Hi there! I’m Claire Finn, the Centennial Volunteer Ambassador for Yosemite National Park.
The following article appeared in the March issue of the Yosemite Visitor Guide. Long live the National Park Service!
Find Your Park! Story by Claire Finn
The Centennial year of the National Park Service, 2016, is here, and we couldn’t be more excited! Yosemite has been commemorating significant park milestones over the past two years, which have led us to the big NPS Centennial celebration this year.
In 2014, we honored the 150th Anniversary of the Yosemite Grant Act that first protected Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. President Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation that preserved the land for “public use, resort, and recreation,” on June 30, 1864. We often think of the Yosemite Grant as the “seed” of the national park idea. The Yosemite Grant was managed by the State of California. Yosemite was later named a national park on October 1, 1890. In 2015, we marked the park’s 125th anniversary with commemorative events and activities to honor the park’s rich history.
This year we will celebrate another important anniversary: 100 years of the U.S. National Park Service. On August 25th, 1916, two years after Stephen Mather traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby for the establishment of a single bureau to manage the growing number of national parks throughout the West, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Organic Act and named Mather as its first director. One hundred years later, what the Park Service has become is impressive. The NPS manages 409 units comprised of eighty-four million acres, which employ over 20,000 staff, enlist over 200,000 volunteers, and receive close to 300 million visitors per year. As we celebrate the one-hundred year legacy that can be traced to the Yosemite Grant Act of 1864, it is important to reflect on what exactly the National Park Service is and what we hope the next century of the parks will bring.
The National Park Service’s mission is to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The parks enact this mission in countless ways, whether they maintain water trails for kayakers at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Atlanta, Georgia, educate school groups about our country’s history and race-related issues at Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas, or reintroduce the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog to its native habitat here in Yosemite National Park.
One main goal that we the National Park Service have committed ourselves to for the next century is to educate the public not only about what we do, but to shake up the traditional notion of what a park is. Our research shows that when the public thinks of a national park, they think of remote, vast wilderness – a place like Yosemite. This perception is not incorrect, for the Park Service certainly protects these places and tells those stories. This perception is not entirely correct either, however, because remote, vast wilderness is only one kind of place and tells only one kind of story. The truth is a park can be a place where mountains spring up, fish swim, and birds fly. A park can be a place where history is made and art is created. A park can be a place where people get together to run and play and contemplate the universe. A park can even go beyond place — it can be a feeling or a state of mind. There are so many diverse units managed by the National Park Service that a park can be a place like Yosemite or it can just as easily be the place you walk or drive through on your way to school or work. The commonality is that a park holds a special place in our collective heritage.
The central pillar of this goal to engage with the park idea in a new way is the Find Your Park campaign. The National Park Service has launched a movement to spread the word about the amazing places we manage, the inspirational stories that the national parks tell, our country’s natural resources, and our diverse cultural heritage. Find Your Park is about more than just national parks! It’s about the National Park Service working in your community through education programs, community assistance projects, and more. It’s about state parks, local parks, trails, museums, historic sites, and the many ways that the American public can connect with history and culture, enjoy nature, and make new discoveries.
Most of all, Find Your Park is a movement to connect people to their parks. The key word here is ‘their’. One of the simplest yet most profound ideas behind the national parks is that the places and stories they represent belong to each and every one of us. When you come to a national park, you come not only as a visitor, but as an owner, a steward — someone intrinsically linked to the place. As a steward of these parks, it is your responsibility to help support and preserve them for future generations.
As we head into the National Park Service’s centennial summer, think: what does ‘park’ mean to you? What stories do you value? What have you not yet discovered that is right in your backyard? Happy Centennial from Yosemite National Park! We encourage you to get up, get out there, and find your park! Learn more at http://www.findyourpark.com.