The Race to National Park 61

By Derek and Amy Beth Wright

UPDATE: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore won the race and is now National Park #61 !!!

With the arrival of National Park #60, Gateway Arch National Park, we’re taking a look at the contenders for #61! Here’s a brief rundown on how they stack up. We’re giving you a bit of each park's story, and a score as to their chances, on a scale of John Muir beards!

FullBlueBeard small.png

The John Muir Beard! Our 1 to 5 scale for this article.


Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Porter, Indiana


Legislation (HR 1488) has passed the U.S. House of Representatives, and is now in committee in the U.S. Senate. This park conversion has the backing of major players, including elected representatives, the Chicago Tribune, and its nonprofit partner, Dunes National Park Association. Indiana Dunes occupies fifteen miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan in northern Indiana; hiking trails progress through dunes, wetlands, prairie, riparian corridors, and pine forests; some offer picturesque glimpses of the Chicago skyline.


Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Snake River Plain, Central Idaho


Craters of the Moon, an expansive volcanic field with groupings of cinder cones and chaparral sagebrush, was the first NPS unit designated a U.S. Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark Sky Association. Current plans are primarily local, although Senate Joint Memorial 101, a state resolution passed the Idaho State Senate in 2017, advocating for changing the site from a national monument to a national park, and is supported by Governor Otter. National legislation has not yet been introduced, though press interest from the Idaho Press-Tribune and major local support are strong. 


Driftless Rivers (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa)


The most grand of all new proposals, this one is set to craft a new national park out of land that is not currently in the NPS stable house (though part of the area is a NWR.) This would provide a park for the central midwest, where the two national parks in upper Minnesota and upper Michigan, Voyageurs and Isle Royale respectively, are harder to reach. The proposed park has had several articles and a book written about it, however, not having a champion in Washington, along with the Herculean effort required to craft a park from such a variety of public and private land, seems to make this a long shot.


White Sands National Monument, Las Cruces, New Mexico

4 beards.png

The White Sands National Park Establishment Act was introduced  in May of 2018 by Sen. Heinrichs (D-NM) but no votes or further action have occurred. New Mexico officials have been briefed on the possible transition, local support is strong, with both the press and the city council championing the new designation.


Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C.


D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has recently introduced new legislation to elevate this park, established in 1890 before the NPS was created, to the status of national park. In 2015, a similar bill died in committee in the House. There is not particularly robust local support.


Chiricahua National Monument, Willcox, Arizona

Chiricahua is a magical landscape, the remains of a volcanic explosion that left behind hoodoos, pinnacles, and balancing rocks. Many visitors wonder why it isn’t already a national park; legislation was introduced in Congress in 2016, though the bill did not make it out of committee. There is a strong local groundswell to promote this park to national status, though it seems to be a hard sell with Washington.



Fort Sumter National Monument, Charleston, South Carolina


Representative Mark Sanford and Senator Tim Scott have introduced two bills (one in 2016 and another in 2017) proposing designation of Fort Sumter as a national park. The bills have not yet progressed beyond committee. While introducing a bill does not guarantee action, it might be the first step in a longer process toward park designation.


Katahdin National Monument and Maine Woods, Millinocket, Maine

Since the late 1990’s, local residents have been both adamantly for and against the move to create another national park in Maine. In 2016, the Obama administration designated several hundred thousand acres of donated land to be a national monument, which stands adjacent to Baxter State Park. There is still a vibrant debate whether this monument should be elevated to a national park, particularly among locals, and if Baxter should merge into that park.


Mount Hood (Oregon)

half beard.png

This site is 50 miles from downtown Portland, Oregon, and is the tallest peak in Oregon. The site is a potentially still active conical volcano! It has long been a prospect for national park status, with initial legislation presented in the 1940’s, but the idea has cooled off significantly, but for a small and vocal local population, which advocates for moving Mount Hood from the national forest system into the national park system.

Photos courtesy of Derek Wright, Katja Schulz, Ken Lund, m01229, rarobbins3365SillySocks, US Department of the Interior, USFWS Midwest.