If you know an ounce about me, you know my slight
borderline insane obsession with the National Parks. My list of National Parks, and units, visited includes:
Grand Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, Assateague Island National Seashore, Appalachian National Scenic Trail (small portions), Glacier National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Flight 93 National Memorial, Gettysburg National Military Park, Independence National Historic Park, Johnstown Flood National Memorial, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Lincoln Memorial, National Mall, Washington Monument, Yellowstone National Park.
Next weekend I’ll have the fortune to visit Harpers Ferry National Military Park and over the next year I’m hoping to cross off Acadia in Maine, Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio, and just possibly Saguaro in Arizona depending on travel time. So what’s the deal?
Why have I watched Ken Burn’s, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea dozens of times, or read the book based on his documentary from cover to cover? Why do I own a National Park Passport in hopes of one day having all 58 National Parks stamped inside?
Exploration and Escape.
I’m a prideful American – yes, I often declare myself an honorary Canadian, but dangit, I love this country and I love the beauty that we are attempting to preserve through our parks and conservation systems. If you have ever been to an official National Park (not a historic site, or military park, and if you haven’t what the heck are you doing reading this, get out there now!) then you know the awe you feel the minute you pull past the entrance booth.
When I visited my first National Park (that I can remember) it was amazing to me just how vast and ample America felt. The Badlands was the first park I drove through with my high school best friend and what a beauty it was to experience as my first National Park. Two born and raised Lancaster County girls driving through…I can imagine myself leaning across my steering wheel staring up through the windshield of my ’94 Saturn with my jaw dropped to the floorboard. How large, how vibrant; the colors constantly changing with the sweep of the sun.
We passed through many more parks on that trip and it unleashed something in me that never went out. I almost went to school to be able to work in the parks parks directly after – When I was accepted to Univ. of Montana in the Recreational Management program I was looking forward to a career in the parks, I could taste it. But life happened, and that all changed, but the fire was never extinguished. I drove through Glacier National Park on a catawompas return home to Pennsylvania from Montana, starting on the Western side of the park by Flathead Lake and Kalispell and ending up in the high plains of Central-Eastern Montana. At the very first pull off inside the park, I sat on a large ancient flat stone and beheld before me a mountain that had been charred several years earlier in a fire. It was a view that stole my heart, secured my love of the West and my passion to keep the Parks alive just as nature has done for millions of years.
I began to realize that the Parks were not just postcards and dreams, but they could be a reality in my life. I could visit them whenever I wanted to, because I am an American and they are my Parks. These are places where you don’t have to be a good photographer – you can just take the picture and Nature creates the perfect image. These parks are accessible to all, as they were created to be by masters like Teddy Roosevelt.
“There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.” President Teddy Roosevelt, 1903
My bucket list dream to visit all 58 National Parks continues, but this time, with a few more collaborating thoughts and ideas. Writing more about them. You can find my most recent article about one of my most favorite National Park units at the National Parks Traveler E-Zine. It seems that in the near future, you may even find a few more on that website
The other idea is that while I get to enjoy visiting all these places, that I take you with me, but also that I share how we can make sure these Parks are protected beyond our days. Voting matters. Conservation matters. As I went through the Volunteer Interview to become a visitor center volunteer at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site this past Saturday, I was informed that for their unit only $4k is allotted to service their volunteers with the items they need to provide for the park’s operation and volunteer services. These aren’t paychecks, these are things to help with day to day operations. Every year cuts are being made causing parks to merge, staff to be cut, supplies to run dry, and maintenance and upkeep of these parks to diminish. With the need for economical travel the parks visitation is increasing every year, but the funds to keep these parks preserved and operating are decreasing.
I prefer not to see a day when Parks are closing due to lack of proper staff or sanitation; that parcels of lands are no longer allowed to be brought into the National Park system due to lack of funds and therefore can never be properly protected. I go to these parks for 2 reasons:
Exploration and escape.
The National Parks Conservation Association does a great job of keeping the public informed of the realities that burden our Parks system. I could care less how you vote in November, but I want you to keep in mind what lies ahead in the future and what beauty could be destroyed if we don’t take the time to volunteer, support and strengthen our Parks system.