Celebrate our Amazing Planet with National Parks Week

Earth Day might be the oldest environmental holiday, but saving the planet takes more than one day per year. That’s why environmental activists have devised so many other collective actions to remind Homo sapiens to take care of our habitat. In our Celebrate our Amazing Planet series, your kids will learn about the challenges affecting our environment and how they can be part of the solution.

The Gist

The United States has one of the most extensive and well-used national park systems in the world. Over 400 parks across all 50 states preserve the history and legacy of our country’s natural resources, historic monuments, and unique landscapes. But sometimes Americans need a little “push” to take advantage of these diverse and phenomenal resources.

National Park Week, held annually towards the end of April, is a time when Americans are encouraged to explore these places. During this week, admission to all National Parks is free. Ranger-led programs and events guide visitors to the most dramatic and important places in the park. And volunteer opportunities abound, showing visitors that the National Parks belong to all of us.

So take the kids out of school and spend the week-long holiday prioritizing nature, history, and the family vacations you wish you’d take more often. For more detailed guides of individual parks, see our National Treasures series.

The Day

In this case, it’s a week: National Park Week is a chance to explore a park of your choice, but it’s also a great time to find a way to support the Park Service, which often struggles from lack of funding and threats from encroaching air and light pollution.

Call the rangers at the park where you want to volunteer to ask about the next trail clean-up day or team challenge. Individuals, families, and larger groups can all participate. Ask your child’s Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts troop leader if they plan to volunteer. You could always tag along as a parent-chaperone.

Even as a family, there are plenty of ways to volunteer. Host a campground, staff a welcome center, clean up cabins, guide a tour, maintain a trail, shelter museum artifacts, assist an archaeologist, or discover biodiversity in the multi-park “Bioblitz” event. Volunteering opportunities are endless for park devotees and nature novices alike.

Prefer to donate your bucks to the park rather than your hours? Pick up some Find Your Park swag at a welcome center or on the website. T-shirts and hoodies are a hip way to turn over some more cash for the parks while keeping your kids in style.

Got a wordsmith or shutterbug among the wild animals in your family Subaru? Send in some photos or a story about your park experience, which may be featured on the National Park Service site to encourage others to come and “find their park” too.

In addition, many parks have photo and painting exhibits and allow for live-in “artists in residence” to spend significant time in the parks working on art. If your child is interested in doing a residency or creating an art project for the park, check with a ranger or welcome center volunteer to find out the details.

After the Fact

While National Park Week is all about appreciation, the work it takes to maintain and preserve the National Parks happens all year-round. Buy an annual pass to show your support and encourage your family to visit parks more often.

Since 2016 is the centennial of the National Park Service, you can register for the Centennial Volunteer Challenge, where you’ll commit to volunteering for 201.6 hours over the course of the year. Your family can spread those hours over several parks and many visits, but it will give you a great incentive to keep up your park weekends. Those who meet the challenge receive a Centennial Parks coin!

Another way to share your park experience with the world is to create a guide. Did it take your family some time to devise the perfect “leave no trace” camping kit? Share the contents at the National Park Service site so others can benefit. Was there a secret spot for bird watching that was transcendent? Share it!

Connecting others with the resources you’ve enjoyed is just another way to get Americans enjoying nature and thinking about why it’s important to preserve it.

The Long Run

While there is still a lot of protected land throughout the United States, these areas are not immune to dangers presented by unprotected environments. Light pollution from cities has made star-spotting less majestic in a number of parks. Animals that roam off of park lands could be in danger from hunting, poaching, road traffic, or other human elements. And deforestation in wild lands surrounding the parks can lead to endangered plant populations in the parks too.

Creating an appreciation and awareness of how our or environments overlap with the natural environment, which has been around much longer, is another way of motivating Americans to live more sustainably and ecologically at home. Although it’s only a week, the aim of National Park Week is to take the nature-centered, leave-no-trace principles of the parks into our daily lives.

Will you and the kids be participating in National Park Week this year? What activities do you have planned? Share with us!

Tags : celebrations   celebrate our amazing planet   green holidays   environment   nature   national parks week   

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