Logo bar of the Alaska Public Lands Information Centers which are located in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Tok and Ketchikan
Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir at Yosemite. Library of Congress.
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National Park Centennial
NPS Centennial logo

"The parks do not belong to one state or to one section.... The Yosemite, the Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon are national properties in which every citizen has a vested interest; they belong as much to the man of Massachusetts, of Michigan, of Florida, as they do to the people of California, of Wyoming, and of Arizona." 

-Stephen T. Mather, NPS Director, 1917-1929

Ranger Kesner looking at the Twin Sisters Peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park, 1916
Ranger Kesner looking at the Twin Sisters Peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park, 1916

Organic Act of 1916 "America's Best Idea"

On August 25, 1916, the National Park Service was created by United States federal law. It is an agency within the US Department of the Interior. As the 19th Century progresses, national parks and monuments were established all over the country. The Park Service set out with a mission “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein… by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations”. Each park is managed separate of the others. When Alaska was signed into statehood in 1959, questions of what to do with the new land and who it belonged to emerged. Alaskan land promised development of resources and settlement to Americans. But Alaskan Natives had occupied this land traditionally and were "largely left to shift for themselves as best they might" for many generations. At this point, it was considered a fundamental element of their culture and subsistence. Since the discovery of oil on Alaska’s North Slope, the State faced a new conflict with indigenous populations over possession of this "black gold". Non-native populations had never had interest in Alaskan land or resources until now. Oil companies were forced to settle land disputes before they set out to drill or construct an oil pipeline. The pressure these companies faced to start as soon as possible gave the Natives a bargaining advantage. In 1971, 44 million acres of land was acknowledged as Native land under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) to resolve territory disputes. An additional 80 million acres were identified as areas for future preservation. John McPhee, Historical American writer, commented that this event marked "perhaps the great, final, and retributive payment for all of American history's Native claims... not only principle but interest as well on twenty decades of national guilt" (Coming Into the Country 1976). However, the debate continued over the degree of claim Alaskan Natives should be granted for years. 

Tlingit totem poles at the Visitors Center in Sitka, 1969
Keller, William S./NPS
Tlingit totem poles at the Visitors Center in Sitka, 1969
Sitka Historical National Park of Alaska

When Alaska was purchased from Russia, Governor John Green Brady encountered a problem. The enormous stretch of land had very few settlers. He aspired to generate interest in a population of explorers who would aid the development of settlement in Alaska. He set to work creating an exhibit to publicize Alaska's most prominent features. Photos that illustrated totem poles rising up toward the sky along the Southeast coast featured the rich resources of the land. The fusion of Russian colonial architecture with Alaska Native villages revealed the unique culture by which the wilderness has been sculpted. Remains of the Kiks.ádi Fort stand tall in memory of the 1804 Battle of Sitka against Russian explorers. These images stressed three goals for Alaskan territory: tourism, settlement, and development. Brady believed these aspects of Alaska Native culture were essential for achieving these goals. He established a series of preservations and received donations of totem poles and other objects. These years symbolized Alaska Native leaders contributing their cultural heritage to the development of modern Alaska for future generations to enjoy. Sitka Historical National Park was Alaska's first park established by the federal government in 1890.

A musher departs Slaven's Roadhouse in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race after having his dogs checked by veterinarian.
A musher departs Slaven's Roadhouse in the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race after having his dogs checked by a veterinarian
To Develop or To Conserve?

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter and Congress passed a federal law into action entitled the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). The purpose of this Act was to settle a long-held debate that had tormented public meetings, Congress, and national advocacy groups. Within this Act; 10 National Parks and Preserves, 2 National Monuments, 2 National Conservation Areas, 25 Wild and Scenic Rivers, and 9 National Wildlife Refuges were established. Altogether, this Act reserves about 104 million acres of Alaska’s 375 million acres. Alaskans had very mixed reactions to this announcement. The rural residents dependence on the land as a source of livelihood was a major driving factor in the rejection of the ANILCA. The rural citizens of Alaska depended on this land as their sole source of income and livelihood for their families. The natural resources of wildlife, timber, gold and oil production were relied upon in Alaska to provide for families throughout the generations. Because of extremely unstable weather conditions, remote location, and exorbitant fees for essential items, the rural residents endured very meager livelihoods already. The unpredictable nature of Alaskan lands made it hard to depend on these industries as the production of the essential natural resources fluctuated year by year. It was evident that the instated national parks reserve creation would lead to the enforcement of undesirable strict regulations on the land. The culture of the rural Alaskan Native groups also maintained traditional mindset and practices that involved a close relationship with the land that provided a livelihood for their families and communities. The mindset of Natives toward their land was not merely a form of subsistence living, but also a foundation to the culture's intimate relationship with the world and land around them. While the rural residents perceived the Act as a destructive to the foundation of their economy and culture, the urban residents rejected the development of their beloved wilderness. However, over the next few years the parks emerged as the major contributor to Alaskan economy with huge revenue from tourism.

Kids line up excitedly, geared up and ready to enjoy being outside in Alaska
Kids line up excitedly, geared up and ready to enjoy being outside in Alaska
A Second Century of Service: The Centennial Initiative 

The debate over land remains a present issue in Alaska. But Alaska contains some of the biggest National Parks and Forests in the world. Our state is a leading model for conservation in the United States, which means we need to keep our public outside. As the National Park Service moves into its second century of conservation, it continues to evolve with the rest of the world. The 100th anniversary is not only a time of celebration, but also a time to reflect on the past and make goals for the future. In the next few years they will increase community-based programs that are designed to increase their contribution back to society. One mission is to provide visitors with a meaningful, safe, and enjoyable experience on public lands to encourage the protection of wilderness and stimulate environmental education in the community year-round. An emphasis will be placed on providing youth with the opportunity to connect themselves to culture, history, and natural wonders available in their own backyards. Inspiring youth to connect with their American heritage will prompt them to observe multiple perspectives, increase curiosity, and encourage feelings of pride for their nation.The accomplishment of these goals will ensure we stay true to the original mission of the National Park Service.

Watch the video below as the National Park Service turns 100! 

Note: This Embedded video resides on the official Alaska National Park YouTube channel

Closeup view of thin, green horsetail plants in a lush boreal forest. Did You Know?
Forests only cover about 37 percent of Alaska's land area, but one large part of this forest coverage is the taiga, which is Russian for 'little sticks.' Also known as the boreal forest, it is the largest terrestrial biome on the planet, is circumboreal, and contains most of the world's trees.