The National Park Service (NPS) manages 424 units across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.
Most of those sites, however, are national preserves, monuments, memorials, historic sites, seashores, battlefield parks, recreation areas, and parkways. Surprisingly, there are only 63 officially designated national parks in the U.S.
Since then, and especially post-pandemic, visitation at national park sites has continued to climb as outdoor recreation increases in popularity, according to the NPS. Many even logged record visitation levels last year.
That increase in visitation takes an ongoing toll on recreation areas that aren’t national parks because they don’t have the amenities to support heavy crowds. They also lack the budget that comes with being a national park, which means they don’t have the necessary funds for infrastructure requirements such as improving roads, parking, and trail conservation.
In other words, it’s time to begin thinking about designating other outdoor areas as national parks.
“So where could the next national park be?” a National Geographic article asks.
“The U.S. is full of worthy candidates, but national parks are created through congressional legislation, and there are many considerations — including available infrastructure such as roads and restrooms,” National Geographic continues. “Community advocacy can help fuel the effort. With strong local and federal support, some sites stand a good chance of becoming America’s 64th national park.”
Here’s a quick look at seven areas that may well become a U.S. National Park, according to National Geographic.
1. Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park
Many different American Indian cultures have lived at Ocmulgee Mounds. In fact, the site shows signs of continuous human habitation for more than 12,000 years, according to the NPS.
The site, which is the ancestral homeland of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, is also a leading contender as the next U.S. National Park. That’s due mainly to “a robust community initiative and bipartisan support in Congress,” National Geographic explains.
“We know that our ancestors are buried in this land, and national park status would establish protections,” said Tracie Revis, director of advocacy for the Ocmulgee National Park & Preserve Initiative, according to National Geographic.
2. Craters Of The Moon National Monument And Preserve
Craters of the Moon, which is home to lava flows as well as cinder cones and sagebrush, is a “weird and scenic landscape,” according to the NPS.
Interestingly, Idaho isn’t home to any national parks, with the exception of approximately 1% of Yellowstone that extends beyond the Wyoming border.
“Craters of the Moon could fill that void,” National Geographic notes. “In fact, there has been serious talk about turning the expanse into a national park since the early 20th century.”
3. Katahdin Woods And Waters National Monument
Open to the public since 2016 when what had been private land was donated to the federal government, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is located near Mount Katahdin in north-central Maine. It’s approximately a 2.5-hour drive from Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor and a 1.5-hour drive north of Bangor, Maine.
“Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a gateway to more than 87,000 acres of Maine’s interior wilderness in the shadow of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail,” National Geographic explains. “Turning the monument into a national park would expand access to more mountains, bogs, and waterfalls throughout the region while mitigating the visitor strain on Acadia, New England’s only national park.”
4. Chiricahua National Monument
There’s a good reason why the NPS calls Chiricahua National Monument a “Wonderland of Rocks.” The 12,025-acre site is considered by many people to be the best place in Arizona to see hoodoos, or towering spires of rock, as well as spectacularly balanced rock formations.
“Arizona’s representatives in Congress have already introduced a bipartisan national park re-designation bill, and advocates see the creation of such a park as an opportunity to establish a long-term working relationship between the National Park Service and tribes with ancestral roots in national park lands,” National Geographic notes.
5. Shawnee National Forest
Located in southern Illinois between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, the 289,000-acre Shawnee National Forest is home to majestic oak-hickory forests, flourishing wetlands, canyons, razorback ridges, and various geological features. With that backdrop in mind, it’s no wonder that the forest is a favorite among hikers, cyclists, equestrians, kayakers, canoeists, and both front- and back-country campers.
“A re-designation as a national park could protect Shawnee’s woodlands and eclectic botany from logging, while spotlighting a unique zone of ecological convergence,” National Geographic explains.
6. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
New Jersey And Pennsylvania
The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, located in parts of both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, receives millions of visitors every year.
One reason for that high visitation count is that Delaware Water Gap can easily be reached from New York City, Philadelphia, and parts of New Jersey. The 70,000-acre park features more than 150 miles of trails and 40 miles of the Middle Delaware River.
“Today’s visitors continue to generate robust tourism revenue in a region that has struggled economically, according to a study by the National Parks Conservation Association,” National Geographic explains. “A national park designation could deliver more dividends to nearby communities while ensuring stronger protections for an essential zone of geologic history.”
7. Tongass National Forest
Tongass National Forest, which is the nation’s largest national forest, covers most of southeastern Alaska. A trip there offers spectacular chances to see the breathtaking wilderness as well as eagles, bears, spawning salmon, and other wildlife.
“Tongass National Forest got a boost from the Biden administration earlier this year in the form of ‘Roadless Rule’ protections that will block logging and road construction through more than 9 million acres of the forest,” National Geographic explains. “A new national park here could offer sustainable public access.”
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