This year welcomes the 100th birthday of the National Parks Service. Established in 2016, the National Parks Service was created in foresight to maintain the integrity of the small number of poorly maintained national parks at the time. Conservation was not always at the foresight of park visitors in the early 20th century, when the last American bison herd was being poached and tourists were defacing ancient native dwellings. Conservation was essential if future generations were to to experience these areas.
The N.P.S. is celebrating their centennial with free admission days. August 25-28 is their birthday celebration. September 24 is National Public Lands Day. And November 11 is Veterans Day. Additionally, the N.P.S. is has several programs running, including a Kid in Every Park, the Urban Initiative, and other programs designed to get people more involved.
The service and the facts
President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service, a new federal bureau in the Department of the Interior, in the August of 1916. At the time there were 35 national parks and monuments, and this act was also designed to cover future parks, monuments, and reservations. According to the National Parks Service, the purpose of this was “..to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the 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.”
Today the United States considers 210,000 square miles land protected, and this consists of parks, preserves, seashores and lakeshores. Additionally, national forests and grassland, trails, monuments, sanctuaries, and other recreation systems are also fall under the umbrella of federally protected areas.
According to the National Parks Service, “The National Park System of the United States now comprises more than 400 areas covering more than 84 million acres in 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands.”
Culture and the national story
The United States is a melting pot of cultures, and the national parks are an ideal place to experience this variety. The enormous range of Native American cultures can be witnessed anywhere from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee in North Carolina to the Aztec Ruins National Monument in new Mexico, and everywhere in between. American Indians were not only one group of people, and the variety of cultural areas within the U.S. highlight this.
In addition to native cultures within the continental U.S. the national parks includes Alaskan native sites, African American sites, Asian American sites, European sites, Hispanic sites, and Pacific Islander sites. This cultural heritage covers the entirety of the mainland and stretches to Alaska and Hawaii as well.
History and what came before
The U.S. National Parks Service and protected areas preserve the rich history of the nation. Historical landmarks of the founding of the nation can be found everywhere in the New England states and beyond. Battlefields are well known and often visited; Civil War sites abound in over 70 parks. In the next few years these Civil War sites will begin to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and help put that moment in the nation’s history in a broader historical context for greater understanding of our past.
Farther west in Montana, the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument memorializes the battle. Here, 263 soldiers in the U.S. Army including Lt. Col. Custer fought and died in a conflict with several thousand Lakota and Cheyenne warriors who were fighting to preserve their way of life. Both American Indians and U.S. Soldiers are remembered in memorials and Custer National Cemetery.
Nature and life over time
When we think of national parks, the natural world is what comes to mind immediately and not all these national parks are forests. While Sequoia National Park does have the world’s largest tree, Everglades National Park in Florida has the best birding. Guided cave tours can be found in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky and Carlsbad National Park in Texas. Mountains, volcanos and geysers can be witnessed in Hawaii, Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere. Death Valley National Park is said to have the best stargazing of any park.
Stranger things can be found as well, such as La Brea Tar Pits in the heart of the city of Los Angeles, a Natural National Landmark. Nestled in an urban area, the tar pits look and smell like pond of black tar and come with a neighboring museum that displays a multitude of prehistoric animals excavated from the tar and asphalt.
Get outdoors and be active
The great outdoors comes hand in hand with recreation, and the National Parks System has something for everyone. Many parks have lodges and camping within the parks themselves, with Glacier National Park in Montana being one of the best.
Thousands of miles of trails cross the parks, with some of the best hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah and Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Trails range from short family hikes to long excursions for experts. Fishing, swimming and canoeing are all available at parks on coastal areas and surrounding lakes and rivers.
Many parks have guided tours by park rangers and naturalists, and these are educational to children and fascinating for grownups alike. Employees and volunteers explain local wildlife and ecology, history, and local culture. The National Parks Service has 22 thousand employees and 221 thousand volunteers to help maintain these spaces and educate current and future generations.
Find your park
2016 is the National Park Service’s centennial and 100 year anniversary. In celebration, the N.P.S. has a variety of programs and free admission days in order to get the public out to enjoy all that the national parks has to offer. Culture, history, guided tours, recreation, natural scenery and wildlife are all available to behold if you find your park and enjoy the celebration.
This article was written for Surplus Today.