Happy Birthday, National Park Service!

August 25, 2016 marks the National Park Service Centennial. To honor this historic event, guests visiting on August 25th -28th will be able to visit all 412 (419!!*) parks for free. These include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House. The Park Service will also be hosting events throughout the parks over the next several days. Visit FindYourPark.com to get a listing of events at each park. We’re going to be participating in a big way this year, so read on to find out more!

Joshua Tree NP Credit: NPS/Brad Sutton - National Park Service Centennial
Joshua Tree NP Credit: NPS/Brad Sutton

History of the National Park Service

The first of America’s National Parks was founded in 1872. President Ulysses S. Grant signed a law that designated 2.2 million acres be set aside, and Yellowstone National Park was born. Without anyone responsible to oversee and maintain the parks, it was nothing more than a symbolic gesture. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act officially establishing the National Park Service.

Yellowstone NP Credit: NPS - National Park Service Centennial
Yellowstone NP Credit: NPS

With automobiles becoming more affordable, Americans had a newfound sense of freedom. As a result, popularity of the parks soared. By 1920, they had seen over a million visitors annually. Along with this popularity came a sense of national pride and subsequently, more parks. America got its first National Recreational Area at Lake Mead in 1936. In 1937, Americas’s first National Seashore was established at Cape Hatteras. By 1940, over 17 million annual visitors were flocking to the parks.

From nps.gov:

Since 1916, the National Park Service has been entrusted with the care of our national parks. With the help of volunteers and partners, we safeguard these special places and share their stories with more than 275 million visitors every year.

The U.S. National Park system is often called America’s greatest idea, and for good reason. It seems almost everyone can agree on this ideal. With such an amazing collection of awe-inspiring landscapes, it’s an easy argument to make. Failing to protect these resources for future generations would be tragic. Ken Burns touches on this in his excellent documentary on the national parks.

Canyonlands NP Credit: NPS/Madelyn Carpenter - National Park Service Centennial
Canyonlands NP Credit: NPS/Madelyn Carpenter

Today’s U.S. National Park Service

Interest in America’s National Parks has never been greater. With increased interest comes greater responsibilities for the NPS. Today, they employ 22,000 individuals combined with another 221,000 park volunteers. Together, they are responsible for an incredible amount of America’s history and natural wonders.

From nps.gov:

The system includes 412 areas covering more than 84 million acres in every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. These areas include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House.

National Park Service Centennial – How You Can Participate in All the Fun

Besides free admission on Aug 25th-28th, the NPS offers several different ‘America the Beautiful Passes’ good for free or discounted admission to the parks throughout the year.

Every Kid in a Park

Every Kid in a Park
Every Kid in a Park

Every Kid in a Park is an initiative started in 2015 by President Barack Obama to encourage kids to connect with nature. It allows children in the fourth grade and their families free admission to the parks, as well as other federal lands and waters, for one full year. Every Kid in a Park encourages families to get outside and experience the natural beauty of our country. Enrollment in the program begins on September 1st and runs through August 31st the following year.

From everykidinapark.gov:

Every Kid in a Park is an Administration-wide effort supported by the U.S. Department of the Interior (which includes the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This is such an amazing program because it allows 4th graders and their families admission to the parks. This includes all children under the age of 16 and up to three adults. If you are a 4th grade educator, you and your students can participate also. For a list of rules and instructions, click here.

So, What Are Our Plans to Take Advantage of the Incredible Opportunity?

We are excited to have an upcoming fourth grader who can take part in the 2016-2017 program. As if we really needed an excuse to travel more, we’ve got a big one now! As much as we love the outdoors, our children have never visited a National Park. Carrick and I have only visited one – Rocky Mountain National ParkI know, I know! We’ve been to so many great places, but it is pretty sad that we’ve never taken our kids to see some of the most beautiful natural wonders our country has to offer.

Well, that changes this year! 

Glacier NP Credit: Jacob W. Frank - National Park Service Centennial
Glacier NP Credit: Jacob W. Frank

Our Short List of National Parks to Visit

There are 59 National Parks in the system, and unfortunately for us in fly-over country, they aren’t that close (unless you count Platt NP). We’ve been hatching a plan to try and see as many parks this year as our limited vacation days (and money) will allow. Proximity to each other is important, and we won’t be doing it all at once, but it will be a pretty epic year if we can make it all work. Parks on the short list include:

Obviously with a plan this ambitious there are some major logistics to get through.  As we find out more, we’ll definitely be writing (and tweeting) about it every step of the way. We hope you’ll join us and follow along!

First on the List – Hawaii!

We have locked in our plans for our first two parks, and they’re good ones! Armed with our Every Kid in a Park passes (available Sept. 1st), we will be starting off with a bang (maybe literally) as we visit Volcanoes NP on Hawaii and Haleakala NP on Maui! This will be a whirlwind trip with not much time for relaxing on the beach, but we’ve set the expectation with the kids that this is not why we’re visiting. We’re cramming this one in over fall break, and we’re so excited!

Read about our trips to Volcanoes and Haleakala here.

Here’s to the next 100 years of NPS stewardship!

We can’t think of a government agency that deserves more credit that the National Park Service. For one hundred years, they’ve protected this country’s most valuable natural resources, and taught us all that connecting with nature is to connect with America’s history and national identity. It’s all part of us, and we hope to capture some of that nostalgia and set our kids on a path to respect it for the next generation. We hope you’ll join us for this epic journey. Stay tuned and Come Along for the Trip!

Help us decide which parks to visit! What are your favorite National Parks? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!

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