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Early National Recreation Areas were established by interagency memoranda of agreement between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the National Park Service. The first National Recreation Area was the Boulder Dam Recreation Area, later renamed Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
In 1963, the President's Recreation Advisory Committee issued an Executive Branch policy that established criteria for establishing National Recreation Areas. The policy also called for all future National Recreation Areas to be established by acts of the United States Congress. In 1964, Congress made Lake Mead National Recreation Area to first such area to be established by statute.
In 1965 Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area became the first NRA under the administration of the U.S. Forest Service. In 1972 Congress created Gateway National Recreation Area under the management of the National Park Service, thereby becoming the first "urban national park". One NRA, the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area was redesignated Cuyahoga Valley National Park in October 2000.
Areas with this designation are managed by different federal agencies, most of which operate within the Department of the Interior or the Department of Agriculture. Some national recreation areas are under the National Park Service (Interior), one under the Bureau of Land Management (Interior), and others are managed by the U.S. Forest Service (Agriculture).
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