Elizabeth and Cole Donelson from Kansas City, Missouri are in the midst of an epic challenge: to visit all 59 national parks by the NPS centennial on August 25, 2016.
There are a lot of stories like this one cropping up around the NPS’ 100th birthday but what’s different about this dynamic duo is that they are in their mid-twenties, far younger than the average 50-something national park-goer. They call themselves the “Switchback Kids” and they are chronicling their adventures on-line (don’t miss their engaging People of the Parks character sketches).
The Donelsons’ first travel leg included three phenomenal and diverse parks in my home state, Colorado—the Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde and Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Most recently they spent some time down-south in the Everglades and Biscayne, and in the Dry Tortugas, 70 miles off the coast of Florida. They are now at Virgin Islands National Park and will, no doubt, have trouble tearing themselves away.
Though I am sure Elizabeth and Cole will reach their goal next year, even if they don’t, they’re inspiring so many people–young and old–to buck convention and to get off the beaten path where being has a lightness everyone should know.
FIND YOUR PARK.
Photo of Great Sands Dunes National Park © Heather Hansen.
The National Park Service turns 99 on August 25!
Entrance fees at all 408 national park units are being waived today. That’s everywhere from Denali to the Everglades, Death Valley to Acadia, Haleakalā to San Juan (Puerto Rico).
So raise your Nalgene bottles (or coffee cups, binoculars, whatever) and toast to the insane riches that lie within our national parks.
Check out: “99 Ways to Find Your Park” from the NPS. Personal favorites: #13, #17, #19, #70, #79, #97
Image courtesy: National Park Foundation
The New Yorker recently posted a slideshow of the Everglades, an engrossing and unusual glimpse of the place from circa 1890 to the present day. The photos are from the “Imaging Eden: Photographers Discover the Everglades” exhibit at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida (on view until July 12).
The piece picks up on the importance of Daniel Beard to the history of the park as we know it today. Beard had been a field biologist with the NPS since the 1930s and became the park’s first superintendent in 1947. (Fun fact: he was also one of the founders of the Boys Scouts of America.) By that time Beard had been already been in the Everglades for a decade, readying the park for public access.
Before it was a national park, some people saw the Everglades as a swamp which needed to be drained for farms and homes and cleared of hostile bugs, plants and animals while others saw it as an unparalleled oasis better left untouched. Beard was one of those who adamantly supported the Everglades as a “wilderness” park and set out to manage it with as little human impact as possible.
Beard was quite a character–dedicated, smart and personable. While he was watching over the Everglades in the 1940s and 1950s he rejected posting a “No Fishing” sign at Royal Palm. He understood as his fellow NPS ecologist Lowell Sumner had said, “Ever since wildlife management became a profession it has been said that a wildlife management biologist’s job consists primarily of managing not wildlife but people.” Still today, at the start of the Anhinga Trail, is a sign with the verbiage Beard chose to use instead: “Fishing Reserved for the Birds.”
Read more about Beard and the history and present of the Everglades in Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.
Learn more about the Everglades National Park.
Explore your parks and the National Park Service.
Support your parks and the NPS.
© Heather Hansen
Image courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
We’ve all seen photographs of polar bears trying to leap from one ice floe to another in the dissolving Arctic, and time-lapse images of glaciers retreating up valleys toward oblivion. They’ve become symbols of a world warming too quickly for either physical or mental adaptation. This Earth Day a new poster child for climate change entered the mainstream when the president spoke there–the Everglades.
With steel-grey clouds overhead, harbingers of an advancing storm, President Obama spoke about what threatens the largest subtropical wilderness in the US and why it matters. “[H]ere in the Everglades, you can see the effect of a changing climate. As sea levels rise, salty water from the ocean flows inward. And this harms freshwater wildlife, which endangers a fragile ecosystem,” he said. “[P]art of the reason we’re here is because climate change is threatening this treasure and the communities that depend on it, which includes almost all of south Florida. And if we don’t act, there may not be an Everglades as we know it.”
Like most national parks the Everglades contributes significantly to local economies making their cumulative, national impact a big one. The president announced that “…every dollar invested in the National Park Service generates $10 for the economy.” He continued, “In 2014, almost 300 million visitors to our national parks spent almost $16 billion and supported 277,000 jobs. So protecting our parks is a smart thing to do for our economy.”
Climate change is an issue that effects all categories of national parks–natural, cultural and historical–and responding to it has been called “the greatest challenge facing the National Park Service today” by NPS Director Jon Jarvis. The agency focuses on strengthening the resilience of parklands and their valuable resources and on adapting to change that is happening too quickly to thwart.
Learn more about climate change and the NPS.
Explore your parks.
Support your parks and the National Park Service.
Photo courtesy NPS.
© Heather Hansen