The Diversity of our Parks SystemToday, of the 390 units of the National Park System, only 58 are designated as "national parks." The classification system used by the National Park Service includes 18 other designations, including descriptive listings such as lakeshores, seashores, and battlefields, and others titles that can't be neatly categorized because of the diversity of resources within them.
Many of the important events in our nation's history are interpreted in the national parks system, including the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, the Supreme Court Decision (Brown vs. Board of Education) aimed at ending segregation in public schools, and the Johnstown Flood, one of the worst disasters in American history. Many of our national historic sites tell the stories and preserve the legacies of important individuals who helped to shape our nation's past and present, including notable African-Americans, Hispanics, and women. Parks celebrate inventors like the Wright Brothers and Thomas Edison, writers like Eugene O'Neill and Edgar Allan Poe, and also recognize the contributions of many of our past presidents. National historic sites, battlefields, and military parks tell the stories of important conflicts during our nation's history, including the Revolutionary War, the Civil War. and more recently the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
And Then There's Recreation...The National Park System today comprises 390 areas covering more than 83 million acres in 49 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands. Even with the rich historical interpretation provided by National Park Service, statistics still show that the most visited parks are usually those that include great scenery and/or provide opportunities for outdoor recreation. In 1998, the five most popular destinations included the Blue Ridge Parkway, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Lake Mead National Recreation Area. and Gateway National Recreation Area. Only one of the top 20 most visited sites was a national historical park or national historic site.
Whether your interest is history, geography, biology, zoology, archeology, or simply enjoying the great outdoors, the national park system definitely has something to captivate your interest. Teachers and students can take advantage of a variety of excellent educational resources available at our parks system, including opportunities to learn through the Parks as Classrooms Program and Teaching with Historic Places. Also, volunteering and seasonal or full-time jobs can provide valuable training and experience, and afford the chance to explore some of the most beautiful protected lands and wilderness areas that the country has to offer.