Your life has been a good one if you’ve been lucky enough to take an early morning walk through towering sequoias; seen whales breeching in the frigid waters of an Alaskan fjord; heard the melodies of a backcountry mountain stream; surveyed the explosion of autumn color in an old-growth forest; or looked (from a safe distance) into the jaws of an Everglades alligator.
These are the gifts of our glorious national parks, and I can’t let the 100th birthday of the National Park System pass without paying tribute.
In 1872, Yellowstone became the world’s first national park, but it wasn’t until 1916 that the park service was created. Its job is a bit schizophrenic; it must maintain the historic and environmental integrity of the lands we call America’s cathedrals, but also allow you and me to access these precious acres.
Through the years, the park service has steadily added to the number of its protected sites. Just two weeks ago, President Obama quadrupled the protected waters of Hawaii’s Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. It now encompasses more than 582,000 square miles of ocean that surrounds the uninhabited northwestern islands — an area larger than all the national parks combined.
The park service has learned that if you dedicate it, they will come.
More than 300 million people annually come to feel the spray of California’s Yosemite Falls, walk the black lava sands created by of Hawaii’s volcanoes, and marvel at the more than 1,500 dinosaur bones embedded in a Colorado sandbar.
Each time I’ve visited a national park, monument, historic site, battlefield site, trail, preserve or reserve, I have the same thought: It doesn’t get much better than this.
E’Lousie Ondash is a freelance writer living in North County. Tell her about your travels at [email protected]