Over two years have passed since New River Gorge in West Virginia was recognized as the most recent national park in America. Since then, outdoor activities have witnessed a growing popularity. The National Park Service oversees more than 400 sites across the country, with only 63 of them, less than 20 percent, designated as national parks capable of accommodating a large number of visitors. As of now, 20 states still lack a national park.
National parks offer numerous benefits, including a boost to local tourism and the advantage of federal resources for preserving lands at risk from developmental threats or invasive species. According to Kristen Brengel, the senior vice president of government affairs at the National Parks Conservation Association, the goal is to “ensure public access and the protection of the resources.”
The question arises – where might the next national park be situated? Several deserving candidates exist within the U.S. However, the establishment of a national park requires congressional legislation, taking into account many factors such as existing infrastructure like roads and bathrooms. Community support can propel this effort. The following sites, backed by strong local and federal encouragement, could potentially become America’s 64th national park.
An Alaskan site deserves mention
Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, Georgia
These lush man-made hillocks offer a clear insight into over 17,000 years of Indigenous occupation. The ancestral land of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park stands a strong chance of becoming the next national park, thanks to significant community effort and bipartisan congressional support. Tracie Reevis, director of advocacy for the Ocmulgee National Park & Preserve Initiative, stated, “We know that our ancestors are buried in this land, and national park status would establish protections.”
(Georgia may get its first national park.)
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Idaho
Idaho, home to endless sand dunes and high peaks, is often overlooked as a natural hub. The state lacks a national park, a void that Craters of the Moon, with its alien-like landscape of lava flows, cinder cones, lava tube caves, and sagebrush, could fill. There has been serious consideration since the early 20th century to turn this area into a national park.
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Maine
The most extensive undeveloped forest east of the Mississippi River and the largest moose population in the Lower 48 are found in central Maine. Open since 2016, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is an entryway to over 87,000 acres of Maine’s interior wilderness. Transforming the monument into a national park could increase access to more mountains, bogs, and waterfalls in the region while reducing visitor pressure on Acadia, the only national park in New England.
Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona
This home of the Chiricahua Apache Nation, often referred to as a “Wonderland of Rocks,” is a maze of towering stone spires (“hoodoos”) and astonishing balanced rock formations. A bipartisan national park re-designation bill has already been introduced by Arizona’s representatives in Congress, offering a chance to establish an ongoing relationship between the NPS and tribes with ancestral roots in national park lands.
Shawnee National Forest, Illinois
Shawnee National Forest, with 289,000 acres of oak-hickory forests, wetlands, canyons, and unique topography, has been part of national park discussions for quite some time. Redesignation could protect its woodlands and diverse botany from logging while highlighting this distinctive zone of ecological overlap.
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, New Jersey and Pennsylvania
The Middle Delaware River’s course through the iconic Appalachian range has been a favorite among travelers since the railroad era’s peak. This area, which also hosts fossilized reefs containing preserved trilobites and cephalopods, offers a glimpse into prehistoric oceans. A national park designation could bring further economic benefits to the surrounding communities while ensuring stronger safeguards for this important geological zone.
Tongass National Forest, Alaska
This largest intact temperate rainforest in the world is a sanctuary for bald eagles, moose, and bears. Earlier this year, Tongass National Forest received “Roadless Rule” protections from the Biden administration, preventing logging and road construction throughout over nine million acres of the forest. The establishment of a new national park could provide sustainable public access.
Miles Howard, the co-author of Moon New England Hiking and founder of the Walking City Trail, a 27-mile hike across Boston’s parks and forests, resides in Boston.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Next national park
What are the potential sites for America’s next national park?
The potential sites for America’s next national park include Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park in Georgia, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine, Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona, Shawnee National Forest in Illinois, and Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
How are national parks created in the United States?
National parks in the United States are created through congressional legislation. The process involves considering various factors such as available infrastructure, community advocacy, and federal support. Congressional approval is required to designate a site as a national park.
What are the benefits of having a national park?
Having a national park brings numerous benefits. It can boost regional tourism, provide federal resources for conservation efforts, and ensure public access to natural resources. National parks also help protect vulnerable lands from development and invasive species, preserving them for future generations.
How can community support influence the establishment of a national park?
Community support plays a crucial role in the establishment of a national park. Strong local advocacy, along with federal support, can fuel the efforts to designate a site as a national park. Community engagement, raising awareness, and promoting the value of the area’s natural and cultural heritage can make a significant impact.
How many states in the United States do not have a national park?
Currently, there are 20 states in the United States that do not have a national park. These states offer opportunities for potential future national park designations to expand the network of protected natural areas across the country.
More about Next national park
- National Parks Conservation Association
- National Park Service
- Ocmulgee National Park & Preserve Initiative
- Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
- Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
- Chiricahua National Monument
- Shawnee National Forest
- Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
- Tongass National Forest