(NEXSTAR) – A site to commemorate the global war on terrorism, another to help tell the history of Japanese American incarceration during World War II, and one to protect the childhood home of America’s 43rd president could all soon join the ranks of the U.S.’s expansive National Park Service.
Currently, NPS oversees 423 parks, monuments, rivers, and more – they’re all collectively referred to as ‘parks’ – and 27 new sites could soon be added.
Those sites include six that have been authorized to be part of NPS but haven’t yet been established and 21 Congressionally-authorized studies in various stages of progress, according to Kathy Kupper, a public affairs specialist for NPS.
How to become a national park
An area can only become a national park through Congressional legislation, Kupper explains. The process to designate a national park – or any of the other titles used by NPS (there are 423 parks with various name designations, but they are collectively referred to as parks) – typically begins with a special resource study on the proposed site to determine if it meets specific criteria:
- Have nationally significant natural or cultural resources
- Be suitable and feasible to be added to the system
- Require direct protection from the NPS rather than protection by a public agency or the private sector
The Department of the Interior oversees the studies, once instructed to do so by Congress. NPS can perform smaller studies or study updates without Congress’s approval. These are typically used to determine whether or not the area would be a good candidate for a full study.
Presidents also have some restricted power to add a site to the NPS. Under the Antiquities Act of 1906 signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, presidents have the power to establish or modify national monuments from federal lands to protect their “special natural and cultural features,” according to NPS. The first natural area to be protected under the Antiquities Act was Devils Tower, which went on to become a national monument.
The goal of the Antiquities Act is to use the smallest parcel of land necessary to protect the natural, cultural, or scientific resources within the federal land in question. President Joe Biden has used the Antiquities Act three times so far – twice to change the boundary of a national monument and once to restore activities on the land.
Congress also has the power to establish national monuments by passing legislation. Many of the presidentially-proclaimed national monuments have since been enlarged or had their park designation changed by Congress. The Grand Canyon is one of the earliest examples of this – it was first designated as a national monument by Roosevelt in 1908 and became a national park 11 years later.
Sites that could soon join NPS
There are six sites that have been authorized to be part of NPS, but have not yet been established. Three of them are awaiting land acquisition while the others are awaiting a Commemorative Works Act.
Among those awaiting land acquisition is the Amache site in Granada, Colorado, which was designated as a national historic site in March 2022. Also known as the Granada Relocation Center, Amache was once a World War II incarceration site established to detain Japanese Americans who were forcibly removed from the West Coast. NPS is now working to acquire the lands approved for the site.
Others awaiting land acquisition are the Coltsville National Historical Park in Connecticut and the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home National Historic Site in Illinois, approved in 2014 and 2002, respectively.
The Global War on Terrorism Memorial, a yet-to-be-constructed memorial to those “who have contributed to global counterterrorism efforts since September 11th, 2001” – was approved by law in August 2017 but currently awaits the completion of a Commemorative Works Act review. The Commemorative Works Act prevents the construction of commemorative works near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and on the federal land in the National Capital Area unless approved by the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission.
The Desert Storm/Desert Shield Memorial and the Adams Memorial, approved in 2014 and 2001, respectively, are also awaiting reviews.
On May 12, Biden signed a law to not only redesignate Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to become a National Historical Park, but to expand it to include two South Carolina schools to be acquired by NPS.
There are also 21 Congressionally-authorized studies in various stages of the process. According to Kupper, this includes potential new parks and additions to the National Trails System, new National Heritage Areas, and affiliated areas.
Among those is Fort Ontario in New York, a star-shaped fort dating back to the early 1840s. The site was occupied by the U.S. Army through World War II before serving as the country’s only refugee camp for victims of the Nazi Holocaust. It later served as a home for WWII veterans and their families and has been a state historical site since 1949. In 2018, Congress called for a special resource study on Fort Ontario. That study is still in progress, according to NPS.
Here are the remaining sites currently being studied by NPS under Congressional authorization, as well as a link to more information about the study, if available:
- Flushing Remonstrance Special Resource Study in Flushing, New York
- Rota Special Resource Study in the Commonwealth of the North Mariana Islands
- Mississippi Civil Rights Sites Special Resource Study
- Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum Special Resource Study in Oswego, New York
- George W. Bush Childhood Home Special Resource Study in Midland, Texas
- Golden Spike National Historical Park, Transcontinental Railroad (RR) in Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California
- Pike National Historic Trail Feasibility Study in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana
- Finger Lakes National Heritage Area Feasibility Study in New York
- President Street Station Special Resource Study in Baltimore, Maryland
- Thurgood Marshall School (P.S. 103) Special Resource Study in Baltimore, Maryland
- James K. Polk Presidential Home Special Resource Study in Columbia, Tennessee
- Kentucky Wildlands National Heritage Area Feasibility Study in Kentucky
- Ocmulgee River Corridor Special Resource Study, between Macon and Hawkinsville, Georgia
- Emancipation National Historic Trail Feasibility Study in Texas
- 1908 Springfield Race Riot Special Resource Study in Springfield, Illinois
- Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Schools Special Resource Study in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia
- Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail Special Resource Study in Alabama
- Battle of Matewan Special Resource Study in Matewan, West Virginia
- Cold War Sites Theme Study
- New Philadelphia Special Resource Study in New Philadelphia, Illinois
- Amache Special Resource Study in Colorado(The study for the aforementioned Amache site)
A study, like any of those listed above, doesn’t guarantee the site will become a national park – only an act of Congress can make that happen.
While becoming the newest member of the NPS can be an honorable moment, it can also be a sign of a great need to protect the site.
“Additions as a new park will not usually be recommended if another arrangement can provide adequate resource protection, management, and opportunity for public enjoyment,” Kupper explains. This might include a site being affiliated with NPS but managed by other agencies as part of a cooperative agreement.
And even if these sites do receive national park status, they could easily lose it. There are various reasons for a site to lose its NPS status, but the most common is transferring it to a different agency or the state in which it falls. For example, in 2004, the Oklahoma City National Memorial commemorating the deadly April 1995 bombing was deauthorized as a park. It was transferred to the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation instead and declared an affiliate area of NPS.