October 26, 2014 00:17 UTC

This Is America

National Parks Called America’s Best Idea

Yellowstone National Park stretches across the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. It was America's first national park.
Yellowstone National Park stretches across the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. It was America's first national park.

Multimedia

Play or download an MP3 of this story

Welcome to This Is America in VOA Learning English. I'm Jim Tedder.
 
And I'm Kelly Jean Kelly. This week on our program, we talk about national parks in the United States. 

The United States established its first national park in 1872. Yellowstone, in the western state of Wyoming, is home to grizzly bears, wolves and other animals.

Yellowstone was not only the first national park in America. It was the first in the world. 

Since then, about 100 nations have followed the example. They have established over 100,000 national parks and protected areas for the enjoyment of people today and generations to come.

The National Park Service in the United States manages a total of 401 "units," as it calls them. These include national parks, historical sites, monuments, buildings and battlefields. They also include recreation areas, seashores, rivers, trails and parkways—almost 34 million hectares of land in all.

Visitors can hike in the woods. Climb mountains. Photograph animals. Explore Civil War battlefields. Go swimming or river-rafting. Ride horses. Or just enjoy a day outdoors with the beauty of nature.
 
The National Park Service was created in 1916. President Woodrow Wilson signed an act to make the National Park Service part of the Interior Department.

The National Park Service has two main jobs. One is to protect the national parks. The other is to help visitors enjoy them. In 2009, director Ken Burns made a movie about the history of the National Parks. He called them “America’s Best Idea.” 
   
One way the National Park Service is able to operate is through the fees it charges. One hundred thirty-three sites charge entrance fees between $5 and $25.  Each entrance fee is good for seven days. However, visitors can buy a yearly pass for $80. And people over 62- years-old can buy a lifetime pass for $10.  A free lifetime pass is offered to people with disabilities.

In 2012, almost 287 million people visited the American national park system.  
            
Today the United States has 59 national parks. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest park in the United States.   It is in Alaska and covers over five million hectares of land—larger than the size of Switzerland. 

Wrangell-St. Elias sells permits only to do research.  Scientific research of fisheries, climate change, pollution, rock formation and ice mountains takes place in the park.

The park also includes historic areas where the Athabascan people lived thousands of years ago. Villages, camping and hunting areas of the Athabascan people can be found in the area.

The park has many historical structures and buildings of other prehistoric groups. The National Park Service says the structures represent periods of exploration, mining and transportation. 
                                                    
The smallest preserve in the United States is the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial. 

The memorial is in Kosciuszko's home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was a military engineer who left Poland to help fight for independence for the United States.

He is known for the battle sites and forts he built during the American Revolution. His greatest assistance was preparing for the defense of Saratoga. The battle of Saratoga is one of the most famous in the struggle for independence from the British.  
 
The places under the care of the National Park Service are not all refuges of peace and quiet. Some are historic sites in the middle of busy cities.

For example, Fort Stevens is located in Washington, DC, off a busy road that goes between Maryland and Washington. During the American Civil War, Union soldiers protected Washington at Fort Stevens.

On July 12, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln visited Fort Stevens to witness the battle. He was shot at by opposing Confederate soldiers. The event was the only time in American history that a serving president was shot at by an enemy fighter. 
 
One of the most memorable units is Mesa Verde National Park, in Colorado. Spanish explorers had named the area. The high, flat mountaintop is covered with many green juniper and pine trees. It looks like a huge green table, a “mesa verde” in Spanish.
 
A man named Richard Wetherill and his brother-in-law rediscovered the area in 1888, when they were trying to find some missing cattle. 

The two men came to the edge of a deep canyon. Through the falling snow, they saw what looked like a small city across the canyon. It was suspended in the middle of the rock wall. There were many connected rooms built into a natural opening in the rock.
 
It looked as if the people who had lived there had just walked out, leaving everything they owned. Cooking pots by the fireplaces. Food bowls on the floors. Shoes in the corners. Digging sticks by the doors.
 
The ruins had been home to the ancestors of the present-day members of the Pueblo tribes. They were named Anasazi, or ancient ones, by the Navajo Indians. They moved to Mesa Verde about 1,500 years ago and left 700 years ago. 
 
