Celebrating our National Parks: 100 Years of Heritage and Stewardship
Engaging communities through recreation, conservation, and historic preservation programs.
The National Park Service, the people’s parks, are celebrating their centennial this year. Centennials do not, typically, result in monumental change, but marking 100 years can be a time of reflection and celebration. When Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872, there was no organization or agency to run the park, so it became a stepchild of the US Army.
Lincoln, in the midst of the carnage of the Civil War found time to answer public cries to save Yosemite Valley by granting it to the state of California in 1864. This would later become the heart of Yosemite National Park.
Public support for parks spurred legislation to clarify the central purpose of the growing number of parklands and historic sites the government had set aside. In 1916, as Woodrow Wilson labored to keep the US out of the expanding war in Europe that lead to WWI, he put pen to paper to create a new agency, the National Park Service (NPS). Legislation is rarely considered to be inspirational, but the 1916 Act, frequently referred to as the “National Park Service Organic Act” stated clearly that the NPS was to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner…as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
The Organic Act not only established the philosophy behind a system of natural and historic places but also inspired other nations to preserve their heritage as well. Currently the NPS cares for over 400 sites covering over 84 million acres and was visited by over 300 million people last year. These places protect important ecosystems and landscapes and tell the stories—both good and bad—of a nation and its peoples. Many people think mostly of the natural beauty of our parks, but they also help tell the story of the Civil War and of Civil Rights. The NPS protects places as diverse as The Grand Canyon and the Everglades to the Statue of Liberty and Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was shot.
In California alone the NPS cares for 27 places or “units” ranging from the iconic Yosemite and Death Valley National Parks to the disgrace symbolized by Manzanar National Historic Site, the WWII Japanese internment camp. In 2015, NPS sites in California were visited by over 38,300,000 visitors and brought $1,774,400,000 in economic benefit to the state. Parks are challenged by the ever-increasing number of visitors and encroaching communities. Parks alone cannot always provide adequate habitat to our threatened plants and animals. Other agencies and private landowners have an important role to play. Nor can tax dollars alone maintain the historic structures, campgrounds, trails and other recreational facilities.
Everyone must help. Volunteers love the National Parks in California so much they donated 1,234,222 hours to help provide services to the parks and visitors.
The National Park Service is a place where generations of conservationists and historians have dedicated their lives and careers. Stephen Prokop, the current Superintendent of Redwood National Park, was inspired to become a public servant by the work of his grandfather and mother, a high school teacher. Jim Milestone, the current superintendent of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (east of Weaverville), spent the summer of his freshman year in college working at the Visitor Center in Yosemite and was drawn to work as a ranger as a result. Their recommendations for people who want to join the ranks of the
National Park Service:
"Get involved," suggests Prokop. "Participate in park
programs and educational events. Have face-time with park employees."
"Persevere!" says Milestone. "The rewards are worth it... (employees) have passion for their work, are creative and imaginative. Think big!"
Our National Parks will continue to change in the next 100 years. “The importance of parks will continue to grow as visitors seek refuge, outdoor recreation and connections with the environment,” says Prokop. Milestone predicts, “Parks will become even more important as sanctuaries for wildlife and the landscapes will be kept natural and the forests will be spectacular!”
Use this Centennial year to reconnect with your National Parks. Learn about them and visit them. First Lady, Michelle Obama, joined the NPS to launch the #FindYourPark effort to reconnect people to parks as part of the Centennial celebration. Jim Milestone and Stephen Prokop, Superintendents of Redwood National Park, invite you to celebrate by visiting these nearby parks.
Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
Background: Though conservationists past and present have concerns about the effects of dams on local rivers, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (Whiskeytown) was a windfall from the Central Valley Project that resulted in the establishment of Whiskeytown, Shasta and Trinity reservoirs. Whiskeytown National Recreation Area was established on November 8, 1965 “to provide...for the public outdoor recreation use and enjoyment...by present and future generations and the conservation of scenic, scientific, historic and other values.”
The basics: The park is located on Route 299 approximately three hours east of Eureka (or about 140 miles) and encompasses 39,000 acres of shrubland, oak woodland, and primeval forest surrounding the lake, including four waterfalls, pristine mountain creeks, 70 miles of trails, and opportunities to explore the history of the California Gold Rush.
Explore: Whiskeytown features backpacking, camping, hiking, swimming, kayaking and fishing. Campgrounds for RV and tent camping as well as group campsites and backpacking sites are available. Designated swim areas are Brandy Creek Beach, Oak Bottom and East Beach. Be sure to know your skill level when swimming and never swim alone. Dogs are not allowed on the beaches.
Avoid: Poison oak, summer heat, bears.
Centennial: The park offers FREE Ranger Guided Kayak and Stand Up Paddle Board Tours of Whiskeytown Lake all summer long. Free! August 20, 2016 the park will host “Symphony on the Beach!” in honor of the NPS’s Centennial.
More information : www.nps.gov/whis/
Redwood National Park
Background: Redwood National Park established a philosophy of collaboration between the National Park Service and states. State parks were being destroyed by highways and floods. Decades of local and national actions resulted in designation of a National Park for the world to explore. The park’s ecosystems include coastal, riparian, old-growth forests and meadow/oak woodlands. The park has restored hundreds of acres of clear-cut lands and works actively with the Yurok tribe to conserve native ecosystems.
The basics: The original acreage in 1968 was 56,201 including 28,430 acres in state parks. Today the park contains 131,983 acres (federal: 71,715; state: 60,268). Included in that are 38,982 acres of old growth forest including the tallest trees in the world.
Explore: Camping, hiking, backpacking, kayaking, fishing and educational activities
Avoid: Car break ins, bears and poison oak.
Centennial: Centennial Celebration in the Redwoods, June 26. Visit www.go.nps.gov/redw100 for more information.
More information: www.nps.gov/redw/