NATIONAL PARKS: How do national monuments differ?

Story and photography by Jerry Ginsberg

President Theodore Roosevelt was the original maverick. When he saw a problem, he found a solution, even if he had to bend the rules a bit to create one.

As far back as 1906, this activist president was faced with a need to protect the immense volcanic plug called Devil’s Tower in eastern Wyoming. Characteristically forging his own path, he applied the new Antiquities Act in an unorthodox fashion to create America’s very first national monument. Before he was done, Roosevelt signed 18 national monuments into existence.

Congress had intended the Antiquities Act to protect “objects of historic and scientific interest.” In essence, it was meant to prohibit pot hunters from stripping ancient Native American sites of their treasures. Still, after over a century of precedent, Roosevelt’s creative application of the act has now become settled law, and its continued use is unlikely to be altered going forward.

Certainly not all such monuments come into being in this dramatic fashion. Many wind their way through a bureaucratic process that can take years.

Once a monument is established, it becomes a unit of the National Park Service. Some monuments are administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). No matter how they come into being or who administers them, national monuments do not have national park status, facilities or the number of visitors that frequent national parks.

Of the approximately 130 national monuments presently in existence, 30 have been established in this young century alone. Continue reading