In the United States, what is a National Monument?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A National Monument is a site which is deemed to be important to the American people, and therefore entitled to certain protections under the law. Many nations have various versions of National Monuments, and programs established to promote and take care of them, ensuring that they will be around for future generations to enjoy. National Monuments are part of a larger system of parks, reserves, forest areas, and so forth; combined, this system protects the natural, cultural, and historical heritage of the United States.

The Statue of Liberty.
The Statue of Liberty.

Several things set a National Monument apart from a State or National Park. To begin with, National Monuments have varying degrees of diversity. A single structure, for example, might be considered a National Monument, whereas Parks must be established to preserve diverse objects of importance, such as rare plants, archaeological sites, and so on. In addition, a National Park must receive Congressional approval before it can be created, whereas as a National Monument can be created independently by the President of the United States.

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC.
The Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC.

Sometimes, a National Monument may be part of a larger preserve or protected area. This often happens when a President quickly establishes a National Monument to ensure that an especially valuable site is protected, and it is later decided that the site should be larger. National Monuments are overseen by the Parks Service, just like National Parks, and some of them are very carefully protected because they are vulnerable to damage; the Statue of Liberty, for example, is subject to heavy protections and access control because of fears of a terrorist attack.

Park rangers provide law enforcement at National Monuments.
Park rangers provide law enforcement at National Monuments.

All sorts of things can be National Monuments. The first National Monument was a natural landmark, Devil's Tower, which was protected by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. Buildings may also be National Monuments, along with historic sites such as battlefields. In many cases, a National Monument has a very interesting history, and the staff at the monument are often happy to tell visitors more about the site.

National monuments are overseen by the Parks Service.
National monuments are overseen by the Parks Service.

Transgressions against National Monuments, such as vandalism, are taken very seriously. Any kind of destruction of federal property often carries severe penalties, but since National Monuments serve as symbols of America, an offense to a National Monument is treated like an offense to the United States as a whole by law enforcement. People who are considering hijinks at National Monuments may want to be aware that members of the Parks Service are considered police in addition to being friendly and helpful guides, and they carry guns to enforce the law.

Like national parks, national monuments are administered by the U.S. National Park Service.
Like national parks, national monuments are administered by the U.S. National Park Service.
National monuments are part of a larger system that protects the natural, cultural and historical heritage of the United States.
National monuments are part of a larger system that protects the natural, cultural and historical heritage of the United States.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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