National Parks: A Primer

A ranger speaking at Beech Cliff above Echo Lake at Acadia National Park. Photo courtesy NPS.
America’s National Parks are getting a lot of welcome attention right now, due to the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary in 2016. A slew of centennial events and celebrations are being planned and two new campaigns, “Find Your Park” and “Every Kid in a Park,” will kick off later in 2015. Both are aimed at introducing our parks and the work of the Park Service to a new generation of people.

Considering National Park Week is April 18 to 26, 2015, (also school spring break in Massachusetts), it seems like a good time to look at how far the park system has come in 100 years and what it offers to everyone.

As early as the 1800s, American began asking the government to preserve and protect special natural places. Yellowstone National Park was established as the nation’s first national park by an act signed by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. In 1890, Yosemite in California and Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. were established, and others soon followed. On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service to conserve and protect parks, as well as to leave them “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Today, there are more than 400 properties in the national park system, including monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails; even the White House is part of the park system. All in all, it covers 84 million acres, with land in every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

In Massachusetts, the park system encompasses some of my family’s favorite places, such as the Cape Cod National Seashore and the Boston Harbor Islands. The Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site and the Lowell National Historic Park are two more in a long list of fascinating spots in our state. In all of New England, there are dozens more, including Acadia National Park, home to Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain along the Eastern Coast of the United States. During certain times of the year, it is the first place in the U.S. to see sunrise. . And, of course, the Appalachian Trail is managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, numerous state agencies and thousands of volunteers.

While any time of year is suitable for visiting a park, spring break and National Park Week have special events geared toward families. Admission is free on April 18 and 19 at every site and the 18th is also National Junior Ranger Day, when kids can be sworn in as junior rangers at select locations. In addition, April 22 is Earth Day, a perfect opportunity to appreciate some of the natural wonders we are so lucky to be able to enjoy.

To find events during National Park Week, visit www.nationalparks.org/national-park-week. For more information about the National Park Service’s Centennial, visit www.nps.gov/centennial or www.nationalparks.org/centennial.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an Appalachian Mountain Club blog. This post was written by Kim Foley MacKinnon.

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