FDR’s Expansion of National Parks

As part of the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt greatly expanded the National Park Service and its mission to include history and culture as well as nature and re-organized it for an expanded role in preserving our national treasures.  The National Park Service’s history has a chapter dedicated to FDR’s National Park vision and legacy:

  • FDR expanded the National Park Service mission in 1933 to include not only parks and monuments but also national cemeteries, national memorials, and national military parks.
  • The reorganization paved the way for inclusion of historic sites such as the Vanderbilt Mansion and FDR’s own home, which he made part of the national park system in 1939 and 1943.
  • FDR was responsible for adding over one-quarter of the 411 areas in today’s National Park Service system.

Two of the most important parks made possible by FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) are Shenandoah National Park, including the famous Skyline Drive, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Efforts to create National Parks accessible to people living in big cities along the East coast had been ongoing in the decade before FDR was elected in late 1932, but the CCC provided needed manpower and funding to make them a reality.

Why This Matters:  You might not guess it, but the most visited National Park in the U.S. is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park dedicated by FDR, which drew more than eleven million visitors in 2017 — nearly twice the number of the second most popular one, the Grand Canyon National Park. And thanks to FDR, our notion of what we should preserve as parks has forever shifted to include sites like Stonewall National Monument, commemorating the place where the struggle for LGBTQ rights began, and Martin Luther King National Historical Park to commemorate his birthplace and his role in the Civil Rights movement.  

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