A National Monument is a site which is deemed to be important to the American people, and therefore entitled to certain protections under the law. Many nations have various versions of National Monuments, and programs established to promote and take care of them, ensuring that they will be around for future generations to enjoy. National Monuments are part of a larger system of parks, reserves, forest areas, and so forth; combined, this system protects the natural, cultural, and historical heritage of the United States.
Several things set a National Monument apart from a State or National Park. To begin with, National Monuments have varying degrees of diversity. A single structure, for example, might be considered a National Monument, whereas Parks must be established to preserve diverse objects of importance, such as rare plants, archaeological sites, and so on. In addition, a National Park must receive Congressional approval before it can be created, whereas as a National Monument can be created independently by the President of the United States.
Sometimes, a National Monument may be part of a larger preserve or protected area. This often happens when a President quickly establishes a National Monument to ensure that an especially valuable site is protected, and it is later decided that the site should be larger. National Monuments are overseen by the Parks Service, just like National Parks, and some of them are very carefully protected because they are vulnerable to damage; the Statue of Liberty, for example, is subject to heavy protections and access control because of fears of a terrorist attack.
All sorts of things can be National Monuments. The first National Monument was a natural landmark, Devil's Tower, which was protected by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. Buildings may also be National Monuments, along with historic sites such as battlefields. In many cases, a National Monument has a very interesting history, and the staff at the monument are often happy to tell visitors more about the site.
Transgressions against National Monuments, such as vandalism, are taken very seriously. Any kind of destruction of federal property often carries severe penalties, but since National Monuments serve as symbols of America, an offense to a National Monument is treated like an offense to the United States as a whole by law enforcement. People who are considering hijinks at National Monuments may want to be aware that members of the Parks Service are considered police in addition to being friendly and helpful guides, and they carry guns to enforce the law.