One Hundred Years of Enjoyment and Enlightenment in America’s National Parks4

by Ashley Thornton

As a kid, you could always find my friends and me outside, specifically in what we called the “Shady Club” (catchy, I know). Encapsulated by a dense canopy of various leaves, our secret hideout euphorically transported us to another world. The falling sunlight always battled to seep through the cracks in the foliage, only to diffuse into a soft green glow surrounding our dancing minds, keeping troubles out and contentment in.

Fast forward twelve years, and those trees are nowhere to be found; they’ve been mowed down to make room for a new driveway. Now picture this on a grand scale. Our home, this earth, has manifested these wonders of land and wildlife. And this August will signify exactly 100 years since the National Park Service first sought to protect these American treasures.

The National Park Service’s fulfillment of its mission, as so eloquently stated by the slogan, “Parks for All, Forever,” is currently being threatened by severe lack of funding. “Why should I care about this?” you may ask. Simple. Part of the wonder of the National Park Service lies within its knack for uniting both ecosystem and our human society, a connection to the human traits that create the best version of ourselves.

For example, Jennifer Weeks tells us in her journal excerpt “The National Parks: Are they Getting Too Large to Maintain?” that in 1995, funds were sufficient enough to commence a project to reintroduce endangered gray wolves into Yosemite National Park. Their new presence allowed for population control of the over-grazing elks, along with a rebound of beavers. Their dams then slowed water flow, which created mud flats for abundant tree growth. Thus, 35 million dollars’ worth of visitors came to Yosemite that year.  

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Not only does the National Park Service oversee wildlife, but historic National Monuments and National Memorials as well. The Organic Act of 1916 originally created the National Park Service, and soon expanded its jurisdiction to historic sites, including the Statue of Liberty, the National Mall in DC, and even incorporates National Seashores like South Padre Island.

We can thank the National Park Service for our spring breaks. 

Frederick Law Olmstead Jr., whose father designed New York’s Central Park, summed up the National Park Service as a means of conserving all aspects of life for the “unimpaired enjoyment of future generations.” Because somehow the National Park Service taps into that spiritual theme of nature and life that binds us, and our history, together.

When President Theodore Roosevelt trekked through North Dakota’s Badlands, he found purpose. When renowned nature photographer, Ansel Adams, traveled the Sierra Nevada, he found freedom. When John Muir, namesake of the Muir Woods in the Golden Gate National Park, hiked the backwoods throughout the nation, he found home. The founding fathers of the National Park Service rallied in the places and spaces that the National Park Service would triumphantly protect. They believed everyone should get a taste of Earth’s splendor, and, in turn, a glimpse of our own grandeur.

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Sadly, some say America is losing the reflection of its original ideas of the pursuit of freedom and liberty, which goes hand in hand with the ideals that spurred the National Park Service. Consequently, this contributes to the national park service’s loss of funding.

In his policy review of the Organic Act, lawyer John Nagle confirms that only Congress has the authority to establish an area as a national park. Now according to Paul J. Ferraro, author of an article estimating the impacts of conservation of ecosystem services, informs that the federal budget allows for 2.6 billion dollars annually for the National Park Service. However, this is reportedly 600 million dollars less than what the National Park Service needs to operate effectively. Over the past decade, the National Park Service has accumulated a 12 billion dollar maintenance backlog.

In essence, the Parks are deteriorating in their operations, accessibility, and staff. Congress is proposing new ideas to assist in deterring the maintenance backlog. Paul Eagles from the Journal of Ecotourism suggests the best option would be the proposal of raising park entry and recreational activity fees. Nonetheless, this wholly contradicts the commonwealth ideal in which the National Park Service stands for.

All in all, in order to boost the National Park Service sites to function at full capacity, the nation desperately seeks a budget that will grasp the importance of its existence. The Parks aspire to preserve a moment frozen in time, untouched by the world’s changes, so we may witness our nation’s originality and be inspired by it. As stated by John Muir, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”

Parks for all, forever.

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Learn how to get involved with the National Park Service and its Conservation Association at