2016 marks the centennial of the National Park’s existence in America. While you may take the preserved wilderness for granted today, you can thank a small group of conservationists in the mid-1800’s for your bliss. While President Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant preserved the first parks in California and Colorado, it was under FDR’s presidency that the program flourished. During his time in office, FDR created 5 new parks, dozens of national monuments, and preserved bird sanctuaries and more than 100 million acres of National Forest. 

“Americans developed a national pride of the natural wonders in this nation and they believed that they rivaled the great castles and cathedrals of Europe,” explains David Barna, National Park Service Chief of Public Affairs in a recent article depicting the National Parks’ origin.

From the towering Rocky Mountains to the rolling Tennessee hills, our National Parks showcase the wild beauty of an America that we’ll never know. Here are 5 ways you can support our Nation’s historic and ongoing project. 

Zion National Park, utah

  1. Visit a Park

Stop putting off your dreams of visiting the Great Smoky Mountains or the Grand Tetons. 2016 is a great year to make it happen. What’s the closest park to you? Have you visited it? Check out each park’s calendar to learn more about the special events happening year round to celebrate this special year.

  1. Provide a Donation

One of the best ways you can support the National Parks’ future is to make a donation to the National organization. Running a park takes a tremendous amount of labor and financial support. Keep in mind that as the parks age, they require more and more work to keep them safe and open for visitors. By providing a monetary donation, you’ll be keeping the dream alive for decades in the future. 

Arches National park

  1. Volunteer Your Help

If you’re lucky enough to live near one of the National Parks, consider reaching out and offering an afternoon of help. Unless you’re a seasoned ranger, you won’t be leading visitors on trails, but you’ll be immensely helpful in other ways. All parks benefit from volunteer work. What type of tasks could you be assigned? You could help keep the clean free of litter and trash. You could offer your skills as a writer, teacher, or artist to lead a small workshop centered around nature. If you have the time, you might even consider signing up to be a campground host or welcome center attendant. Check out Volunteer.gov for the latest listing of opportunities.

Acadia National Park

Best yet, if you donate 20.1 hours of service before the end of the year, you’ll receive a limited edition coin commemorating the centennial year.

  1. Watch the Documentary: America’s Best Idea

If you haven’t seen the 6-episode documentary produced by Ken Burn’s, now’s a great time to enjoy it! Learn the history, politics, and challenges the pioneers of the park system faced as they attempted to do the impossible. A great activity to learn something new or to torture your kids. Don’t worry–when they visit the Grand Canyon years from now, they’ll thank you for the primer.

Joshua Tree National Park

  1. Explore Your Natural Areas in Your Community!

You might not live near a park. Maybe you’ve never even visited one. Take heart and channel your energy to discover trails and local parks in your area. Celebrating the centennial is about finding ways to spend more time in nature.

National Park Service