It’s easy to take our national parks for granted; to us, they’ve always been there. These majestic landmarks are a part of our American landscape, so it’s natural to assume they will be available when we are ready to travel, listen and learn their stories. It’s hard to imagine that without the foresight of those who came before us; these lands may not be maintained and available to all.
In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant recognized Yellowstone as America’s first national park. At the time, Congressmen supported the bill as they felt the rugged and isolated area had minimal economic value. Through the years, more US Presidents and government officials recognized and named other national parks and monuments including Yosemite National Park, Mount Rainer, Sequoia National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Devils Tower, etc. All of this happened because a relatively small group of people had the vision and perseverance to protect America’s natural treasures.
On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Organic Act that formally created the National Park Service (NPS). The law mandated that the NPS, managed by the Department of the Interior, was responsible for conserving and protecting the nation’s 35 current national parks and monuments, along those yet to be established, for the enjoyment of future generations. That’s the most important part: the law included those national landmarks that had yet to be named. With the Organic Act in place, today the NPS embraces 58 national parks, including nearly 400 sites encompassing over 84 million acres.
In 1967, many years after the formation of the National Park Service, Congress made another bold move and created the National Park Foundation. Its philanthropy mission was simple – to gain private support for the National Park Service in the times and ways it needed it most. Today, the National Park Foundation continues to carry on that tradition as the only national charitable nonprofit whose sole commitment is to support the NPS. The foundation does this by channeling the support of individuals and organizations to ensure the very best of America is preserved and protected as generations before us intended.
This week, America celebrates the NPS’s centennial. The party started last year when the NPS launched a movement to spread the world about our country’s resources and heritage. Named ‘Find Your Park’, the program includes all parks – national, state and local. It’s about creating the connections and inspirational stories that our parks tell through history, culture and simply enjoying natural beauty of our country.
One of the program’s goals is to get kids outside, to experience nature, to explore and have a personal connection with the outdoors. My Dad and Mom did that well. We took weekend trips to Kettle Moraine State Forest as a family. We hiked the trails, climbed trees, picked berries and enjoyed a picnic table for lunch. It was great to get out of the city and realize there was a lot of life to experience.
Part of the yearlong centennial festivity is sharing your story. The NPS has made it easy for you. Share your photo, song, poem, video – anything you want. Use hashtag #FindYourPark. The beauty of our country simply can’t be captured in a single word or photograph. We all need to share our story.
And the NPS asks for your support. Your financial gift, large or small, will help the National Park Foundation protect our treasured landscapes for generations to come. If you can’t give financially, give with your heart by sharing America’s priceless natural landscapes, rich history and vibrant culture with those you love. Or participate in these ways:
- In recognition of the 100th birthday of the NPS, an IMAX® 3-D film National Parks Adventure was created to capture the nation’s story at theatres across America. The film offers a sweeping overview of the national parks’ history, along with adrenaline-pumping odyssey and soulful reflection on what the wilderness means to us.
- The United States Mint is commemorating the NPS Centennial by issuing three limited-edition coins, including a five-dollar gold coin, a silver dollar, and a half dollar clad coin. Proceeds from coin sales go to the National Park Foundation to support projects that protect parks for future generations
- While many National Parks are strained by lack of resources and staff, you could provide an invaluable service and help ensure that these special places will continue to be cherished for generations to come as a volunteer. From clearing trails to assisting archaeologists to providing visitor information, our national parks could use your help.
The NPS employs approximately 22,000 permanent, temporary and seasonal professionals. They depend on 221,000 volunteers. They expect more than 300,000,000 visitors. They offer free guides as a starting point of inspiration.
The diverse beauty of America’s majestic landmarks is like no other country. It’s our national legacy, our inheritance, our story to embrace, protect and care for future generations.
Keeping watch. Pat