The National Park Service, which turns 98 this August 25, will be celebrating by waiving admission to its parks across the country on its birthday. Tagged as “America’s Best Idea” in a PBS series for its part in preserving our natural landscape, the NPS now protects 84 million acres in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
While large swaths of open green space are what first comes to mind when we think of a National Park, the sites actually come in all shapes and sizes. Monuments, battlefields, seashores, and scenic rivers — even the White House — can be classified as National Parks. Some are found in highly populated areas and take up less space than an apartment building.
In case you need ideas for where to enjoy free admission, here are some fun facts that might deepen your appreciation for a few of these important preservations. Happy birthday, NPS!
1. Yellowstone National Park was the first national park, established by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.
2. Bigger than the country of Switzerland, the largest park patrolled by the NPS is Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The Park stretches a ridiculous 13.2 million acres, or 20,625 square miles, and its highest peak, Mt. St. Elias, tops out at 18,008 feet.
2. The smallest National Park, on the other hand, is Philadelphia’s Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, at 0.02 acres, or 871 square feet. The museum follows the life and heroics of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a Polish engineer who built war fortifications for the Americans during the Revolutionary War.
4. The site where our nation was founded is a national park. Also located in Philly, it’s called Independence National Historical Park. You might know it better by its centerpiece, the infamous Independence Hall, in Old City Philadelphia.
5. Yosemite National Park is also celebrating its very own milestone, honoring its 150th anniversary this year. Though Yellowstone predates it, Yosemite’s creation in 1864 was the first time the federal government ever set aside a piece of land for preservation. (Abraham Lincoln did the honors.)