A Park Ranger's Perspective on #NPS100
After four seasons as a ranger, here are my top four reasons why the centennial is a huge moment for our nation.
This week, as we celebrate the National Park Service’s 100th birthday, I will dress every morning in green and gray. I’ll serve hundreds of people in Yosemite National Park, distributing maps and information, issuing backcountry permits, teaching Leave No Trace principles, and answering countless questions. My role with the NPS is precious but frustrating, rewarding and hilarious. In one of the most iconic places in America, I find myself realizing that the reasons I call the national parks home are the same reasons millions of people visit these places every year. That deeper sense of belonging. The humbling briefness of your role in the place’s history. The vulnerability of experiencing something so magnificent that words and photos don’t do it justice. I get to share those visceral feelings with visitors every day, and that’s what makes this the dream job. After four seasons with the NPS, here are my top four reasons why the national parks’ centennial is a huge moment for our nation.
1. We can preserve the lowest of lows and highest of highs
From Death Valley to Denali, the national parks represent extremes. They are regarded as national treasures; America’s best idea. It’s often said that the wild beauty and diversity of parks in the western U.S. are unparalleled anywhere else in the world. We can pat ourselves on the back and reap the rewards of unspoiled nature, but perhaps of more importance is the preservation of our nation’s darkest hours. Expulsion and extermination of Native Americans, the Civil War, racial prejudice and slavery, the LGBT civil rights movement, and unfortunately much more. America has learned a lot of lessons in our nation’s history, and the national parks don’t let us forget it. That’s the beauty of it: we can preserve the past to build a better future. Whether it's the free-roaming bison in Yellowstone, the dark night skies of Black Canyon of the Gunnison, or Japanese internment camps during WWII at Manzanar National Historical Park.
2. The national parks create unity in a time of divisiveness
There are very few issues in America that lack polarity. In 2016, this was seemingly exaggerated more than ever in the age of instant-sharing of headlines and opinions online. When it feels like our country is being split in all directions, remember that the national parks belong to everyone. They are places where political parties and religious affiliations have no bearing. The spectrum of people I’ve interacted with over the years is astonishing: all backgrounds, ages, nationalities, and languages. The one thing they have in common? They couldn’t be more excited to be in a national park. At this critical juncture in history, despite what’s on the news, I’m proud to be an American and to serve in our nation’s parks because it represents common ground when it’s hardest to find.
3. Diversity is a priority
Thank goodness for John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, and Stephen Mather, among many other advocates for the National Park Service over the last 100 years. But national parks aren’t just for white dudes anymore. Today a new wave of park stewards is being ushered in: the next generation of preservationists. Opportunities for minorities, people of color, and youth are being prioritized because the NPS has realized that if the parks truly belong to everyone, they must be accessible to everyone. In Yosemite over the last century, we’ve transitioned from the exclusion and removal of Native Americans to the celebration of their role in the park and an attempt to mend fences. That story is being repeated across America. The national parks themselves are diverse: seashores, historic sites, monuments, and battlefields expand the definition of a park to include the preservation of culture and history as well as nature. As with most efforts to promote diversity, there’s plenty of room for growth. The national parks are often remote, expensive, and generally inaccessible to some populations. In the next century of the NPS, I can guarantee my generation of park rangers will be working to promote inclusivity and diversity, because that is truly the future of the United States, and therefore the national parks.
4. The climate change conversation is happening
What will the next 100 years look like? The most urgent and simultaneously elusive management issue facing the National Park Service is climate change. As we speak, it’s changing the face of recreation and preservation throughout the parks. Will Glacier National Park cease to have glaciers? Will precipitation fall as rain rather than snow in the North Cascades? Will rising sea levels destroy the Everglades? The good news is that national parks serve as a platform for climate change discussion, research, and solutions. After a century of preservation, the parks are a baseline for scientific studies and witnessing changes in real-time. When President Obama visited Yosemite this summer, he drew attention to climate change in the parks and acknowledged it’s “not the legacy… any of us want to leave behind.” Preserving national parks has been NPS’s legacy for the last 100 years, and we can continue that mission if the nation is willing to engage in dialogue about climate change.
Now, as we’ve been urging on social media, go Find Your Park! Find a place that speaks to your values, that sparks joy within you, that makes you feel patriotic, or that urges you to create change in our future. Celebrate the birthday of preservation and exploration in our nation’s most beautiful places. Plus, who doesn’t love cake?
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.