The National Park System: Visions for Tomorrow

Natural Resources Journal, Vol. 50, p. 71, 2010

40 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2011

See all articles by Robert B. Keiter

Robert B. Keiter

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law

Date Written: December 10, 2010


The American national park system consists of more than 390 units scattered over 49 states and spread across 82 million acres. Although legally referred to as a system, our national parks are actually a diverse collection of natural, recreational, historical, cultural, archeological, and other sites that have been melded together under the aegis of the National Park Service without any overarching vision or much forethought. Since its origin over 130 years ago, the national park idea has steadily evolved, reflecting changes in our society and economy. Traditionally, the national park has been viewed as a wilderness, tourist destination, playground, laboratory, wildlife reserve, and an economic engine for nearby communities. But with advances in scientific knowledge and our maturing sense of social justice, national parks can also be conceived as the vital core of larger ecosystems, as essential biodiversity reserves, and as important civic educational entities. Given this evolution, how might we expand and strengthen the national park system to meet tomorrow’s challenges? Several options merit consideration: expanding individual parks to embrace entire ecosystems, creating new national restoration areas, promoting park-focused ecosystem management arrangements, and developing new urban-based parks to address the needs of an increasingly diverse populace. It may be necessary, however, to revisit the “national significance” standard that has long guided expansion of the national park system. The ultimate goal must be to address and meet the needs of the future generations to whom our national parks are dedicated.

Keywords: national parks, public lands, ecosystem management, wilderness, land conservation

Suggested Citation

Keiter, Robert B., The National Park System: Visions for Tomorrow (December 10, 2010). Natural Resources Journal, Vol. 50, p. 71, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Robert B. Keiter (Contact Author)

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States

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