National Park System: What Do the Different Park Titles Signify? [February 20, 2013] [open pdf - 332KB]
"The 398 units of the National Park System bear a wide range of titles--national park, national monument, national preserve, national historic site, national recreation area, and national battlefield, among many others. What is indicated by these different designations? Do they mean that units receive different protections with respect to development? Are certain activities permitted in one type of unit but not another? Are the units managed differently? This report addresses questions that legislators have asked about park unit titles, when considering proposals to establish new park units, to redesignate existing units, or to change the provisions governing a unit. It also discusses potential advantages and disadvantages of systemwide recommendations to simplify park nomenclature. Currently, there are no definitive criteria for naming a park unit. Bills to designate new units of the National Park System, or to rename existing units, may specify any title, even one not previously used in the park system. The statutory authorities and management policies of the National Park Service (NPS) generally apply to all units, regardless of title. Also regardless of title, Congress may specify exceptions to NPS laws, regulations, and policies in a given unit--for example, Congress may authorize hunting or mining, generally prohibited in the National Park System, in a particular unit. While few statutory distinctions exist among the designations, their differences can nonetheless be meaningful. In practice, Congress has grouped similar units under similar titles, and has often followed precedents regarding the activities and management arrangements authorized in particular types of units. The designations have thus developed distinctive characteristics. In addition, a park's title can influence public perceptions of the park. Changes in designation may affect visitation patterns, which may have local and regional economic repercussions. Finally, a few designations indicate that units, in addition to being in the National Park System, are also part of other legislatively established systems that confer their own protections."
CRS Report for Congress, R41816