They often say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But we would all agree that our world is full of breathtaking views of lush valleys, spectacular mountain tops, pristine rivers and many more.
It would be impossible to discount the natural beauty of the landscapes of the Grand Canyon in the U.S. where steep sides of layered bands of red rock, revealing millions of years of geological history, reveal the Colorado River or Montana’s Glacier National Park with its many and massive mountain peaks, alpine lakes, and of course, glaciers.
It has been possible to preserve most of these unique places by designating them as national parks. While different countries define national parks slightly differently, broadly speaking, national parks are areas used for conservation purposes. These areas are often a reserve of natural, semi-natural, or developed land that a state declares or owns .
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are over 6,500 national parks today  which is testament to the commitment of governments across continents to protect our world’s unique landscapes.
While many other areas deserve to receive the same level of protection by being designated national parks, it is important to note that national parks may be the oldest way of legislating for the establishment of protected areas.
Why are national parks important?
There are a myriad of reasons why we need National Parks other than tourism.
Preserving our rich natural diversity is essential to mankind’s survival on the planet earth. The idea of preserving certain lands or ecosystems for their unique topographic features along with the plants and animals that live within the confines of these geographic regions is a primary reason for creation of National Parks.
The creation of National Parks worldwide is governed by three key concepts which can be summed up in a few simple terms:
- habitat protection
Preservation of our history and outstanding natural areas for future generations
The modern environmental movement came into being in the late 19th and early 20th century. During this time-period these models where put forth by some of the most notable political figures and naturalist of the era. One of the most passionate individuals to put forth the idea of preservation of vast tracts of wilderness was John Muir.
Muir was a naturalist and believed in preservation over conservation and was a champion for creation of many park systems throughout the western United States.
The principle foundation of preservation is the belief that we are all part of the natural world and that the protection of our natural resources and environment is essential.
Not only to protect the wonder and natural beauty of natural areas for future generations to enjoy, but to assure that man understands the mutual benefits he derives from National Parks.
Conservation of natural areas for sustainable use of renewable resources
Conservation was another concept put forth during this era but differed significantly from the ideas of the preservationists of the time. Modern Conservationism is defined as managing the worlds natural resources in manner which results in the maximum benefit to mankind.
Conservationism at its core is driven by the use, allocation and protection of the natural world to allow man to harvest these renewable resources in a sustainable way.
Many park systems around the world have been created both for the protection of the natural beauty while allowing for harvesting of renewable natural resources they produce.
Are national parks conservation or preservation?
The United States system of National Parks is chiefly predicated on conservation while other parks around the world were founded for the protection of the environment, associated wildlife, and inherent value.
Arguments abound between preservationists and conservationists with regards to:
- the protection of important lands and species for the sake of biodiversity
- natural beauty
- sustainable harvesting of renewable resources
Whether your own thinking leads you in the direction of one or the other of these concepts you can be assured the practice of setting aside land for National Park systems is critical to the overall health and well-being of our planet.
Both models require that vast tracts of land be set aside that are large enough to assure that natural resources being protected sustain the biodiversity for the continuation of the ecosystem being protected.
Habitat protection is the building block of national parks
The idea of habitat protection for these reasons is a prevailing requirement in the creation of any National Park system.
The balancing act between the competing interests of business, and the need to maintain a certain portion of the earth’s natural environment to maintain the overall health and wellbeing of the plants and animals living within its confines.
The creation and protection of National Parks will continue to play a major role on how mankind relates to his natural environment.
The creation and maintenance of National Parks around the world should carefully consider the idea of “Land Ethic” promulgated by Aldo Leopold an important environmentalist of the 20th Century. As an environmentalist, he was deeply concerned about the speed and impact of the industrialization of the natural world and humans’ relationships with it.
Mankind must learn to coexist with the natural world and continue to maintain a vigilance on the protection and use of the planet’s natural resources. One of the best ways we have do this is thru the creation of National Parks!
When were the first national parks created?
The U.S. in particular has a very established history on national parks, having been the first country to establish a national park in 1872 – Yellowstone National Park .
While some argue that the first national park was actually established over 100 years earlier in Mongolia, when in 1778 the government designated the area of Bogd Khan Uul, originally chartered by Ming Dynasty officials in the 1500’s as an area to be kept off limits to extractive uses, protected for its beauty and sacred nature , the U.S. most certainly picked up the national parks baton.
