Have you found your park yet?
Perhaps you've seen You Tube clips, billboards, or social media postings with the words "Find Your Park." This campaign - featuring stunning images of nature and history - is part of a year-plus celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. The goal is to introduce - and reintroduce - our parks to a larger and younger audience.
I found my first park (and my first job) in the early 1970's as a Park Ranger at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. As a recent college graduate, I had the rare opportunity to share my love for one of our nation's most cherished sites. I worked with and helped visitors from the community and around the world.
I found my first park, but the National Mall was hardly my last.
The National Park Service boasts 407 sites covering more than 84 million acres located in every state and territory. These areas include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historical sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and, notably, the White House grounds.
If you haven't found your favorite among these yet, now would be a good time. The National Park Service recently kicked off its centennial celebration (1916-2016) with the national "Find Your Park" campaign. Its website is an excellent introduction to parks all over the country.
This centennial celebration reminds us how beloved parks are. Actress-singer-dancer Bella Thorne helped launch the campaign on April 2 in New York City. As a "Centennial Ambassador," she is joined by well-known public figures such as Bill Nye the Science Guy -- who found his love for science at Rock Creek Park near Washington, D.C. -- and singer-songwriter Roselyn Sánchez, who married her husband at San Juan National Historic Site in her native Puerto Rico.
Combined, these three ambassadors have more than 8 million Twitter followers who are getting a steady dose of park reminders.
I may not have as many Twitter followers, but I do have the pleasure of serving on the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the parks. As a member of this important committee, I work every day to find ways to protect a tradition that began in 1872 when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the law that established Yellowstone National Park, the nation's first. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson established the National Park Service.
Documentary historian Ken Burns calls our national parks "America's Best Idea." In part, this high praise is based on the public access to our parks, versus the European tradition of rich-only exclusivity.
As we approach the centennial of our park system, we know that our parks face challenges: outdated infrastructure, invasive species, climate change, drought, air pollution, wildlife management and a backlog of road repairs.
In addition, park visitation skews older, lacking in diversity. Research shows that millennials seem aware of top parks like Yellowstone, but those places seem distant.
As the "Find Your Park" website makes clear, parks, monuments and trails are always close by. And each of them offers recreation, contemplation and the discovery of a shared history for everyone, young and old.
So it really is time to "Find Your Park." When you get there, tell them Park Ranger Don sent you.