NPS Fundamentals Essentials: Stewardship


Whether you are a new employee or interested in employment with the National Park Service, understanding how the organization functions is vital to your success. Are all parks the same?  How is the work divided? How are the sites managed?  What do the different divisions do?

Known as “Essentials,” these topics provide insight into how the National Park Service manages the entire system of parks and programs to accomplish its mission.  Reading through each topic gives an overview at the most basic level with opportunities to link to more in-depth, specific information.


….to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.  – 1916 National Park Service Organic Act

The word “steward” for the National Park Service (NPS) means a manager, administrator, or guardian who cares for the public parks, resources, values. NPS employees are given this role and trust by Congress and the American public to care for the resources on NPS lands and provide leadership for resource management throughout the nation.

You, as a steward of the NPS and its resources, are responsible for planning and management of resources and educating others about their importance. NPS employees carefully balance preservation and conservation efforts and look to sustainability for the future. In instances where preservation and public enjoyment conflict, resource management practices dictate that preservation should prevail. Everyone in the NPS is involved in this effort and we all play an important role in protecting the parks for the future and ensuring the continued success of our Mission. We have been entrusted with a great responsibility.

There are several legal requirements and authorities by which the NPS manages its resources. From the 1916 Organic Act to the Clean Air Act to the National Historic Preservation Act, the NPS has been given mandates by Congress to protect and conserve the natural and cultural resources of all units of the National Park System. Most notably the Organic Act provides the overarching goal of preserving all resources administered by the NPS. NPS employees also engage park partners, local communities, and stakeholders to help accomplish the NPS mission through volunteer, education and stewardship programs that encourage others to become stewards as well.

An NPS employee holds a peregrine chick while being banded by a park wildlife biologist.
A peregrine chick is banded by a park wildlife biologist at Acadia National Park.

Stewardship Today

Today the National Park System is made up of more than 400 units. It consists of one of the largest networks of museums in the United States which include more than 42 million museum objects and 52,400 linear feet of archives. The NPS protects and cares for battlefields, archeological sites, and historic structures. The NPS preserves cultures, values, and stories of those who have shaped the story of our country. Plants, animals, water, land, air, and other natural wonders and resources are also under the care of the NPS and those who work there. All NPS employees from scientists and historians to maintenance workers and administration officers all have a very important role to play, as stewards, to protect these special places and encourage others to become thoughtful stewards as well.

Park Staff Remove Scratched Graffiti.
Park staff remove scratched graffiti from rock face.

Everyone’s a Steward

The responsibility of stewardship does not rest solely with resource management staff, but with all NPS employees. Whether you work in administration or in maintenance, everyone are stewards (directly or indirectly) of national park resources. Examples include:

  • Administration provides logistical, staffing and funding support for the park Bioblitz which is a rapid biological survey and public outreach event that brings together scientists and volunteers to compile a snapshot of biodiversity in a relatively short amount of time.
  • Park interpreters promote sustainability and inform the public about the impacts of climate change in their programs and publications.
  • Maintenance collaborates with planning and resource management staff on where to install a waterline that will not impact historic structures and archeological sites.
  • VIP coordinators organize volunteers to help with a beach cleanup.
  • Visitor Resource Protection rangers patrol trails and roads to ensure public off-road activities or vandalism of historic monuments are not occurring.
  • Regional office staff provides funding, personnel, direction, resource expertise for park operations in stewardship programs.

Additional Resources


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  2. If you truly take in all that is presented here, you start to realize how important every single person is to the success in committing to be stewards of these lands.


  3. I wish that more NPS employees took being a steward seriously. NPS staff are the worst when it comes to waste and contamination because they believe they don’t need to comply with what the public or city laws on waste are in our office spaces.

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  5. We are stewards, the laws behind our acts of preservation: 1916 Organic Act, the Clean Air Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. If these are our legal tools we can not lay by idly when and if these “Acts” themselves are dismembered of their protective reach.

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  9. As a new employee, I want to say how much I look forward to working with others who have the same passion for ensuring the preservation of America’s beautiful cultural, historical, and environmental treasurers are kept intact for future generations! Having had the opportunity to live and travel throughout Central America, South America, and Africa, I also want to point out how the National Park Service has become a model for identifying, preserving, protecting, and managing these essential treasures for countries throughout the world. We are very fortunate that we had great visionaries, great leaders, and philanthropists like Aldo Leopold, John D. Rockefeller, Horace Albright, and Stephen Mather, who carried their visions on and made them a reality for all Americans and citizens from around the world! We genuinely are America’s Best Idea!

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  17. Fascinating information about our roles on public lands. It is good to always be reminded about our responsibilities toward the NPS mission and the public’s trust.


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  21. Really enjoyed this activity. Demonstrates how everyone plays an important role in the NPS organization. I hope the NPS can foster this inclusivity.


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