What Happens to Decommissioned National Parks?

5:00:00 PM La Mesa RV 3 Comments

It’s no secret that the U.S. is home to some magnificent national parks — from Yosemite to the Great Smoky Mountains to the Grand Canyon, these natural sites are summer shrines for RVers and campers alike.

Most of us don’t question how these parks earned their titles as “national parks,” or how they’re maintained. It’s easy to take for granted that the sights and trails we love will always be available for us to visit, well cared for by the National Park Service (NPS).

In reality, not all national parks remain as national parks forever. So, what happens when parks are decommissioned? Does anyone take care of them? Can you still visit them?

Why Are Some Parks Decommissioned?

Decommissioned national parks are sites that have fallen out of favor with the National Park Service (NPS). Due to varying reasons — from low visitor numbers, to remote locations, or high upkeep costs — there are 26 national parks that have been decommissioned over the past century and a half. That represents 6% of the total national parks ever created, according to Bob Janiskee, a frequent contributor to the website National Parks Traveler.

In one of the most interesting and peculiar decommissioning cases, Fossil Cycad National Monument in South Dakota closed in 1957 after too many visitors plucked its petrified fossils to call their own.

Today, these two dozen decommissioned national parks and monuments remain in various states, forms, and functions. Many have been transitioned into National Forest Service sites; while others remain as train stations, private clubs owned by presumptive presidential nominees, and state properties.

The sites that have become national forests, state parks, and recreation areas are often much less expensive for camping than national parks. Although not all are appealing destinations for RVers, there are certainly a few decommissioned national parks worth visiting next time you hit the road:

Lewis and Clark Caverns, Montana

Find additional info here: http://stateparks.mt.gov/

These caverns were discovered long before Europeans made contact with North America. The unique limestone interior is part of an extensive cave system that was developed in the early 20th century. Lewis and Clark Caverns was established as a national monument in 1908, before being disbanded nearly 30 years later due to its remote location. The caverns were transferred to the state, and became Montana’s first State Park.

Open each season from May 1 to September 30, Lewis and Clark Caverns is 70 miles south of Montana’s capital city Helena — and its relative remoteness makes it the perfect destination for an overnight RV trip. Nine of its campgrounds have electrical hookups, and there are multiple guided tours of the caves daily.

Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California

Formerly known as Shasta National Park, this mountainous area may go down in history as the national park with the shortest lifespan. It was only managed by the NPS for three brief years, from 1945 until 1948, when it was adopted by the U.S. Forest Service.  

The largest forest in California, Shasta-Trinity National Forest is home to the gorgeous Shasta Lake — the perfect destination for explorers, boaters, or hikers wishing to see the full moon rise over water. There are six RV sites in the park. Enter along one of the park’s several scenic byways, and you’ll be blown away before your camping experience even begins.

Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Oklahoma

In a former life, part of the Chickasaw area was Platt National Park, a site that was run by the NPS between 1906 and 1976. Low visitation was by no means the reason this park was decommissioned — in fact, in 1914 the park hosted more visitors than either Yellowstone or Yosemite. Unlike many “wilder” parks, Platt was planted and pruned by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, an employment creation program that was an integral part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

In 1976, the park was combined with the Arbuckle Recreation Area, to form what we now know as the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Today, the legacy of Platt National Park lives on in this much larger national recreation area. Tribute is paid to the older portion of the park in the Travertine area, which the park refers to as “an oasis in the Oklahoma prairie.” RV camping is nestled in an old oak forest, providing ample shade in the summer, and easy access to the lake.

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