Park vs. monument: What's in a name?by Jeff Jones, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — When we started thinking about a series of stories about Minnesota's national parks, we were quickly confronted by a tricky question -- just how many parks does Minnesota have?
Only Voyageurs, on the state's northern border, is designated a national "park" -- like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier and 55 others.
Pipestone, in southwest Minnesota, and Grand Portage at the tip of the Arrowhead, are both national "monuments" -- like Devils Tower and Fort McHenry (where the national anthem was penned).
National parks are generally large natural places with a wide variety of attributes, and possibly some historic significance. Hunting and mining are not allowed.
National monuments are landmarks or structures that have historic or scientific interest, and must be situated on lands owned or controlled by the government.
The president can declare, on his own, that an area is a national monument, without the need for congressional approval. National parks, on the other hand, are typically created by Congress.
Two stretches of river in the region have park service protections, as well. A long stretch of the Mississippi River in and near the Twin Cities metro area is a National River and Recreation Area, and the St. Croix River that borders Minnesota and Wisconsin is a National Scenic Riverway.
But whatever the name, each of Minnesota's sites represents one of the 391 official units of the National Park System. Those are the units filmmaker Ken Burns keeps talking about as he promotes his new PBS documentary, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."
That number also includes national memorials (like the Lincoln Memorial and Mount Rushmore), national preserves, national historic sites and other designations.
But wait! Minnesota has one more National Park Service feature: The North Country Scenic Trail, which runs from New York to North Dakota. Thousands of miles of the trail aren't complete yet, but much of the Minnesota portion is. However, this trail is not one of those 391 official units.
So, depending on how you count, the answer to how many national parks there are in Minnesota could be one, five or six.
In 1970, Congress realized how confusing the nomenclature was and amended the 1916 National Park Service Organic Act, to say all units of the system -- regardless of their formal name -- have equal legal standing.