Happy Birthday to Yellowstone National Park-and to America’s best idea

The Roosevelt Arch at the entrance to Yellowstone National Park (photo by Beth Pratt)The official birth of Yellowstone—and what has been deemed "America’s best idea"—occurred on March 1, 1872 when President Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill that designated Yellowstone as the world’s first national park.

Oddly enough, as Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan noted in their recent documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, debate on the visionary bill was minimal, and “nowhere in either chamber did anyone suggest that they were taking a historic step or setting a far-reaching precedent that future generations might look back upon in gratitude.”

Current and future generations should be eternally grateful to the pen strokes of President Grant on March 1, 1872. For over 130 years, the magnificent landscapes and cultural heritages of our national parks have inspired countless people. And numerous countries have emulated the national park model—the founding principles behind “America’s best idea” continue to reverberate across the globe.

Today, the national park system protects an array of natural and cultural treasures in 392 sites that encompass 84 million acres of land and 4 million acres of oceans and other waters.  Almost 275 million people tour the parks annually, ranging from the largest at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, in Alaska (13.2 million acres), to the smallest at Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorialin Pennsylvania (0.02 acres).

Our national parks furnish us with peace and inspiration, and consistently evoke joy in those who visit.  The remarkable spiritual and healing capabilities of our parks cannot be understated. Indeed, these special places have provided, in the words of naturalist John Muir, something essential to our soul: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.”

Celebrate the birthday of Yellowstone—and of America’s best idea—by visiting a park today. Visit the official website of the National Park Service for more information. If you can’t visit, you can connect with your favorite park via webcam.