Changing Boundaries in the National Park System

Authors: Joe Weber*, University Of Alabama, Judith Oppong, University of Alabama
Topics: Environment, Political Geography
Keywords: National park, boundary, gerrymandering
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Palladian, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The national park system consists of 416 parks, monuments, historic sites, battlefields, parkways, recreation areas, and other places. Each of these units has legal boundaries that define the authority of the national park service to protect resources. Although park unit boundaries are often well marked with elaborate entrance signs and often a sudden change in scenery, the boundaries of national park units have largely gone unexamined. Yet they are vital to parks, subject to frequent revision, and can be highly politicized. The changing boundaries of park units is investigated here using two common measures of compactness as a quantitative measure of the shape of current and former park boundaries. Scenic, historical, and recreational units have different levels of compactness that can be traced to the age, location, and mission of these distinct types of parks. The underlying land survey system is the principal factor in explaining different levels of compactness, though changing notions of how park boundaries should be designed is also a factor. Overall, park units tend to have low levels of compactness compared to many other political boundaries, yet this should not be considered a problem as it is for entities such as voting districts. Finally, the extent to which park boundaries reflect ecological concerns will be examined. Changing conditions will likely lead to changed boundaries, although future boundaries of the national park system will likely continue to follow the underlying land ownership and survey patterns.

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