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2016 marks the centennial of the National Park Service with celebrations and events taking place across the country.

arrow Featured in the Spring 2016 issue of American Trails Magazine


Trails and the National Park Service Centennial


Photos by Stuart Macdonald


This year marks the centennial of the National Park Service (NPS), and celebrations and events are taking place across the country. Beginning with the NPS being featured in the Rose Bowl Parade, and thousands of people venturing out on first day hikes, the NPS and its many partners are encouraging people to “find their parks.”

photo of family walking on trail bridge

Lands End Trail on the golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco

The Find Your Park campaign is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to not only connect people to national parks, but to promote and provide connections for everyone to all public lands, and, of course trails. It is also a time to help shift the public paradigm and traditional view of parks being far off, iconic places toward discovering and celebrating close to home parks— and trails— of all kinds and the meaning they have for all of us.

As the Director of the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis, has said many times “the first century of the National Park Service was about bringing people to the parks, the second will be about bringing the parks to the people”, and trails are absolutely key to this effort. Rail trails, national trails, and especially national recreation trails— like new national water trails— epitomize some of the best ways to connect people to parks and promote healthy active lifestyles through close to home recreational activities and direct access to the outdoors.

Trails do much more than just connect people to parks. Trails provide society a broad range of economic, social and environmental benefits and values. Especially important is the connection of trails to health. The centennial is a wonderful opportunity for American Trails and its partners to form new partnerships with health providers and promote connections to public lands through programs like Park RX and Healthy Parks, Healthy People initiatives.

photo of sand trail between rock cliffs

Arches National monument, Utah


It is also an opportunity to help engage the next generation through providing and promoting youth programs like those generated by the Department of Interior’s Play, Learn, Serve, Work strategies and the President’s Every Kid In a Park campaign. Both of these national efforts focus on getting as many kids as we can outdoors, especially those that have not had much opportunity to do so.

Park RX encourages health care providers to “prescribe” exercise routines using their local parks and trails, while Every Kid In a Park (or on a trail!) provides fourth graders and their families with free passes for them, their schools and families to access federal lands and outdoor opportunities.

Whether you are a volunteer for a local trail club, or the executive director of a trail organization, you can help make the connections between health care providers and schools to public lands in your communities. You can align or coordinate with existing NPS centennial events or create your own. For example, American Hiking Society is promoting this year’s National Trails Day theme as “find your trail.” The Adventure Cycling Association is promoting a new national “Bike to Your Park Day.”

Others are promoting people powered park or open street day events to celebrate pedestrian and bike access to our parks and communities. There are so many opportunities to celebrate the legacy and future of parks and trails— and the centennial is a unique opportunity on which to build local and community support and awareness of trails, parks and public lands of all kinds. We invite you to do so!

Trails organizations, partners, researchers and coalitions are also playing an increasingly important role in giving voice to and articulating the wide range of benefits trails as well as parks provide. Especially in how trails help meeting health, conservation, recreation, transportation, education and economic needs. Our collective understanding and promotion of trails is very important to enhancing the quality of life, resiliency and viability of communities and lives of all Americans. Together we are entering new era and need to demonstrate how the values and benefits of trails and parks can help address social and environmental challenges.

photo of blind person crossing bridge with cane

Enjoying the trails along Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC


Trails and parks advocates and managers should be proactive in reaching out to and informing teachers, parents, citizens, leaders and decision makers about how trails can significantly contribute as key part of solutions for meeting today’s problems.

The NPS Centennial is an opportunity to make that case and reinforce postive messages and build broad constituency through events, media promotion, volunteer and public service opportunities, educational activities and programs.

The National Park Service— through all its 410 parks, the National Scenic, Historic and Recreational trails systems, and its many community assistance, youth and heritage programs— invites you to join us in the centennial celebrations of 2016. Most importantly, we want and need your help in reaching out to tomorrow's park stewards to reintroduce the National Park Service to all Americans and help them find their "park" in their own way— and that will likely be on a trail!


For more information:

Help celebrate the centennial:

National Park Service Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Efforts:

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