Geologic Heritage in the National Parks
The influence of geology is pervasive throughout American History. Of all the sciences, geology is the one most closely associated with the history of the United States - a land of mountains and rivers, of glaciers and prairies, atolls, hot springs, badlands, mines, and gushers. America is the land of Mammoth Cave and the Teapot Dome, the San Andreas Fault and LaBrea Tarpits, the Delaware Water Gap and the Great Okefenokee, Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, the Homestake Mine and Texas Gulf Sulfur, the Catskill scarp, the Mississippi delta, the Palisades, the Great Salt Lake and Mount Rainier. The entire history of the United States has been shaped by the geological resources and features of the land.
The National Park Service manages some of the world's finest geological sites. In addition, the Park Service is responsible for administering the National Natural Landmarks program and the National Register of Historic Places, and provides support for U.S. participation in the World Heritage Convention. Together, these efforts constitute much of our nation’s program for identifying and recognizing geologic heritage.
The service is working with State and local governments, as well as the U.S. Geological Survey and the geologic community to evaluate and build upon the existing geologic heritage programs. We anticipate that these collective partnerships will open opportunities for the geological societies, academic organizations, and the geologic community at large to become involved in recommending geologic heritage sites, and providing guidance for their long-term conservation.
Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we enjoy today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. Geologic heritage consists of geologic features and landforms which are part of our birthright and from which we may benefit during our lifetime, but which we also have the responsibility to preserve undiminished in quality and quantity. Geologic heritage sites may include areas of physical geology, historical geology, economic geology, exploration, and scientific and topographical surveys. Such sites generally have great potential for scientific studies, use as outdoor classrooms, enhancing public understanding and enjoyment. Geologic heritage features and landscapes are fundamental to understanding surface processes, succession and diversity of life, climatic changes over time, evolution of landforms, and the origin of mineral deposits.
What makes the concept of Geologic Heritage exceptional is its universal application. Geologic heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located. Some of the values considered important for geologic heritage preservation include: Intrinsic Value, Cultural Value, Aesthetic Value, Economic Value, Ecosystem Value, Scientific Value, Educational Value.
Notable geologic features may have scientific, historic, and/or aesthetic significance. Scientifically significant sites consist of geologic features, rock or mineral types, invertebrate, vertebrate, trace and plant fossils and landscapes that represent the best example of their kind, or are so uncommon that they have great significance for science education and scientific research. Culturally significant sites are places where cultural activities or events have occurred or are occurring because of a geologic feature or landscape. Aesthetically significant sites include landscapes that are visually appealing because of a particular geologic setting.