In a country so vast and full of resources, it would be easy to allow all-out development to encourage prosperity and wealth with little regard to the land. Thankfully, during and immediately following the Industrial Revolution and Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, leaders in our country realized the importance of the special places across the land. On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law The Yellowstone National Park Protection Plan, creating the world’s first national park that is one of the most visited wild places in the country today. The bill reads in part “The headwaters of the Yellowstone River… is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy or sale… and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” This was to many a completely new concept, but as more travelers flocked to Yellowstone to experience its beauty and wonder, more began to understand the need to save and preserve special places across America.
Fast forward to today and the U.S. National Parks Service is responsible for maintaining 546 national parks, preserves, monuments, historical sites, memorials, battlefields, scenic lands and more. Created in August 1916, the National Parks Service (NPS) just celebrated its centennial. The agency has grown tremendously as the number of sites and national parks have multiplied over the last century. Park-service employees have the ever-changing task of encouraging visitors to these sites while keeping them maintained and in a natural and minimally disturbed state. Planning for the centennial celebration and setting goals for the next 100 years began back under the Bush Administration Centennial Initiative signed in 2006. For three years, the NPS took public comment through town hall discussions and feedback to hear what Americans wanted to see and experience in their National Parks system. Through an independent commission of science, education, conservation and civic engagement leaders, a plan of action was developed for the next 100 years.
It was determined that to connect people to parks in the next century, the NPS must:
DEVELOP and nurture lifelong connections between the public and parks—especially for young people—through a continuum of engaging recreational, educational, volunteer and work experiences.
CONNECT urban communities to parks, trails, waterways and community green spaces that give people access to fun outdoor experiences close to home.
EXPAND the use of parks as places for healthy outdoor recreation that contributes to people’s physical, mental and social well-being.
WELCOME and engage diverse communities through culturally relevant park stories and experiences that are accessible to all.
The NPS has recently launched an updated marketing campaign called “Find Your Park,” FindYourPark.com. As the park service adapts an ever-changing culture of online communication and sharing, so has its online presence increased. An easy search application provides an outline of each site’s location, background and planning information for your visit. You can browse by state or by park name, and with one click have all the information needed for your visit. Just like sharing through Instagram or Facebook, visitors to the national parks are invited to share their photos or stories to encourage others to visit their National Parks system.
While much of America is now seen as less active, spending more time in front of screens and too busy to take a vacation, visitation numbers point out that many of us are dedicating time to experience these sites. When park admission began being tracked in 1904, roughly 120,000 visitors passed through our national parks. By 1920, the number reached one million annual visitors. In 1963 we cracked 100 million, and in 2015 there were more than 300 million visits to NPS managed parks and sites. Through its Find Your Park Campaign, the NPS gained 1.2 million followers on social media in 2016, sold $10 million worth of merchandise and saw $341 million donated toward the campaign. It’s evident that not only are many Americans deeply passionate about seeing these parks but are more than willing to help keep them up and running through personal financial support.
Living in the West, we are blessed to be near so many of these national treasures. In fact, during a weeklong road trip you might be surprised at how many parks you can experience in a short amount of time.
The Big Three
Traveling through Western Montana, you’ll experience some of the most beautiful open spaces in the country. Begin your trip in Glacier National Park, known as “The Crown Jewel of the Continent.” Here you’ll find ancient glaciers that have carved amazing peaks and mountain lakes into a stunning display. Traverse the Going to the Sun Road and explore miles of backcountry hiking. Travel about six hours south to West Yellowstone and be prepared to see other worldly landscapes. Geysers, hot pots, peaks and valleys dot the land, and many will spot deer, elk, bear and occasionally wolves on their trip. Log another 130 miles south into Wyoming, and you’ll be blown away by the Teton Mountain Range in Grand Teton National Park. Two hundred miles of trails await you in the park that’s equally beautiful but less visited. On a hot day, a float down the Snake River can’t be beat. Total Miles: 497
Those who can get out of the Seattle traffic will quickly find incredible national parks a short drive from each other. Just 100 miles northeast, you will find North Cascades National Park. Inside this park you’ll find everything from temperate rain forest, to glaciers, to dry ponderosa pine forests. With beautiful Lake Chelan included in this wilderness, there are ample opportunities for fishing or rafting, as well as easily accessible campground and hiking and biking trails.
Another 100 miles west and you’ll end up in the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Preserve. For those who enjoy sailing or kayaking, this is one of the best places in the country. Whale watching tours are especially popular from April through September. Take a history lesson at the American Camp on the southern tip and the British Camp at the northern tip and learn why we almost went to war over a pig. End your trip by traveling another 130 miles or so and camping inside Olympic National Park. Backpackers are drawn to the nearly one-million acres that include everything from glacial capped peaks and old-growth forests to 70 miles of coastline. There are 16 campgrounds inside the park and several day hikes, making this a great park to visit with children. Total Miles: 330
Summer is almost upon us, and you’re probably in the midst of planning your annual summer vacation. Consider a visit to one or multiple national parks that are not far from our own backyard. These lands are owned by all of us and are set aside for our enjoyment and recreation. Being in nature calms the soul, and unplugging as a couple or family can bring us all closer together. With another hundred-year plan in place by the National Parks Service, it is comforting to know that these special places will still be there for the enjoyment of generations to come.