An Ode to National Parks

Oh, National Parks
You are really pretty neat
Just keep doing you

Ok, so I don’t know what an ode is. What I do know is that if I knew what an Ode was, I’d want to write one to national parks. What else are you supposed to give someone for their 100th birthday? Fortunately, the National Park Service is a better gift-giver than I am and is celebrating its centennial by offering free admission days throughout the year and from April 16th – 24th for Earth Day Week! The Midwest is a bit low on national parks, so we will, unfortunately, not be taking advantage of this offer, but we are happy to take the opportunity to talk about what these natural wonders mean to us, but first, let’s take a quick glance at the history of our national parks.

Visions for a system of national park originated around the 1850s, and although the first national park, Yellowstone, was established in 1872, it wasn’t until 1916 that Woodrow Wilson signed a bill creating our National Park Service. Since its inception 100 ago, the system has grown to cover 400+ different locations (59 national parks and hundreds of national forests and monuments) and 84 million acres of land over the 50 US states and several US territories (talofa, American Samoa!).

I don’t remember which national park we first visited. I am actually sort of proud of that, and thanks should be given to our parents for instilling a sense of an adventure in us at such a young age that we can’t even remember (a sense that they have come to overtly dread, but deep down are proud of too, probably). When you are young, you don’t have as much appreciation for the history, the views, the sheer scale and significance of these parks. What you do have is the desire to run to, jump over, and climb on everything you see. At this point, the world is still a jungle gym to you. This is how we were introduced to national parks and the great outdoors, and this is the mentality that has remain lodged in our brains like an imbedded tick (the only way to get either out is a liberal application of fire applied directly to the head). We have grown to appreciate the sweeping panoramas, the relaxing moments of sitting down with a good book under a big tree, and the work that goes into getting people outside, but we will always see the outdoors primarily as a giant playground.

When attempting to draw up a list of the national parks we have been to, I expected it to come easily and flow long…ly. However, we have only ticked off six of the 59 (Badlands, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Kings Canyon, Mammoth Cave, and Wind Cave), just the tip of the iceberg.  Fortunately, we plan to extend our list before that cliché metaphor melts into obsoletion, specifically this spring when we will be taking on several national parks over the course of two weeks. You may be excitedly demanding, “which ones?!” Well, so are we! We have not locked down an itinerary, but we’ve got some big ideas, so stay tuned for more on that in the near future. Until then, keep on adventuring.

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