Prior to February 2018, the Gateway Arch and grounds was known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Yes, it was already part of the National Parks System, but hopefully the name change will give it a bit more recognition.
Why the name change? Well, everyone knows the Gateway Arch! The giant silver arch looms over St. Louis and the Mississippi River as the gateway to the west. It’s one of the most recognizable monuments in the U.S. so it only makes sense that the park reflects its most famous component.
In addition to being the newest national park, Gateway Arch National Park is also the smallest national park, and one of the only parks located in an urban environment. (I think this is a good time to note that throughout this article, when I refer to “national parks”, I am referring specifically to the 60 official National Parks, as listed here).
What’s Gateway Arch National Park all about?
The Arch is a national landmark and is worth seeing simply for the architectural wonder that it is. But this park wasn’t created to honor the Gateway Arch; the Gateway Arch is a monument created to honor Thomas Jefferson and America’s pioneering history.
Thomas Jefferson was the third President of the United States and one of the country’s Founding Fathers. The Louisiana Purchase was signed during his presidency in 1803, which transferred ownership of the Louisiana Territory from France to the United States. This westward expansion created opportunities for Americans to move west, and it was the catalyst for the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition.
The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was conceived in the early 1930s, but it was put on pause for many years due to war. An architectural competition was held to design a monument to center the park, and the Arch as designed by Eero Saarrinen was chosen. The Gateway Arch was finally completed in 1965.
The park stands to commemorate Thomas Jefferson and an important part of America’s history. Its historical significance is the reason it was formerly designated as a National Monument within the National Parks System.
Expansion, Changes, and Updates to the Park
Gateway Arch National Park, formerly the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, has been undergoing major changes for the last few years. An expansion and update of the Arch grounds began in 2013 to enhance visitor experience.
The first step in the updates was making it easy for pedestrians to access the Arch grounds from downtown. Before, the Arch was separated from the city by a large highway. Now the grounds run over the interstate so that people can walk between the Arch and the Old Courthouse.
Once the foundation for expansion was created, the grounds surrounding the Arch were completely redone. A beautiful park now sits below the Arch, with walking trails and ample green space.
The Museum of Westward Expansion, which is located beneath the Arch, is currently under construction. The renovated museum is set to open July 2018.
All of these changes have led to the biggest change of all: the new name and the new National Park status.
Why is the Gateway Arch a National Park?
There has been some criticism over the renaming of the park, especially regarding the official designation as a “National Park”. After all, the Gateway Arch was already part of the National Parks System, but it was formerly designated as a National Memorial.
So what makes a site worthy of being called a National Park? According to the NPS, “Generally, a national park contains a variety of resources and encompasses large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources”.
Some National Park enthusiasts don’t believe Gateway Arch National Park fits that bill. It is not a large area of land (its only 91 acres), and the park doesn’t contain a variety of natural resources that need to be protected. Being set right in the middle of a city doesn’t help the case.
I have to agree that the National Park designation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I think renaming it to the Gateway Arch National Monument would have been more fitting. I’m still not sure it’s meant to be designated as a National Park, despite the name. I can’t help but wonder if another change won’t come along soon.
However, the Arch is mesmerizing, there’s plenty of history here, and the redesign of the park is absolutely beautiful. I think the Gateway Arch deserves recognition and more people should visit, regardless of its name or designation within the National Parks System.
This is an excerpt from “Everything You Need to Know About Gateway Arch National Park”. Read the full article on Travel Daze.