As we approach the end of 2016, I think this is an opportune time to look back on the Centennial year of the National Park Service. It has been a busy year in the parks, with lots of ups and downs. In case you missed them, these are some of the headlines in the NPS from 2016.
We take a break this month from our regularly scheduled programming to celebrate something very near and dear to my heart (and most likely yours as well). On August 25th, The National Park Service celebrated 100 years of service. In case you weren’t able to make it out to a park for the day- let me summarize the events across our nation. It was a festive special day, unlike anything our parks have seen before. With free entrance, musical events, instameets, special campfire programs, and free cake: every park offered something special for those guests fortunate enough to be visiting a park on this historic day. We were the google doodle of the day, Facebook featured us their home page and we were the number one trending topic on twitter. Because I am a National Park Service employee, I was lucky enough to receive several gifts –from coworkers, management, and park visitors- to commemorate this special day. These gifts got me thinking about the gifts that our national parks give all of us daily. Gifts that are worth celebrating as the agency which protects them reaches this milestone.
When President Obama visited Yosemite and Carlsbad Caverns this month, he faced a lot of criticism. Some of the complaints were that the timing wasn’t right following the tragedy in Orlando, that his weekend visit interrupted the Father’s Day weekend of too many people in the crowded Yosemite, that he should be focused on more important things than the national parks, and finally that his transportation had a negative environmental impact on these places. Even if every single one of these complaints were absolutely legitimate, Obama’s visit to the parks was still important and still necessary.
Recently, Yellowstone has been the spotlight of many trending headline: the woman petting the bison on opening day, the foreign tourists putting a bison calf in their vehicle because it looked cold, the group of four Canadians walking out on Grand Prismatic Spring, and, even today, a trending headline about an elk charging a woman taking a photo of it. While these headlines can be equal parts amusing and infuriating, they perfectly illustrate the challenges facing our public lands and, in particular, our national parks as they enter the next century.
After the news of the Federal Budget increase for the National Park Service, several more initiatives have been announced as the NPS undergoes a rebrand in order for their centennial in 2016. They are using their 100th birthday as an opportunity to change the way people think of, view, and visit the national park system. They are presenting the parks to an entirely new audience in order to sustain them for the next 100 years. Studies have shown that although visitation in the parks is up –with 292 million visits in 2014 alone-, the people who are visiting are mostly older Caucasians. Jonathan Jarvis explains that, “If we were a business and that was our clientele, then over the long term, we would probably be out of business.” The two initiatives are part of a major effort by the park service in order to breathe new life into the aging system to carry it in the future.