A Brief History of our Federal Public Lands


A Brief History of our Federal Public Lands

The distribution of federal public lands across the United States.

The vast expanses of America’s public lands, set aside to serve the national interest, have a complex and unlikely history that spans more than two centuries.

In the United States, federally-owned public lands form the tapestry upon which so many recreationists depend, as do agricultural, extractive, tourism, and hunting industries that support local economies. Beyond that, these lands have unquantifiable cultural, scientific, ecological, and scenic values. As cyclists, public lands offer literally endless miles of trails, 4×4 tracks, and gravel roads that can carry us off the pavement, away from crowds, and into landscapes as quiet and remote as we may desire. The United States is globally unique with respect to the vast tracts of lands still remaining in the public domain, lands that are managed for a broad array of uses by various agencies and beneath a dizzying array of special designations and associated acronyms. However, political efforts to eliminate some or all of these public lands serve to highlight how we as recreationists cannot take these lands for granted.