America's National Parks: Celebrating An Incredible 100 Years


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By Katrina Woznicki

This year, the National Park Service (NPS) celebrates its first centennial.

But did you know that when President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation to officially establish the NPS, there were already 21 federally protected parks in the United States?

Preserving America's natural resources, geological wonders and historic sites has long been a way to share our country's story - and that tradition began with some incredible scenery in the West. Today, maintaining protected lands for future generations amid the threat of climate change is one of the biggest challenges for the NPS in the coming decades. In addition to educating Americans about reducing their carbon footprint, NPS scientists and partners are using atmospheric science, oceanography, biogeochemistry and more to identify climate change trends. They hope to find plants and animals that are most adaptable - and are target opportunities for conservation.

Connecting To The Park That Speaks To You

Many folks already have a place that speaks to them, one that stands out above all other places they have visited. The NPS, in partnership with the National Park Foundation, seeks to cultivate these connections with the Find Your Park program, a public awareness, and education campaign. The program's message is that whatever your interests are, there is a park for you. Park lovers can explore downtown Washington, D.C., with its landmark monuments, "glamping" (luxury camping) in majestic Yosemite National Park - or soak up the pristine waterfront view of Pu'uhonua o Hõnaunau National Historical Park in Hawaii.

To commemorate its centennial, many of the NPS's 410 sites are hosting events throughout the year, including concerts, cultural presentations, and learning expeditions. These are all part of a massive effort to get visitors to discover and revel in these national treasures. So, even if you're just planning a weekend camping trip, visit Find Your Park for travel tips and to learn about NPS events in your area.

Preparing For Tomorrow

While marking its 100-year milestone, the NPS is already working toward improving its financial support, enhancing existing programs and adding new initiatives to make the next 100 years just as exciting as the first.

The majority of the NPS budget comes from the federal government and will go toward further developing the park system. But philanthropy is also key. The NPS relies on the National Park Foundation to cultivate donor support, which includes introducing new private donors to the park system as well as maintaining engagement with ongoing supporters.

Urbanization, public outreach, and climate change will remain critical topics throughout the 21st century - and to ensure this, the NPS is working on several initiatives to bring these issues to the forefront during its second century of advocacy and stewardship. Throughout 2015 and 2016, the NPS launched a series of Centennial Challenge projects, including Every Kid in a Park in several states. The program is designed to connect urban fourth-graders to the great outdoors.

Through other youth outreach initiatives, such as the Junior Ranger program, the NPS engages children, ages 5 to 13, who may be interested in careers in environmental sciences.

The urban agenda addresses the fact that more than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, so the NPS is focused on ensuring that its urban parks remain vital centers of city life. In a similar spirit, the NPS Call to Action program summons its employees and partners to expand the nation's park system amid increasing urbanization, to continue connecting and cultivating Americans' relationships to parks across the United States, and to advance its mission to educate the public about the importance that our parks play in our heritage.

Building awareness today will preserve America's natural wealth for generations to come.

Instead of steering toward Yellowstone, why not opt for one of these top 5 hidden gem national parks? They're just as striking and scenic - the only thing missing is the crowds.