In 1969 the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) declared a national park to be a relatively large area with particular defining characteristics. A national park was deemed to be a place
- with one or several ecosystems not materially altered by human exploitation and occupation, where plant and animal species, geomorphological sites and habitats are of special scientific, educative and recreative interest or which contain a natural landscape of great beauty.
- the highest competent authority of the country has taken steps to prevent or eliminate exploitation or occupation as soon as possible in the whole area and to effectively enforce the respect of ecological, geomorphological, or aesthetic features which have led to its establishment.
- visitors are allowed to enter, under special conditions, for inspirational, educative, cultural, and recreative purposes.
In 1971 these criteria were further expanded upon leading to more clear and defined benchmarks to evaluate a national park. These include:
- a minimum size of 1,000 hectares within zones in which protection of nature takes precedence
- statutory legal protection
- a budget and staff sufficient to provide sufficient effective protection
- prohibition of exploitation of natural resources (including the development of dams) qualified by such activities as sport, fishing, the need for management, facilities, etc.
While national parks are generally understood to be administered by national governments (hence the name), in Australia national parks are run by state governments and predate the Federation of Australia.
sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy.
(by some great protecting policy of government) ...in a magnificent park ...A nation's Park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature's beauty!
The first effort by any government to set aside such protected lands was in the United States, on April 20, 1832, when President Andrew Jackson signed legislation that the 22nd United States Congress had enacted to set aside four sections of land around what is now Hot Springs, Arkansas to protect the natural, thermal springs and adjoining mountainsides for the future disposal of the US government. It was known as the Hot Springs Reservation. However no legal authority was established and federal control of the area was not clearly established until 1877.
The next effort by any government to set aside such protected lands was, again, in the United States, when President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act of Congress on June 30, 1864, ceding the Yosemite Valley and theMariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (later becoming the Yosemite National Park) to the state of California:
Following the idea established in Yellowstone there soon followed parks in other nations. In Australia, the Royal National Park was established just south of Sydney in 1879, becoming the world's second official national park. Rocky Mountain National Park became Canada's first national park in 1885. New Zealand established Tongariro National Park in 1887. In Europe the first national parks were a set of nine parks in Sweden in 1909; Europe has some 359 national parks as of 2010. Africa's first national park was established in 1925 when Albert I of Belgium designated an area of what is now Democratic Republic of Congo centred around the Virunga Mountains as the Albert National Park (since renamed Virunga National Park). In 1973, Mount Kilimanjaro was classified as a National Park and was opened to public access in 1977. In 1926, the government of South Africa designated Kruger National Park as the nation's first national park. After World War II, national parks were founded all over the world. The Vanoise National Park in the Alps was the first French national park, created in 1963 after public mobilization against a touristic project.