"The national park idea has been nurtured by each succeeding generation of Americans. Today, across our land, the National Park System represents America at its best. Each park contributes to a deeper understanding of the history of the United States and our way of life; of the natural processes which have given form to our land, and to the enrichment of the environment in which we live." - George B. Hartzog, Jr., NPS Director, 1964-1972
In my early twenties, I took my first real hike – a backpacking trip on the Tonahutu Creek Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. Before that experience, I had not spent much time outdoors and was completely unprepared for the trip. My hiking boots were too small. I wore cotton socks, which combined with the problematic boots, encouraged painful, bleeding blisters to form on both of my feet. I brought along a completely inadequate sleeping bag, with no sleeping pad. In the summer, this choice might have been fine but in mid-October, it meant spending two nights as cold as I have ever been. In all, it was kind of a miserable experience.
Despite the misery, the magic of being deep in nature, miles away from the closest road, proved transformative. Experiences like seeing a moose and its baby in grassy meadow, standing on the brink of a thundering waterfall with no one else around, and sharing the company of good friends around a late-night campfire made up for all of my ill-preparation. On this trip, I experienced the healing and inspiring power of nature for the first time and thus started down the path that eventually lead me to landscape and nature photography.
For me, you, and millions of other people, the creation of the National Parks Service has made it possible to experience these moments of awe, wonder, inspiration, relaxation, contemplation, and healing and connect to our nation’s history in meaningful ways. Without the National Parks Service and the acts of preservation that came before it, the most special places in the United States could have been commercialized for private profit rather than protected for the enjoyment of generations of Americans.
Today, August 25, 2016, is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Parks Service and we offer this sampling of photos from some of our favorite national parks in celebration of America’s best idea and the impact that this essential act of preservation and protection has had on our special places.
An essential part of the National Park Service’s mission is protecting land with natural and cultural importance for future generations. Thus, we all have the responsibility to help protect and preserve this important legacy. Here are three things you can do to help protect these “crown jewels” of the United States and reduce your impact:
- Follow the Rules. A new story about bad behavior in our national parks comes out almost every day. With people regularly doing things like walking on geothermal features, getting far too close to wildlife, illegally using drones, and vandalizing priceless natural and cultural treasures, NPS resources are stretched. Take these figures shared by The Denver Post: citations within the National Parks system were up 19% from 2014 to 2015 and search and rescue operations were up 67% - all in a single year. We can all help the NPS and protect important natural resources by following established rules. And, if you are a photography workshop leader, we encourage you to serve as a good role model and help educate your students about both this point and the next one.
- Practice Leave No Trace principles. With visitation to NPS sites at an all-time high, it is even more important for all of us to be good stewards of the places we visit. A simple way to reduce your personal impact in learning about and practicing Leave No Trace principles. You can find a longer post on this topic here.
- Vote. At least for us, the preservation, protection, and adequate funding of public lands is one of our biggest priorities when voting for local, state and federal officials. If these things are a priority for you as well, check in with your local and national conservation organizations to see how politicians in your community view the protection of public lands before you cast your votes this November.