Today, from a distance, Mesa Verde appears as it did centuries ago.  It rises more than 540 meters above the floor of the valley. Visitors can drive up to the top of Mesa Verde on a winding mountain road. 

When you reach the top, you are 2,400 meters above sea level.  In the distance are the flatlands and mountains of the Four Corners area. That is where the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona meet.
 
Some of the ruins in the Four Corners area belong to the earliest people who lived there. They were hunters and gatherers, now known as Basket Makers. The Basket Makers lived in simple caves. Their civilization existed 2,000 years ago.
 
The first evidence that ancient people had moved to Mesa Verde is from about the year 500. Those people lived in pit houses. Pit houses were large holes in the ground with roofs of wood and mud.

In about the year 750, the early Pueblo people began building square structures of large connected rooms, or pueblos, above ground. 
 
Finally, in about 1100, they climbed down the canyon walls and began building cliff dwellings. Today, visitors to the park can see some of the remains of all four kinds of settlements.
 
Around Mesa Verde National Park, archeologists have recovered many objects that the ancient people used—pots, tools and jewelry.  Many of the objects are shown in the visitor’s center.

However, human remains or any object from a grave may not be touched or shown.  This is to honor the wishes of the modern Puebloan people who live in the area today.
 
In 2012 the most visited area under the care of the National Park Service was the Blue Ridge Parkway in the eastern United States. 

The road goes almost 755 kilometers along the Blue Ridge Mountains between North Carolina and Virginia.  The area is filled with wildlife and colorful flowers. It also includes some of the oldest pre-historic and European settlements.

Workers began building the parkway during the Great Depression in the early 20th century as part of a program to help put people to work.
                                                              
Another parkway is the Natchez Trace Parkway, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2013.

It runs through Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. 
 
Long before the parkway became an official road, local Indians hunted large animals in the area and created many paths. Later the paths were linked and used for transportation, communication and trade.

We leave you with a few words from one of the most famous residents of a National Park: Yogi Bear. Yogi Bear is a cartoon character who first appeared on American television in the 1950s. He lives in Jellystone Park—a place that is a lot like Yellowstone Park.

“Let me point out that we bears were here before you rangers, and we made out okay. Now it’s don’t do this, and don’t do that, and we’re always tripping over the red tape.”

But despite the rangers, Yogi Bear and his friend Boo-Boo manage to steal a lot of “pic-a-nic” baskets. Then again, as he says, he is smarter than the average bear.
 
Our program was written by Nancy Steinbach and Kim Varzi. I'm Kelly Jean Kelly.

And I'm Jim Tedder. For transcripts and podcasts of our programs, go to learningenglish.voanews.com. Join us again next week for This Is America.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Francisco Quintana from: Chile
07/18/2013 1:52 AM
It was a very very good history, I have enjoyed reading it.


by: Peter from: Poland
07/15/2013 5:51 PM
Congratulations to Jim Tedder - Very difficult polish surname Kosciuszko well pronounced.


by: Francisco Canelon from: Venezuela
07/15/2013 5:39 PM
Hi, I appreciate too much this VOA help learning english method, for this one people like me that are learning english can improve their listening, speaking and writing skills faster.

My aim is to speak and understand english without to be worried.
be confident by the time some one is speacking to me.

regards.


by: Jorge from: Panama
07/15/2013 3:32 PM
Excellent article! Thanks!


by: Ellie from: Seoul, Korea
07/15/2013 8:18 AM
I have learned English through this great site so far. Thank to all the people who work for this.
One quick question for explanation, from "The National Park Service in the United States manages a total of 401 "units," as it calls them."
I can not clearly understand the meaning of 'as it calls them' in the above, hope anyone can explain the meaning for me.
Thank you.

In Response

by: MIMI from: ARGENTINA
08/01/2013 6:19 PM
'AS IT CALLS THEM " MEANS THAT THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, CALLS "UNITS" TO THE DIFFERENTS PARTS OR AREAS WITHIN THE PARK LIKE: NATIONAL PARKS, BUILDINGS, MONUMENTS, HISTORICAL SITES, ETC....

