Our National Treasures

Created Novemeber, 2015

This project started as an outlet as I studied the U.S. national parks, forests, and nature areas via the Internet. For a while between summer and winter 2015, I became very interested in studying the national parks. It grew to including the national forests. Even though I am familiar with the Oregon national forests, I wanted to compare them to the entire federal forest system. Also, in 2015, I had started looking into places to start planning trips and adventures outside of Oregon or Illinois where I am 99% of the time in any given year. However, when I started looking into the parks, forests, and nature areas of our country, I couldn't find a decent, interactive map to help me navigate all of the natural reserved areas in the United States.

As a result, I drew this map. This map has pins for the U.S. national parks, forests, monuments, and nature preserves. There are layers for the different types of federally preserved areas:

Note: Make sure you also look outside the continental U.S.! There are plenty of marked areas in Alaska, Hawaii, and other U.S. Territories (and in the Ocean).

Our national treasures - for everyone to visit

Everyone should try to visit some of our national parks and forests. As of writing this, I have only been briefly to one national park: Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. However, I grew up in the national forests of Oregon: Willamette, Deschutes, Umpqua, and Winema. I cherish every moment I have in these forests and am grateful for their existence. As some see the forestry department's oversight and rules as restrictive, I see them as essential for preserving these sites so my children and their children can enjoy them as I have.

I set up this map to achieve a few goals:

  1. To see where parks, forests, and other natural areas are congregated, so I can avoid missing something whenever I visit an area.
  2. To plan out future trips.
  3. To appreciate the vastness and diversity of our natural beauty we have in the United States.
  4. To study how and why things got to be declared national areas in the first place. Nerdy, I know, but sometimes visualizing things helps you perceive new things.

These national areas are our national treasures. Each park and forest has something new to see and entirely different combinations of species to observe in their complex relationships. If you've think seeing one forest means you've seen them all, I urge you to visit more and pay closer attention. The habitats, animals, plant life, and the complex relationships between them all make each natural area a unique place. These few natural areas that we have set aside for future generations ensures that things more complex than our daily lives will thrive. If we take a moment to visit and observe, we can perhaps learn some significant things about ourselves as well as how we live. And you also get to experience the natural art that are the landscapes and trails of our great country.

Some observations on the geography of our national treasures

One of the observations I made immediately upon finishing this map was "wow, there is NOTHING in the east and midwest." Why is that?

Naturalists and conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt, George Grinnell, Gifford Pinchot, and John Muir pushed for land to be spared from the manifest destiny that was prominent between 1800 to 1900. The onlooker of this map can see "clusters" of areas that have been dedicated to the public domain, while some areas in the U.S. have relatively fewer national lands (here's looking at you, The Midwest and The Northern Atlantic). This could be due to the timing of all of these areas being declared (1880-1920). Much of the west had yet to be explored and documented at this time, let alone settled by easterners. The park and forest system was greatly expanded with Teddy Roosevelt's "I so declare it!" method, which occurred around the turn into the 20th century.

Today, I don't think this would have been possible. At that time, most of the east and midwest had already been "claimed," and the powers that be had yet to seriously turn their eye to allocating the land to the west. Any attempt at new eastern declarations of federal spaces were resisted as "federal land grabs" and were less likely. However, with the potential of industrial destruction of beautiful natural spaces in the west, federal land declarations were made in the west to prevent some of the problems that had arisen in the east from extraction industries. These lands had long been occupied by the indigenous peoples of America, but as the east filled up, industrialists and other migrants started to make their way west. These protections at the time prevented many of these beautiful lands from being used up and their biodiversity from being permanently destroyed.