I’m a big fan of March 1, 1872; that was the day the US Congress and President Ulysses S. Grant designated Yellowstone as our first National Park. This land was set aside “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” and placed under control by the Secretary of the Interior. This one action led to a new world-wide trend, now more than 100 countries have set aside some 1200 national parks or preserves. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service to protect 35 national parks and monuments. In 1933 the National Park Service also assumed stewardship of 56 national monuments and military sites. Now more than 84 million acres are protected, so much to enjoy!
While I am especially enamored with Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Rocky National Park, and the canyons in Utah, Missouri has many national designations as well. Living in Missouri, we are at the crossroads of many national trails including the Lewis and Clark Trail, Oregon Trail, Trail of Tears, Pony Express and our very own Santa Fe Trail. The George Washington Carver National Monument is in Diamond, the Gateway Arch National Expansion Monument in St. Louis, Harry S. Truman National Historic Site in Independence and my favorite, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in southeast Missouri. This 80,000 acre park, designated in 1964, protects the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers, an area with the most concentrated large springs in the United States. The rivers are spring-fed, cold and clear, surrounded by hundreds of fresh springs, caves, trails and historic sites along with many animal and plant species, enjoyed by 1.3 million visitors annually.
We enjoy national parks traveling on the cheap, using our $10 AmericaBio the Beautiful Senior life-long pass, with free admittance to everybody in the car. Once one of us reached the qualifying age of 62 years old (not me!), we had free access to more than 2,000 Federal recreation sites and all hiking or camping fees are half price. Fun times!
While national parks were originally set aside for recreation to preserve natural beauty, parks have taken on a new role. They protect biodiversity of our plants, animals and other living things, serving as reservoirs where threatened wildlife can rebuild their populations. Biodiversity is at risk when deforestation, overpopulation, pollution and global warming compromise diverse habitats. We all benefit from biodiversity as it enhances our resources including food, biological and industrial materials and medical discoveries. It also balances our ecosystems, enhances our ability to adapt to new challenges such as climate change, provides recreation and inspires us. So, get out there and enjoy it!