In Response

by: Vicent from: Mexico
07/15/2013 4:40 PM
Thaks for this article I enjoyed it very much. I have doubt abour "as it calls them"


by: Maria Delgado. from: Panama
07/15/2013 3:06 AM
I am very happy for this beautiful way you have to teach English us the Latin people. Thank you so much.Ienjoyed so much the report of National Parks of your country and especially Yellowstone Park and the cartoon of Yoggi bear one of my favorite programs when I was a child.It was so funny heard yoggi again and learn about you beautifuls parks.Thank you so much.Blessings to you.

In Response

by: Peter Horvath from: Hungary
07/15/2013 7:57 PM
Nagyon király cucc:)

It is a very cool site, such job!

Learn with The News

  • Anti-Occupy Central protesters (L) try to remove a barricade from pro-democracy protesters on a main street in Hong Kong's Mongkok shopping district October 4, 2014.

    Audio US Group Rejects Claims It Incited Hong Kong Protests

    Chinese media have been criticizing the National Endowment for Democracy. They accuse the US-based group of providing money to and advising the “Occupy” street protest movement. The group says it takes part in normal cooperation with civic groups in Hong Kong. But it says it has nothing to hide. More

  • A rocket carrying the SpaceX Dragon ship lifts off from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, April 18, 2014.

    Audio You Don't Have to Be a Rocket Scientist to Read This

    "You do not need to be a rocket scientist." Americans hear these words often. People say them in schools, offices and factories. Broadcasters on radio and television use them. How did the expression begin? No one seems to know for sure. But you can find out by reading this Words and Their Stories. More

  • Audio Control of US Senate Depends on North Carolina

    U.S. congressional elections are less than two weeks away. A small number of races will decide if the Democratic party keeps control of the U.S. Senate or if Republicans will have a majority. One of the closest Senate races is in the state of North Carolina between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis. More

  • Freed Vietnamese dissident Nguyen Van Hai (L) is greeted upon arrival at Los Angeles International Airport on October  21, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  The Vietnamese blogger, also known by his pen name "Dieu Cay," was handed a 12-year prison sentenc

    Audio Legality of Vietnamese Blogger’s Release Questioned

    Nguyen Van Hai arrived in the United States on Wednesday. Hai is one of Vietnam’s best known political bloggers. He has written about government corruption and the country’s territorial dispute with China. The United States was among several foreign governments to call for his release. More

  • A miner sifts through dirt for gold flakes at the Atunso Cocoase small-scale mine, Atunsu, Ghana, Oct. 16, 2014. (Chris Stein/VOA)

    Audio Gold Mining in Ghana Can Be Dangerous

    Small mining operations are a common sight in central Ghana. Here, mine workers dig deep into the earth in search of bullion. But not everyone returns alive. Earlier this year, six miners were killed when an earthen wall collapsed in Kyekyewere, a village in the Ashanti Region. More

Featured Stories

  • Audio Oscar de la Renta Dressed First Ladies and Movie Stars

    Clothing designer Oscar de la Renta died Monday at his home in the American state of Connecticut. He was 82 years old. His wife said he died of problems related to cancer. Mr. de la Renta dressed American movie stars and first ladies such as Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton. More

  • Audio Iron Ships Clash at Sea

    The American Civil War was fought not only on land, but at sea. In 1862, Confederate and Union forces fought a new kind of navy battle in waters off Hampton Roads, Virginia. It was the first battle between iron ships. On the Confederate side was a ship called the Virginia. | The Making of a Nation More

  • Audio San Francisco Radio Stations Ban Lorde's 'Royals'

    The California baseball team, San Francisco Giants, is playing the Kansas City Royals for the 2014 Major League Baseball championship, the World Series. Two radio stations in San Francisco banned the hit song "Royals." In return, another station in Kansas City chose to play the song once every hour. More

  • A neurovascular unit on a chip being developed by Vanderbilt University researchers. (Vanderbilt University Photo/John Wikswo)

    Video Scientists Design Chips to Act Like Human Organs

    Testing new drugs for safety and effectiveness is a costly process in the United States. It also can take a lot of time. Some scientists are now designing silicon computer chips that act like human organs. The scientists think they have found a way to make the process faster and more economical. More

  • Brain Resource Infographic

    Audio Dealing with Distractions and Overreactions

    Five million American children and teenagers have Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly known as ADHD. ADHD makes it difficult - if not impossible - to stay with a duty until it is complete. Katherine Ellison knows the problem well. | Health Report More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs