryce, who homesteaded there in 1874. The canyon became a national park in 1928.
Grand Teton: Named for Grand Teton, the tallest mountain in the Teton Range at 13,775 feet, President Calvin Coolidge established the 96,000-acre Grand Teton National Park in 1929.
Mount Rushmore: Begun in 1927, the U.S. National Park Service took over management of the presidential memorial in 1933. Its construction was finished in 1941.
Acadia: Lafayette National Park was established in 1919, and renamed Acadia in 1929. The first national park east of the Mississippi, its popularity stems from the “Rusticators” of the mid 1800s, who reveled in its scenic beauty.