“100 years of getting away from it all”

National park service celebrates centennial anniversary

October 11, 2016

From sea to shining sea, from rolling hills to jagged mountain peaks, the National Park Service (NPS) has strived to create protected areas that preserve America’s natural wonders for people to enjoy.

After 100 years of service, the NPS plans to celebrate its centennial anniversary for the rest of this year, with various events organized at parks and sites around the country.

The NPS has kicked off new programs, such as the Call to Action, in an effort to keep the NPS moving forwards in its conservation efforts.

According to the latest Call to Action, “our reach now extends into urban centers, across rural landscapes, deep within oceans, and across night skies, and in our second century, the NPS must recommit to exemplary stewardship and public enjoyment of these places.”

For Jonathan B. Jarvis, current director of the NPS, the Call to Action is his “blueprint” for the next century of national parks.

“While the challenges we face today could not have been imagined when this agency was established in 1916, our mission remains the same: to preserve this nation’s natural and cultural heritage, unimpaired for the enjoyment of this and future generations,” Jarvis said.

For current City of Decatur residents and students, the National Park Service has succeeded in providing long lasting memories.

Hannah Grant

For junior Hannah Grant, the national parks have been a staple of her childhood.

From licking Californian banana slugs to staying in the “Super 8 of camping sites,” the national parks have provided her with multiple picture perfect memories to look back on.

“You know what a lot of people don’t know is that the river that made the Grand Canyon is the Colorado river,” Grant said. “I used to live in Colorado and it’s my favorite fun fact to tell people.”

“In California, the first time you see a banana slug, you’re supposed lick it,” Grant said.

Over the summer, Grant took a road trip with her family from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park to Glacier National Park in Montana.

Grant spent some of her childhood in places like California and Colorado, where national parks are plentiful. Because of this, Grant says that her experiences in parks have provided her with ways to bond with her family, something that she believes is one of the greatest aspect of the parks.

When she was hiking with friends and family in Zion National Park, Grant and her friend saw a moose wandering onto the trail, when they sat down and waited for him to pass to avoid agitating him.

“We had these huge walking sticks that we picked up off the ground from earlier, and we set them onto the ground to try not to scare him,” Grant said. “He was sniffing the ground around us and was within inches of us, and I really think national parks are important so that more people can have cool experiences like that.”

Along with creating close ties with people and the curious moose on the trail, Grant believes that the national parks are a key part of American society.

“We have so much beautiful land in America that we really need to preserve, especially with all the growing industries,” Grant said. “I’d rather have a national park than a mall honestly.”

Photos courtesy of Hannah Grant

Clara McKay

McKay took a trip with her family from Glacier National Park up to Banff National Park in Canada, where her favorite memories came from. “My brother and I had a photo competition throughout the trip where we would try to focus on a small flower or a blade of grass in front a beautiful scene so the scene would be out of focus,” McKay said.

Junior Clara McKay also attributes some of her best memories to the national parks.

“My family and I camp almost everywhere we go, so that means we all sleep in one tent together, even though it gets cramped sometimes, it always ends up being fun,” McKay said. “Especially since both my siblings are in college, it’s nice to have these memories to look back on and see everything we got to explore together.”

For McKay, as with many other people, the national parks symbolize a place that allows her to “escape day to day life for a bit” and explore with the mountain goats hiking alongside her and nightly visits from elk to her campsite.

At McKay’s favorite national park, Glacier National Park in Montana, the park provided a completely immersive nature experience.

“Even just driving into it, it was all flat and then all of a sudden these huge mountains were surrounding us,” McKay said. “We just weaved in and around the mountains and the park was filled with gorgeous waterfalls and fields.”

Because of the NPS goal to maintaining the national parks and forests, McKay appreciates that without it, there wouldn’t be fond memories for her to look back on.

Photo courtesy of Clara McKay

Dave Custer

Dave Custer, a math teacher at Decatur, doubles as an avid backpacker and mountaineer whenever he gets the chance.

Hawaii volcanoes is one of Custer’s favorite national park, because “it’s like another planet.” “You can walk on parts of the cooled lava flow and you can feel this enormous heat coming from underneath your feet. The ground is so hot that it’s uncomfortable to even reach down and touch with your hand for very long,” Custer said.

Of Custer’s 13 national park visits, many have included extended stays in the backcountry of national parks like the Grand Canyon and Mt Rainier.

Custer believes that the parks are important because “these areas are protected for a reason- because they’re unlike anything you’ve ever seen and it was important enough for someone to try and preserve.”

Even though for most, the national parks symbolize packing into giant vans with family and only stopping through the must-see roadside tourist attractions, for Custer, the parks are an immersive wilderness experience with close bear encounters and 6 foot long crevasses within the ice.

When Custer was backpacking through the Great Smoky Mountains, he stopped by a camping shelter to get some water from a stream, when on the other side of a “flimsy chain link fence,” he saw two black bear cubs roll out of a tree, followed by a mother bear.

“It was probably one of the most significant moments of life, staring into the eyes of a protective mama bear that was staring at me,” Custer said. “I probably looked back over my shoulder every five seconds for the next two miles to make sure the mamma bear didn’t decide to come eat me.”

Like Grant, Custer believes that protecting land is more valuable than turning it into urban complexes.

“For the parks that are close to populated areas,” Custer said, “without protection, I’m sure they’d be developed and turned into strip malls by now.”

Photos courtesy of Dave Custer


Visitors aren’t the only ones who get beneficial experiences from visiting national parks.

For Sean Perchalski, Park Ranger in law enforcement and protection in Everglades National Park, the national parks give him the opportunity to spend his days working outside and on the water of the Florida Keys.

As part of the “Find Your Park” campaign, the NPS has made many posters to encourage the continued use and enjoyment of the parks.

A few years ago, Perchalski and Custer went on a hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. In order to hike “ultra light,” Perchalski was able to drop off their supplies at a helicopter base in the park, where their supplies were dropped off at a nearby ranger station.

“We slept inside the Ranger Station after eating an amazing home-cooked meal with the on-duty Ranger while he made his periodic rounds through the campground,” Custer said. “It was great”

To allow park visitors to have safe and enjoyable access to the wilderness of the parks, rangers often have to take up the challenge of being a jack of all trades.

“Compare [the national parks] to a small city,” Perchalski said. “You have a fire department, a police department, public works or maintenance, and so on. Each person in that city has a job. We do the jobs of many, many people.”

Perchalski believes that this is an area where the NPS needs some improvement.

According to the NPS budget for the 2014 fiscal year, the NPS gets $3 billion dollars per year to operate 413 units of varying sizes across the country.

For Perchalski, the centennial of the parks should be celebrated by looking forward in the NPS and encouraging more people to get out and enjoy the parks.

“The National Park Service is important because it protects and preserves very special places for current and future generations to enjoy,” Perchalski said. “If the Service can spark the interest of teenagers to become stewards, they can be the next generation administering these special places.”

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