The National Park Service (NPS) had the honor of officially turning 100 years old last week, a centennial celebrated around the country with many exciting, outdoor events during the month of August. The celebration not only spotlighted amazing achievements from the past, but also took a peek into the future of America’s national parks. The NPS consists of 413 parks nationwide, all participating in this year’s festivities, and guests were sure to find activities that piqued their interest—including free concerts, nature hikes, historical presentations, interactive exhibits and more.
The festivities kicked-off with the American Solar Challenge, a college competition that races solar-powered vehicles through nine national parks, going from Ohio to South Dakota. “Music in the American Wild” was the theme in seven national parks including San Juan Island, North Cascades, Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks. Girl and Boy Scouts from the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park in Oregon were able to speak with an astronaut onboard the International Space Station as part of the Amateur Radio International Space Station project.
Many of the NPS centennial celebrations included MLB and AAA baseball games in places like New Mexico, Ohio, the District of Columbia, Virginia and Missouri. The New York City skyline was illuminated to highlight the innovative spirit of the Thomas Edison National Historical Park. During another event in West Virginia, guests were able to retrace the footsteps of men and women of Niagara in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
There was an Ice Age National Scenic Trail festival in Wisconsin that included children’s art exhibits, workshops and a poetry recitation by a Wisconsin state laureate. Arizona hosted Parks in the “Pines Birthday Bash” with a public fair in Flagstaff, while the “Festival of the Sea” celebration, hosted by the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, had a full day of music and fun along the beautiful San Francisco waterfront. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee incorporated a fun and challenging 100 mile hike. Train exhibits and a naturalization ceremony was celebrated at the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. The Centennial Family Festival on the National Mall in Washington D.C., was celebrated in Constitution Gardens. This affair had multiple stages set-up for music performances as well as Park Service stations. One of the stations provided by Google incorporated a virtual experience of the Hidden Wonders of the National Parks. During this stop, guests were able to use a smartphone and a special set of binoculars to experience a virtual tour around some outstanding parks. New York celebrated with a Founders Day Concert with the West Point Military Band at the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historical Site. All told, NPS created family-friendly adventures for everyone in all 413 parks across our beautiful nation.
In honor of the milestone, the United States Mint is releasing commemorative coins, three limited-editions, to include a $5 gold coin, a silver dollar and half-dollar clad coins. Each coin will have a unique image of an iconic park, a portrayal of cultural heritage and the exploration of nature, and of course, the Arrowhead. The Arrowhead is the National Park Service’s most recognizable logo. Officially authorized in 1951 by Secretary of the Interior Oscar Chapman, the Arrowhead itself represents our nation’s historical and archaeological values. The sequoia tree and bison represent the vegetation and wildlife, while the mountains and water represent our scenic and recreational values. The U.S. Postal Service is also celebrating by launching 16 new Forever stamps that feature national parks.
President Woodrow Wilson is credited with signing the National Park System Organic Act into law on August 25, 1916. This Act was fundamental in creating the wonderful system of National Park Service sites that we are able to enjoy today. Over the past 100 years, the main mission of the NPS has been to preserve and protect our country’s natural and cultural resources. The NPS currently administers over 84 million acres located in every state, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands. There are more than 75,000 archaeological sites to explore. Guests are also encouraged to explore approximately 18,000 miles of trails. The largest park site is 12.3 million acres located in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska. The smallest site is Pennsylvania’s Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial occupying .02 acres.
NPS encourages everyone to come out and enjoy the outdoors. NPS sites teach us about the nation’s history while maintaining public access to some of America’s greatest natural wonders.