April 16–24: Visit for free!
Throughout National Park Week in 2016, every national park will give you free admission
At last count I have visited 23 of the U.S. National Parks which may sound like a lot, but when you realize that there are currently 58 total, I’m not even half way there! Life goals should be big though, right? So that’s mine, visit all the National Parks during my lifetime.
My love for the parks started when I was in high school and was accepted to take a summer science class that traveled from Ohio to the Pacific Northwest and back again stopping at National Parks along the way. We stopped spent time at Theodore Roosevelt NP, Glacier NP, Mt. Rainer NP, Olympic NP and Crater Lake NP, it was a whirlwind! Those three weeks were a very impactful experience for me in my teen years, not only because I was so far from home, but there was so much to see and learn about our natural world and why protecting it all is so important. We did a lot of hiking and guided tours with the park rangers and we also learned the basics of camping and outdoor cooking (which turned out to be a very important skill set that I have needed in my chosen profession.) The next summer I was lucky enough to do it all again but this time in Alaska!
The summer after I graduated from high school, I hopped on a plane to Wyoming where I became a member of a trail crew in Grand Tetons NP. Our team of six high schoolers and two adult team leaders were stationed in Death Valley, contradictory to what it’s name may lead you to think of it, the valley was beautiful and full of life. There was a glacier fed stream that ran through and the occasional moose who would stop by for dinner from time to time. We worked hard maintaining the trails, fixing the roofing on a cabin and replacing a 3-stringer bridge, but we also got time to pack a lunch and explore our surroundings. The freedom and trust that I was given by my leaders to make good choices was somewhat new and awesome! I climbed up under a small glacier, got caught between a mother moose and her baby, battled my way up a skree field and chased a pack of young weasels down the trail. We learned how to take care of ourselves in the backcountry including the frequent need for wilderness first aid skills. It shouldn’t be that surprising, we were a bunch of teens wielding axes, saws and pribars, of course we all managed our fair share of blood loss and bruises that summer. Looking back, my summer as a trail crew member was really the perfect lesson in taking responsibility for my needs and other that helped to prepare me for college life.
In 2009, I packed my car and started driving west. A little out of character for me, I didn’t have much of a plan, just a National Geographic road atlas themed around the national parks. Some big changes were happening for me both personally and professionally and the best way I could think to work through that was to go see some new parks. I focused mainly on the southwest including Canyonlands NP, Arches NP, Zion NP and Bryce NP. I was also able to collect a few California parks, Yosemite NP and Redwoods NP. And on a total whim, I went back to the Grand Tetons to revisit good old Death Valley. Again the sites, sounds, smells and interactions that I had over those two months transformed me so much that when I returned to “real life” I felt stronger, more confident and ready for the new challenges ahead.
I went to college with the intention of becoming a park ranger, but it didn’t work out that way. Instead I found Hemlock Overlook Regional Park. Now I know it’s not a “National” park, but I very much care for this land and the history here and I know I am not the only one. One of our core values is “celebrate place, tradition and memories”, to me that has so much to do this beautiful chunk of eastern forest and the river that runs alongside of it. These protected spaces have positive effects on countless of lives every year, especially mine.