It's the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, with opportunities to celebrate the parks throughout 2016. From planting a “Centennial Forest” in Texas to counting species of plants and animals on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., here are 10 ways to take your appreciation for national parks to historic levels in 2016.
Find additional practical details for these activities on our Find Your Voice events page as they become available.
1. Growing a National Park
January 18 through March 5, Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas
Don’t just enjoy the natural splendors of national parks—go one step further and plant your own. Starting on January 18—Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day of Service, when admission to all national parks will be free—volunteers will plant longleaf pine seedlings in Big Thicket National Preserve. Throughout the winter, a total of 100,000 seedlings will be planted right next to the park’s oldest longleaf pine forest. The planting of a “Centennial Forest” will help restore crucial habitat for several sensitive species in this part of East Texas, so not only will you leave a living legacy that will last for centuries, but rare animals like red-cockaded woodpeckers will be grateful, too.
2. Climbing Devils Tower?
February 12, in select theaters
No climbing skills are required as you experience the ascent of this Wyoming national monument from the comfort of your IMAX theater seat. “National Parks Adventure” is a 3-D feature film that offers bird’s-eye views of more than 30 national parks. The movie follows a trio of mountain climbers as they perform a series of vertigo-inducing stunts on America’s most venerated playgrounds, including scaling the Three Penguins rock formation at the entrance of Arches National Park. What’s more, the movie is narrated by renowned conservationist and Academy Award winner Robert Redford. The film opens February 12 in select theaters nationwide.
3. Stopping and Smelling the National Parks
March 5 through 13, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Spectacular flower displays, from the rare super blooms that grace Death Valley to the annual cherry blossoms that ring the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., are big draws to national parks. But what if national parks themselves were entirely made of flowers? That is the concept the Philadelphia Flower Show will bring to life this March with acres of floral displays inspired by national parks, from Yosemite to Shenandoah, in honor of the National Park Service’s centennial. Park rangers will also give talks about the parks and organize scavenger hunts.
4. Beautifying a Fledgling National Park
April, Pullman National Monument, Illinois
Pullman National Monument will celebrate its first year as a national park site while the Park Service is celebrating its hundredth year. The park preserves the utopian company town George Pullman built on the outskirts of Chicago in the late 19th century to house workers making his then-famous Pullman sleeping train cars. The utopia didn’t last long: the town was the site of a deadly strike in 1894 as workers protested high rents and declining wages. The Pullman district is in a historic neighborhood in one of America’s largest cities, with thousands of residents. As a result, it has its fair share of litter. On several dates in April, you can join other volunteers to clean up the park, weed, and plant native plants. You’ll also get your own tour of the site that inspired the Labor Day holiday.
5. Counting Birds, Flowers, Insects, and More
May 20 and 21, National Mall and Memorial Parks, Washington, D.C.
National parks are home to iconic species, from Yellowstone’s bison to Sequoia’s, well, sequoias, but the parks’ biodiversity extends well beyond their most recognizable denizens. On May 20 and 21, you can get a better idea of the parks’ vegetal and animal residents by teaming up with scientists and other volunteers to identify as many species as you can (humans count as one) within a 24-hour period. These events directly contribute to our knowledge of the parks’ ecosystems: during last year’s count at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, participants identified more than 20 species previously undiscovered at the park. The main “BioBlitz” event will take place in and around Washington, D.C., but you can participate in parks across the country.
6. Gazing at the Parks’ True Star Attractions
May 7, Mojave National Preserve, California
With majestic mountains, deserts, and lakes in front of them, national park visitors may forget to look up. That would be a mistake. Some national parks are among the best places in the country to contemplate the immensity of the universe—and our relative insignificance. Mojave National Preserve is one such spot: located four hours from Los Angeles and more than two hours from Las Vegas, its skies have minimal light pollution and clouds rarely get in the way. In June and October, astronomers will assist visitors as they peer through large telescopes at the Milky Way and at other galaxies far, far away. Get ready to be starstruck.
7. Checking Out New York’s Other Nature Haven
July 23, Gateway National Recreation Area, New Jersey and New York
Most New Yorkers in need of an immediate nature fix head to Central Park, but there is another option. The beaches, wetlands and upland islands of Jamaica Bay, part of Gateway National Recreation Area, are home to more than 325 species of birds (about 100 more than Central Park) and 100 species of fish. The best part? It’s only a bike ride away—albeit a 45-mile one—from the cacophony of the city. On July 23, participants in the Epic Ride will ride from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to Rockaway, Queens, along the Brooklyn Greenway and Jamaica Bay Greenway bike paths. NPCA is teaming up with the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, Nature Valley, and Riis Park Beach Bazaar to bring the Epic Ride finish line to “the people’s beach” at Jacob Riis Park, Jamaica Bay. Once at Riis, bikers can enjoy local food and drinks, live music, and a well-deserved dip into the Atlantic Ocean.
8. Making the Great Pronghorn Migration a Little Bit Easier
May through October, Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming
When winter comes, Yellowstone’s northern pronghorn herd needs to migrate to lower—and greener—pastures beyond park borders. The problem is that unlike deer or elk, pronghorn—the world’s second-fastest land mammal behind cheetahs—do not readily jump and often turn back when confronted with fences. This means Yellowstone’s pronghorn may not be able to reach their winter habitat, or they risk being hit by traffic as they look for alternate routes. The good news is that pronghorn can easily pass under modified fences, and you can help enhance their ability to migrate. From May through October, volunteers will work to remove or modify 3.5 miles of fencing on the pronghorn’s path. Some of the work involves replacing traditional barbwire with wildlife-friendly adjustable fences, removing fences that are no longer needed, and raising the height of the bottom of fences to allow the pronghorn to easily pass under them.
9. Learning a Century’s Worth of Park History—In 12 Hours
August 6, Denali National Park, Alaska, and April 25-30, on PBS affiliates nationwide
The National Park Service may be celebrating its centennial this year, but national parks got their start 44 years earlier when Yellowstone National Park—the world’s first—was established in 1872. The birth of that park and the 408 that followed wasn’t a foregone conclusion. It took the dedication of passionate Americans and, eventually, political support from Congress and various presidents to create each park unit. You can learn about it all in the six-episode, 12-hour documentary The National Parks, directed by celebrated filmmaker Ken Burns. The 2009 series, which is as much a tribute to the beauty of the parks as a history lesson, is set to air again on PBS in April. Want to learn more? Guests of Camp Denali in Denali National Park will hear from the man himself as Ken Burns reminisces about the making of the series on August 6.
10. Blowing Out the Candles
August 25, nationwide
The National Park Service will officially turn 100 on August 25, and the best way to celebrate the birthday is to visit a national park. Founders’ Day honors the people who made it happen, from environmentalist John Muir to first National Park Service Director Stephen T. Mather. This year, the celebration will include a range of activities from Arches to Zion, including special tours, bookstore discounts, and impersonations. Need more convincing? All park entrance fees will be waived that day and the weekend that follows, through August 28.
About the author
Nicolas Brulliard Associate Editor
Nicolas is a journalist and former geologist who joined NPCA in November 2015. He writes and edits online content for NPCA and serves as associate editor of National Parks magazine.