“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,
places to play in and pray in, where nature
may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
— John Muir
America’s national park system is 100 years old this year!
The park collection began even earlier under President Ulysses S. Grant. A geological survey of what is now Yellowstone National Park convinced Congress to withdraw that land from public auction. Fearing that the area might suffer the commercialized fate of Niagara Falls, Congress set the area aside for preservation and protection in 1872.
For many years Yellowstone and subsequent parks were managed individually “with varied success.” (You can imagine the range of possibilities!) By 1916 the Department of Interior oversaw 14 national parks and 21 national monuments with no uniform leadership. The National Park Service was created on August 25, 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson signed the “Organic Act” into law.
Our national park system’s original mandate was “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” (Wikipedia)
Preserving a place is one thing. The government could just fence and lock up a designated area. Making it available for enjoyment by the public and future generations is where the sticky parts begin. Balancing competing interests requires ingenuity, resourcefulness, diplomacy, and resolve. A college student aspiring to be a park ranger might have thought that botany, geology, or history studies would be most useful. Rangers in the 21st century need to be much more diversified, including skills in crowd control and public relations.
Fortunately there are ways for the rest of us to help. The Volunteers in the Parks Act of 1969 allowed the parks to establish methods for using volunteers for a whole range of park services. You can also connect with and support your favorite park through any of these NPS Friends groups.
The Centennial celebration will go on all year, but I tell you now so you can be ready for National Park Week, April 16-24. During that week admission will be free for all. After that, many of you are in a position to take advantage of the Senior Pass, $10 for lifetime admission. (I got mine last summer at Carlsbad Caverns.)
There are national parks and monuments in every state. Visit one which is new for you or go back to an old favorite, and enjoy your heritage!
Now, because inquiring minds will want to know, how many people visited in 2015?
The NPS sites with the most visitors were the Blue Ridge Parkway and Golden Gate National Recreation Area with about 15,000,000 each.
The Park with the most visitors was Great Smokey Mountains 10,712,674. Did your favorite make the top ten?
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
10 March 2016