Tag Archives: Centennial

Happy Birthday, National Park Service!

Long may we roam!

My most recent park adventure… the incomparable Glacier NP!


Find Your Park.

Buy the book! Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

Free mountains, sequoias during National Park Week

Want a free mountain? How about a canyon for nothing?

Well these are your lucky days: National Park Week lasts through April 24–that’s 410 national park units from coast-to-coast (and more) completely free for visitors.

All week I’ve been thinking about the mountains, rivers and wildlife we have in my home state, Colorado. And the dinosaur bones, fossils and dunes. I’ve been playing hooky (at least in my mind); daydreaming about hiking in Rocky Mountain and Great Sand Dunes national parks, and in the spectacular canyons of the Green and Yampa rivers in Dinosaur National Monument. So many reasons to get out there.

Need inspiration? FindYourPark.

Learn more about the NPS and its 100th birthday this year.

Buy the book! Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

Photo of Rocky Mountain NP by Heather Hansen.

7 tips for celebrating an epic year in parks – Tip #2

traveltoparks ourbestplaces

Celebrations are already in full swing for the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. If you’re planning a park visit this year–and I strongly encourage it!–I’ve pulled together some pointers for how to get the most out of your adventure(s). The next installment:

Tip #2. Go off-peak. 

If you simply must see Yosemite this year (who could blame you?), aim for a month less-traveled. A large majority of visitors to Yosemite–and Yellowstone and Arches for that matter–go in June, July and August. There are lots of reasons that makes sense; the kids are on break, the weather is nice, all the concessions are open.

But traveling in the off-season, or even the shoulder season, has big rewards. The primary one, of course, is not being elbow-to-elbow with other park-goers. Last year in Yosemite, for example, the spring and fall brought fewer crowds (281,328 visitors in April and 357,223 in October versus more than 600,000 in both July and August).

Another perk is that parks have spectacular features to offer in “off” seasons–with decent winter snowfall in the high country, Yosemite Valley in springtime is a riot of waterfalls whereas, after a dry summer, they can peter out by August. In September in Yellowstone, visitors experience elk in their “rut,” or mating season, and wildlife in general become more visible as the drive to fatten up for the winter draws them out of seclusion.

A related tip:

Stay local. If summer is your prime vacation window, why not consider hitting the parks in your area? Lots of people are surprised to learn they have a national park unit in their backyards. Such as:

BOSTON. Within a couple of hours of Boston there are nearly two dozen national park units, including several of my favorites: the Frederick Law Olmsted Historic Site, a hidden jewel that gives national park lovers an extraordinary context for conservation in the U.S. Not to miss also is the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, of which luminary scientist E.O. Wilson says, “There are wildernesses at your feet.”

NEW YORK. Sure you’ve heard about the Statue of Liberty but what about the Hamilton Grange National Memorial in Harlem, dedicated to the controversial forefather who ascended from being an orphan to being Washington’s trusted advisor? New York has dozens of such fascinating parks celebrating the state’s phenomenal social, political, cultural and natural history. Ask me a thousand times which parks are my favorites and I’ll always include the African Burial Ground National Monument in Manhattan. It is simply one of the most goose bump-raising places on the planet.

WASHINGTON, D.C. Lincoln Memorial, check. Jefferson Memorial, check. But consider also the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. It has the most original artifacts on-site of any national park unit. The presence of that brilliant human rights leader still lingers here. If I lived near there I swear I’d be a ‘regular’.



Photo of the African Burial Ground courtesy of the NPS.

Buy the book! Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.

The NPS deserves a raise

How much are our national parks worth? Many would say they’re invaluable places at the core of conservation, preservation and recreation in America. Support for parks is broad (regardless of political affiliation, 95 percent of voters polled by the National Parks Conservation Association believe “protecting and supporting the National Parks” is an appropriate government role) but that doesn’t keep rangers on the job, does not adapt parks for climate change, does not begin to chip away at a multi-billion-dollar maintenance backlog. Heck, it doesn’t even keep the toilets flushing properly unless it’s backed by dollars.

In its latest ask, for Fiscal Year 2016–the year in which it celebrates its 100th birthday–the NPS has requested a 15 percent boost in funding. What for? “To repair an ageing infrastructure, respond to climate change, host school field trips, and provide rangers to greet nearly 300 million visitors with the highest standard of public service,” says NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis. It also wants to attract new park visitors from underrepresented populations like young people and people of color; develop new parks; and support volunteer efforts.

If it sounds like a lot, the 15 percent bump really only restores the NPS budget to the level it was at several years ago, before Congress turned a blind eye to the needs of parks and the prerogative of the general public. The equation is simple: as the keeper of 405 national parks, 23 national scenic and national historic trails, and 60 wild and scenic rivers, the NPS needs to be fully funded in order to steward these collectively owned resources into a new century of greatness. Are we willing to gamble on the alternative?

Learn more about the National Park Service and your parks.

Support the National Park Service.

© Heather Hansen

Photo courtesy NPS/Michael Quinn.