National Parks Second Century Commission Report
Our vision of the National Park Service and of the national parks in American life is animated by the conviction that their work is of the highest public importance. They are community-builders, creating an enlightened society committed to a sustainable world.
National parks are among our most admired public institutions. We envision the second century National Park Service supporting vital public purposes, the national parks used by the American people as venues for learning and civic dialogue, as well as for recreation and refreshment. We see the national park system managed with explicit goals to preserve and interpret our nation’s sweep of history and culture, sustain biological diversity, and protect ecological integrity. Based on sound science and current scholarship, the park system will encompass a more complete representation of the nation’s terrestrial and ocean heritage, our rich and diverse cultural history, and our evolving national narrative. Parks will be key elements in a network of connected ecological systems and historical sites, and public and private lands and waters that are linked together across the nation and the continent. Lived-in landscapes will be an integral part of these great corridors of conservation.
Clearly defining itself as an educational institution, the National Park Service will be committed in purpose, organizational structure, and operations to facilitating behavior friendly to the Earth. As we become a more urban people, we must not lose our connection to the natural world. Lifelong learning opportunities will also foster engagement in the nation’s civic life. As the nation becomes more multicultural, there is a need to instill a sense of common heritage as Americans. Everyone should be able to walk in the footsteps of our history. The Park Service will manifest a deep understanding of America’s cultural pluralism, with its leaders, workforce, and programming reflecting that we are a nation of many traditions and points of view. The Park Service will invite all people to experience the parks and extend opportunities for enjoyment, learning, and stewardship.
National parks are the sources of some of our purest water and storehouses of our continent’s surviving biodiversity. The National Park Service safeguards an encyclopedic array of irreplaceable resources at the heart of defining landscapes, watching over icons like bison, grizzly bears, and redwood trees, homes where heroes were born and buildings where history was made, and battlegrounds where Americans, as Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “gave the last full measure of devotion,” to form and reform a nation.
The Commission concluded its work believing the National Park Service has great potential to advance society’s most critical objectives: building national community and sustaining the health of the planet. The national parks appeal to our best instincts—love for the American landscape, respect for nature and the lessons of history. They inspire a natural faith, that through acts of conscientious conservation and stewardship, we can begin to fulfill our profoundest duties to each other and to the living world around us.