Thursday, February 28, 2013

CRS Report Released: National Park System: What Do the Different Park Titles Signify?

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), the public policy research arm of Congress, recently issued the report National Park System: What Do the Different Park Titles Signify? (Feb. 20, 2013). The 17-page report authored by Laura B. Comay discusses the following:


Congress names individual units of the National Park System in the enabling legislation for each unit. In so doing, Congress establishes the range of titles used in the park system. The system’s 398 units currently bear a wide range of titles—national park, national monument, national preserve, national historic site, national recreation area, national battlefield, and many others. This report addresses the significance of the different titles and discusses potential advantages and disadvantages of systemwide recommendations to simplify park nomenclature.
Legislators are concerned with park titles in several ways. First, Congress must determine appropriate titles for individual units when parks are established. Although the laws, regulations, and policies governing the National Park System generally apply to all units regardless of title, some meaningful differences nonetheless exist among the designations. Congress has grouped similar units under similar titles and has authorized resource-intensive activities, such as sport hunting or off-road vehicle use, in some types of units more than in others. In particular, Congress has been reluctant to allow such activities in national parks, but has authorized them in national preserves, national recreation areas, and national seashores and lakeshores, among other areas. A few unit titles are further associated with specific statutory authorities that govern their creation or development. National monuments, for example, can be proclaimed by the President under the Antiquities Act of 1906 (whereas other types of units cannot). National scenic trails and wild and scenic rivers are subject to requirements of the National Trails System Act of 1968 (P.L. 90-543) and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 (P.L. 90-542), respectively, as well as general park authorities.
In addition to naming units when they are established, Congress also considers many proposals to retitle existing park units. Among other things, such proposals may aim to increase visitation at a given unit and thus to boost local and regional economies. For example, studies have suggested that the “national park” title attracts visitors and may bring economic benefits. Partly for this reason, local stakeholders have sometimes advocated for a name change to “national park” in units bearing other titles. Those opposing redesignations may be concerned that unwanted restrictions would be pursued along with a change in title.
An issue for Congress is whether the current wide array of park titles should be consolidated. The House Natural Resources Committee explored this question in 2010 hearings. The National Parks Second Century Commission, and the National Park Service (NPS) itself, have recommended reducing the number of park titles to better “brand” the units and make them more recognizable as part of the park system. Such branding could potentially bring more visitors to underrecognized units and thus help businesses in surrounding communities. On the other hand, the current, more loosely structured system maximizes Congress’s flexibility to title units to reflect their unique features.

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