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What’s the difference between a National Forest and State Park?


For the most part, differences amount to:

  • who owns the land,
  • how land is used, and
  • what branch of government manages the land.


All federal public lands are owned by U.S. taxpayers whose money goes toward maintaining national parks, forests, wilderness areas, wild rivers, and scenic rivers. That means that every person has a right to be there, and a say in how those lands can be used.

State parks are controlled by state governments and parks are required to generate funding. Residents of other states don’t get a say in how these lands are managed, and those that do have a say have less control than they would over federal public lands.


National park land is preserved and cannot be used for anything else. National forests are governed by a multiple-use mandate, and can be used for timber as well as recreation and sustenance of wildlife. Both are public lands. State park land can be sold to make up a budget deficit if the state government deems necessary, while national parks and forests cannot be sold without taxpayer approval.


National parks and national forests are governed by branches of the federal government. National parks fall under the U.S. Department of the Interior, and national forests are run by the Department of Agriculture. Every U.S. taxpayer also has a stake in these resources. State parks are under the jurisdiction of state and local officials.

At both public and state institutions, employees are the backbone of the parks system. They educate visitors, preserve land and maintain recreation areas, and implement policy at the local level with help from local officials.


Aside from the fact that public parks and forests bring in billions of dollars in revenue annually, they’re also home to hundreds of species of plants and animals which need to thrive to preserve the delicate balance of our ecosystem. Parks and forests provide a source of clean water and unpolluted air, and conserving the land allows for preservation of nonrenewable natural resources.

Instead of selling park land for development, advocacy groups and concerned citizens are pushing for a corporate sustainability model, in which businesses act to preserve the environment and minimize their impact on it.

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