Warmer weather is finally here! We should all be getting outside now! This week is National Park Week, so it’s a great time to get out and explore your national parks. With 401 units, there is bound to be a National Park Service site within a day’s drive. National parks are a great way to observe natural beauty, learn U.S. history, and experience the outdoors.
National Park Week corresponds with the birthday of the National Park Service (NPS) – April 25, 1916. Yes, our NPS is 98 years old! You can expect some awesome programs and activities in two years when the NPS turns the big 1-0-0.
This Saturday, April 26 is National Junior Ranger Day, so check out your local NPS site for details on special programs for kids. If you don’t get a chance to visit a national park this Saturday, all parks have individual Junior Ranger programs where a child can fill out a booklet and earn a patch or badge. It’s a great program. Kids love it and it teaches them a lot about the environment, conservation, and natural and U.S. history. As a former NPS employee, I have seen kids wearing vests or shirts covered with patches and badges from their visits to national parks.
Also, consider purchasing the Passport to Your National Parks book. It is a fun and inexpensive way to take home a souvenir from each visit to a NPS site. Every time you visit a unit of the NPS, you get a cancellation stamp, just like in a real passport book. Old and young alike have a blast with this activity. The first question out of many visitors’ mouth is “Where is your stamp?” I have 129 stamps and counting!
I worked at four NPS sites as a historic interpreter. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting people from all over the world and teaching them about the historical importance of the site. The training of interpreters in the NPS is different than your normal museum tour guide or historical house docent. NPS training focuses on tangibles, intangibles, and universal concepts. This is a fancy way of saying, you will leave a tour with more than just a history or science lesson. You will be brought back in time to Jamestown in 1607 with the sites, smells, and fears of a stranger in a strange land. You will be able to understand a park’s ecosystem and how humans and invasive plants and animals impact the resource. You can learn women’s history, Native American history, African American history, Asian American history, and Hispanic American history. At Ellis Island, you can learn of immigration history in general.
I’ve also visited many of the 401 units. Often, we plan our vacations around which national parks to visit. Heck, my husband and I got married in a church at a National Park Service site!
I encourage you to get out and enjoy your national parks. If not this week, then sometime in the near future.
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