The National Parks have been the focus of a large campaign recently to celebrate and remind the public of these amazing spaces. The “Find Your Park” and “Every Kid in a Park” initiatives are part of the lead-up to the National Parks 100th birthday in 2016 (get ready for a big year!).
But it’s not just celebration: the National Parks need us and we need them. Did you know that the average age of visitors to Yellowstone is 54 and many of these are serial national park visitors? Did you know that in the past decade, the number of visitors under the age of 15 has fallen by half? Where are America’s youth and first time visitors? I wrote briefly about this topic here in association with my trip to Pullman National Monument (a must-see if you’re in the Chicago area!), but I thought it was worth a revisit from a historical perspective.
National Parks have changed a lot, even in the last half-century. Fifty years ago, the National Park Service was in the midst of Mission 66, a ten-year program (1956-66) meant to rebuild and stabilize deteriorating park infrastructure. The goal was to simultaneously improve the visitor experience and conservation of the parks’ historic and natural resources. Sound familiar? Yes, those goals come directly from the “Dual Mandate” in the Organic Act, which declares that the National Park Service will serve to both preserve park resources and provide for their enjoyment by future generations.
Following World War II, the National Parks saw a boom in visitation. This was the era of road trip vacations in the family station wagon. The parks needed a sustainable way to handle these large numbers of people; a way that would maximize the experience for visitors while preserving what makes each park special. Today National Parks lack funding and aren’t seeing large numbers of kids or first-time visitors. Hiring enough rangers to aid all the public is impossible and many rangers are volunteers (hats off to them!). What can you do? Start by following the 2015 campaign slogan and Find Your Park! Visiting is the number one way to show you care.
I had the opportunity to visit Mount Rainier National Park recently and was excited to be up close and personal with the mountain that I see out my office window most days (at least with this summer weather!). Meanwhile, I can’t help but wonder… are all those 54-year-old Yellowstone visitors still the effect of the American road trip days and Mission 66?
I came across these priceless sketches from the Mission 66 campaign years ago and just had to share them. They are from a Mission 66 handout published by the National Park Service. Thank you, NPS! The photographs are my own. Other sources and related materials are found through provided links.
P.S. So what is that line of people at the top and why are they all women? I have a guess, but you tell me!
Check back next week: you can’t have all the fun things at once, can you? It’s the middle of summer and I don’t want to be in the city any more than you do. So we’ll be spending another in the National Parks exploring what else, but architecture? I can’t wait!
Featured photo (top): National Park Service artwork from Mission 66.