A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

What is the largest city park in the U.S.?

May 3, 1985

Dear Cecil:

I have worried for some time about what city in the U.S. houses the largest park. My worries began when I moved to Philadelphia, and a city map said Fairmount Park was the largest city park. Then when I came to Los Angeles, another guidebook told me that Griffith was the largest municipal park. Finally, I gave my organizational communication class at USC the assignment of finding out the Truth, and they told me it was Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. We have called park services, geography professors, and chambers of commerce, and are truly stumped. How about the straight dope?

Cecil replies:

Your class said the largest park was Golden Gate? Golden Gate Park (either 1,107 or 1,017 acres, depending on who you think made a typographical error) is not only not the largest city park, it isn't even in the top ten. (Remember, we're talking city parks — Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which is federally administered, is 24,000 acres.) If the feebs in your class had bothered to check with the LA parks and recreation commission — which, for Chrissake, is a local call — they'd have found that Griffith Park comprises 4,107.87 acres. Still, Griffith can't beat out Philly's famed Fairmount Park, which boasts 4,618 acres, according to the Fairmount Park Commission. Admittedly 379 acres of this consists of the Schuylkill, a river. Even deducting this, however, we have 4,239 acres of dry land, enough to beat out Griffith.

But Fairmount isn't the biggest city park either. It isn't even second biggest. The largest city park in the U.S. is South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona, which presently comprises 16,169 acres and eventually will encompass 16,455 acres. Second place goes to another Phoenix park — Phoenix Mountain Reserve, now 7,358 acres, eventually to be 7,750 acres.

If it makes you feel any better, park acreage is probably second only to city population when it comes to exaggeration, misinformation, and fraud. The one comprehensive list I've seen, put out by the National Recreation and Parks Association, is filled with gross inaccuracies and omissions, skipping not only the two Phoenix parks but two of the largest parks in New York City. It does include NYC's Pelham Bay Park (2,117 acres), probably the nation's fifth largest city park, and DC's Rock Creek Park (1,754 acres), probably sixth. FYI, Chicago's Lincoln Park has 1,185 acres, which probably puts it around 12th, and New York's Central Park, at 840 acres, comes in around 15th.

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