At least partly, this came about thanks to the persistence and sustained efforts of Scottish naturalist and conservation advocate John Muir considered the “father of national parks.” His commitment to protecting wilderness in the U.S. earned him the nickname “John of the Mountains” .
He was also an environmental philosopher who among other things wrote essays and books about his adventures in nature in the Sierra Nevada of California and Nevada. And while John Muir’s writings undoubtedly inspired many including U.S. Presidents and Congress representatives to protect wilderness, his followers today are continuing his work through organizations such as the Sierra Club or the John Muir Trust.
The proliferation of national parks since the establishment of the first one in the U.S. underlines how appealing the idea was even back in the late 19th century. Other countries followed suit and soon enough national parks were appearing in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
5 most beautiful national parks in the world
Almost two centuries later, with such a great range of national parks to visit and enjoy, can we pick 5 that feature some of the most outstanding geographical landscapes as well as flora and fauna?
Most of our readers will know about the U.S.’s Grand Canyon or Rocky Mountains or indeed South Africa’s Krueger Park. But what are some of the lesser known hidden gems?
The Greentumble team has had a look and here is our list of the 5 most amazing national parks you need to add to your bucket list!
#1 The Etosha National Park, Namibia
Africa offers unique landscapes and rare sightings of species such as elephants, rhinos and zebras. This and much more comes together in Namibia’s Etosha National Park. Half the size of Switzerland, the Etosha National Park is one of Africa’s largest nature reserves, home to giraffes, zebras, lions, cheetahs and leopards, as well as a unique climate, unusual geography and interesting history .
Etosha stands for ‘Great White Place’ in the Oshindonga language; it has been named in this way for its ashen appearance . The national park’s main feature is a wide pan of glaring white mineral salts which is transformed briefly into a temporary lake during the rainy season.
The lake and surrounding perennial springs attract thousands of living creatures, most notably huge flocks of flamingos and other wading birds. The rest of the park is covered with mopane woodlands flanked by grassy plains, ideal conditions for a wide variety of game species .
#2 The Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
The Fiordland National Park in the South Island of New Zealand is one of the most stunning places in the world. It was established in 1952 and today covers over 1.2 million hectares in size, and encompasses mountain, lake, fjord and rainforests .
It boasts a diverse range of flora and fauna, a lot it particularly endemic as they have developed in relative isolation such as the world’s only flightless parrot the Kakapo . The possibility of kayaking through the silent fjords amid towering peaks and rushing waterfalls is a truly life-changing adventure.
It is only fitting that one of the Fiordland National Park’s sites in particular, Milford Sound, has been described by Rudyard Kipling as the Eighth Wonder of the World  on account of its glacier formations dating back to the Ice Age.
#3 The Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
Located in Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast, this national park encompasses rugged rainforest, white-sand beaches and coral reefs. It’s renowned for its vast diversity of tropical plants and wildlife, from three-toed sloths and endangered white-faced capuchin monkeys to scarlet macaws.
The species diversity is truly unique – just as an example 123 butterflies, 33 of ophidians and snakes, as well as 48 toads and frog have been discovered so far .
The borders of the protected peninsula guard the beautiful beaches of Pan Dulce (Sweet Bread), Carate and Carbonara. Some of the other beaches, such as Espadilla Sur and Manuel Antonio, also offer very good snorkeling when the water is clear, which is best during the dry season.
#4 The Guilin and Lijiang River National Park, China
China’s Guilin and Lijiang River National Park offers one of the most evocative panoramas on Earth. The national park covers a huge region which is dominated by a maze of limestone cones, cylinders and hills known as karst peaks that have inspired Chinese poets and artists.
The Li river which runs through the park is such an important part of Chinese culture that it is featured on the currency . The area is central to Chinese heritage and includes a lot of cultural relics such as over two thousand stone carvings as well as the Imperial City of the Ming and Qing dynasties .
#5 The Galapagos National Park, Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands were coined as the “Tortoise Islands” shortly after their discovery, in honour of the emblematic species that inhabited it. In 1831, Charles Darwin arrived to the Galapagos Islands where he stayed for five years and whose observations during that time informed his theory about the evolution of species .
Today, the Galapagos National Park off the coast of Ecuador is still home to one of the world’s most interesting and unique ecosystems. One such example is the world’s only ocean-swimming lizard, the Galapagos marine iguana.