Looking good at 100: the National Parks Service celebrates its centennial

“In My Backyard” interns Alicia Raftery and Emma hiking at Mount Rainier National Park.

“In My Backyard” interns Alicia Raftery and Emma hiking at Mount Rainier National Park.

A ranger in beige garb walks along the boardwalk and explains to a balding dad that his baseball cap is irretrievable from the 150 degrees Fahrenheit geothermal area. Another ranger responds to calls of grizzly sightings near a campsite. A third directs the streams of RVs, tour buses, and cars trying to park at Old Faithful Lodge.

These are the park rangers who have been protecting Yellowstone and other national parks since the instatement of the National Parks Service, NPS, 100 years ago.
This year marks the centennial of President Woodrow Wilson’s creation of the NPS on August 25, 1916. The NPS had a centennial ceremony on the 25, and the rest of this year is planned to include commemoration and resolutions for the next 100 years of service. The celebration welcomes all participants and is a good opportunity for students to get out into nature and support our national parks.

One of the NPS’s new programs is called “Find Your Park” and focuses on encouraging people to discover their place in the park system and share their experiences. The saying has developed into a bit of a slogan.

“When they say that, it’s because it is your park,” Hale junior Kaila Righi said. National parks are for public use and are funded by the public’s tax dollars.
“[They’re] something you have to take care of.”

Righi “found her park” this summer when she was randomly selected from 700 applicants to be part of the Yellowstone Youth Conservation Corp. She worked with 32 other youth and park rangers to install bear boxes, put bumper logs along roads, build fences and make other improvements to the park.

“It was so lit,” Righi said, encouraging Hale students to get involved with the parks.

But students don’t have to travel to Montana to find their park. Washington is home to Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, North Cascades National Park, and numerous historic sites and smaller parks.

“[National parks] range from big mountains like Yosemite to the Statue of Liberty,” park ranger Kelsey Johnson said. Johnson works at the Seattle unit of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, in downtown Seattle. She works in outreach, especially with youth, and connects people to parks of all sizes.

Johnson founded the new “In My Backyard” program, which is largely youth-run and connects youth to activities, internships, jobs, and volunteer opportunities in the outdoors. The Student Conservation Association, the Washington Trails Association, the YMCA, and others offer opportunities for interested students that can be found at the “In My Backyard” program blog.

The NPS has also set up mobile parks to visit schools and educate youth with artifacts, tools, and presentations. So far there are two in California, one representing the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and one representing Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
“In San Francisco it kinda looks like a converted food truck,” Johnson said.

For those with younger siblings, the NPS has started the “Every Kid in a Park” program which offers free passes for 9 to 10-year-olds, giving them free access to all the national parks.

Besides youth outreach, the NPS has upped their social media presence, dedicated funds to improve infrastructure in the parks, and hopes to make the parks more accessible to everyone.

Other federal agencies are celebrating the NPS centennial as well. This June, President Obama dedicated the first National Historical Landmark to the LGBTQ+ community at Stonewall Inn in Greenwich, New York. The National Postal Service released 16 new commemorative stamps and the US mint released a silver dollar, half dollar, and golden five dollar coin, all with national park designs.

But the NPS is more valuable than just coins. The NPS preserves and protects historic and beautiful places in our country. They keep the ecosystems intact while making the parks accessible to the over 275 million people who visit them each year. They safeguard the unique and special environs of our nation so current and future generations can enjoy and learn from them.

“The National Parks Service is more than Smokey the Bear,” Johnson said, which is actually a US Forest Service icon. “But we do get to wear the hats.”

Photo Cred: Kelsey Johnson

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