In the heart of the Ouachita Mountains, there is a very special place. Hot Springs, Arkansas has been treasured by humans for centuries because of the unique resources found here. The thermal waters were believed to have healing powers and many have traveled long and far to bathe and drink the natural water. Even though Hot Springs wasn’t officially designated a national park until 1921, it has been federally protected since 1832. Therefore, Hot Springs National Park is the oldest unit in the NPS.

2016 marks a very special year for the NPS and for the United States. 100 years ago is when the agency was established and when “America’s best idea” was put into practice. For 100 years citizens have been able to enjoy the beautiful and historic areas that make this country so great. The birthday, or the centennial, is a reminder to make the next 100 years even greater and to keep the concept of enjoyment and preservation alive and well.

On August 25th, 2016, Hot Springs National Park decided to showcase its most interesting programs in a fun filled day for three local schools. On Arlington Lawn there were several stations set up and as the kids rotated, they got to experience a different aspect of the park. The schools involved were Cutter Morning Star, Kirby, and St. John’s. Total there was one hundred students.

There was a Leave No Trace station where the kids learned the proper ethics for outdoor recreation as well as what to pack when headed on a camping trip. Next was the Hunter-Dunbar booth where they were taken back in time to the era when the first Europeans discovered Hot Springs. After the kids headed to a tent where they learned all about the skins and skulls of the various critters found in the park. In addition, there were also fun physical activities set up including an obstacle course and a “Parkemon” scavenger hunt.

The 8th graders that attended the birthday went on a 2-3 mile hike with the Rangers on Hot Springs Mountain/North Mountain and were able to see the beautiful natural resources that our park has to offer.

In honor of the National Park Service’s birthday, cookies and juice were provided to the public and everyone was able to refuel after the day’s activities. Afterwards all the students were given a Jr. Ranger book to complete. They got to walk down bathhouse row and see how the Hot Springs bathing experience would have been in the early 1900s.

The best part of the day was when all 100 kids involved (4th and 8th graders) met at the formal entrance of the park and were sworn into the Junior Ranger program by one of the Hot Springs staff. It was spectacular to have 100 kids on the 100th birthday of the park and everyone who participated had a great time getting to be a part of Hot Springs National Park for the day! Each kid left with a Junior Ranger badge and some cool Hot Springs gear. Additionally all 4th graders were issued an Every Kid in a Park pass which allows them to visit all national lands and waters for free.

The whole day the students had a smile on their face and they moved to the different activities. Hopefully they were all inspired by the park and will return for years to come. The goal for events like this is to make lasting impressions on the younger ones and to hopefully push them to become more engaged in our nation’s public lands.