Originally posted August 2016
Today we celebrate 100 years of the National Park Service. Many of us have heard and have even been to one or a few national parks. Personally, I’ve explored Yellowstone (our very first National Park), the Grand Canyon, the Grand Tetons and most recently Yosemite National Park. We all probably have our stories of connecting to nature and the incredible sites that we saw, but what’s the significance of national parks? Why is it important that we continue to support the National Park Service?
Let’s all get on the same page here: what is a national park?
As the Office of Environment and Heritage puts it, “National Parks are large areas of public land set aside for native plants, animals and the places in which they live.” National Parks exist to protect the land and animals as they already are, as in humans are not supposed to interfere as much as possible. National Forests on the other hand (the Black Hills in South Dakota for instance), are set aside for preservation but also recreation, sustainable timber and grazing among other things.
Who is the National Park Service?
The National Park Service is responsible for maintaining our national parks. Did you know that you could volunteer and help the National Park Service? When my cousin and I were hiking around the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park, he told me about how he volunteered to help with trail maintenance. This is everything from clearly away any debris, rocks, tree limbs, that may have fallen and obstructed the trail to actually creating new trails. There are opportunities that are a little less intensive too like helping to organize events or help promote activities at the parks. After all, they are OUR national parks; we should feel pride and ownership over how they look when we visit them.
100 years is significant. When you think about it, our country is only 240 years old. We decided early on that we’re going to be a nation that thinks ahead. I think during this centennial celebration we should try to remember that. We’re becoming a society that thinks mostly about the short term and what we need immediately. We come up with solutions that are the easiest fix, often for the least expensive. True it’s more difficult to think beyond our day to day, but I think that’s what this centennial celebration should be about.
We’ve protected and preserved these lands for 100 years. We should be proud. Now, what do the next 100 years hold? Are there other sites that should be protected, preserved? Are our national parks accessible to everyone; is this something that should be accessible to everyone? Staying connected to nature is something not everyone values, but I hope everyone at least sees the importance of why not every piece of America needs to be a strip mall.
I challenge you today to think beyond what you need right now and think about what someone in your position in 100 years would need. Do you want them to have the same access to our history and our heritage? What can you do to make that possible? Here’s to the next 100 years of preserving our great country and all the plants and animals that call it home.