Ever wonder how a new area is added to the National Park System, National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, or the National Trails System? Congress directs the Department of the Interior through legislation to undertake studies of sites to provide expert analysis about the resource qualities at the site and alternatives for protection. The special resource and other study processes are designed to provide Congress with critical information used in the legislative process of designating a new unit. The National Park Service generally conducts these studies for the Department of the Interior.
Criteria for designation of new units of the National Park System
Potential new units of the national park system must:
- possess nationally significant resources,
- be a suitable addition to the system,
- be a feasible addition to the system, and
- require direct NPS management or administration instead of alternative protection by other agencies or the private sector.
A special resource study process will evaluate different management options to aid in making this determination.
For more information, visit Criteria for New National Parklands and NPS Management Policies 2006, chapter 1.
Designation of new components or units of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System
River studies determine:
- whether the river is eligible for designation based on its free-flowing condition and water quality, and the presence of one or more outstandingly remarkable values that are rare, unique or exemplary,
- the appropriate classification - “wild,” “scenic,” or “recreational” - for the river, and
- whether the river is suitable for designation, based on the extent of public support, feasibility of managing the river to protect its values, and consistency with other public uses of the waterway.
For rivers flowing through non-federal areas, the designation determination would be in the category of a Partnership Wild and Scenic River, which relies on cooperative management by the governing entities along the river.
For more information, visit NPS Partnership Wild & Scenic River Studies and Interagency Wild & Scenic River Coordinating Council River Studies.
Establishment of a new unit of the National Trails System
National scenic and national historic trails require four steps to become fully established:
- An amendment to the National Trails System Act requesting a feasibility study.
- The feasibility study (usually conducted by the National Park Service).
- If the feasibility study recommends establishment, an act of Congress adding the trail to the National Trails System.
- Once the trail is established, a comprehensive management and use plan, outlining the roles of partners (including the Federal Government) the full length of the trail. This is usually conducted by the trail's administering agency.
National recreation trails are established (or, more precisely, recognized) by either the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture. Within those departments, there are procedures for initiating and processing applications for these types of trails.
For more information, please visit General Information at National Trails System.