Early in the summer we talked about ecotourism, the practice of visiting fragile, pristine, and relatively undisturbed natural areas, an alternative to traditional (and potentially high-impact) tourism. I also wrote a blog about ecotourism opportunities in the United States, such as the Pacific Northwest and Appalachia. But let’s talk about trips that might not strictly qualify as ecotourism, but still allow you to get into nature, support the environment, and enjoy more of our nation’s natural beauty. I’m talking about visiting one of our many National Parks, found throughout the country. Wallace Stegner, author and historian, called national parks “the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” Since 1916, the National Park Service has been maintaining the national parks, and works to safeguard the more than 400 designated places and share them with more than 275 million visitors every year. So, besides take a hike, what can you do in a national park? Plenty!
One of the great things about the United States is the diversity of our people and places. You can delve into history in national parks across the country, whether its by viewing the Coso Rock Art in California, visiting a Civil War battlefield in Maryland, or climbing to the Gila Cliff Dwellings built by the Pueblo people 700 years ago. America may be a young nation, but visiting these historic sites will prove without a doubt that we have a rich history worth preserving.
For budding scientists, conservationists, and even just animal-lovers, the national parks offer a huge variety of ways to learn about the natural world and the different ecological zones found across the country. You could study astronomy on a night hike at Bryce Canyon, watch the migration of humpback whales at Olympic Park, or learn about native plant restoration in Cape Cod. Whatever you choose to do, our national parks are a wonderful reminder of the beauty, fragility, and adaptability of the natural world. After my new hubby John and I went on our honeymoon to New Mexico, we were joined by his young sons and took a familymoon where we visited the Petrified Forest National Park in New Mexico and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona! Look out for those posts in the not so distant future!
Maybe you want to do more than just visit a park – maybe you want to help other people explore nature while learning. Or maybe you just want to make sure that the National Park Service is able to continue doing what it does best – preserving our history and green spaces for the cultural and emotional enrichment of us all. You could join a Friends Group – non-profit organizations that work with the National Park Service to support specific parks or small areas by holding fundraising events, providing volunteer services, and helping to publicize important issues. You could become an Artist-in-Residence, lodging at a national park for 2-4 weeks, becoming inspired by the setting and sharing your works with park visitors. Kids can get involved too – younger kids can sign up to be Junior Rangers while high school and college-age kids can explore career opportunities with Jobs for Students. Whichever way you choose to give back, knowing that you’re helping make these areas available for future generations to enjoy just as much as you do.
To learn more about National Parks and the National Park Service, visit their website at www.nps.gov. And when you go to a National Park remember – take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints!