By Susan Hanson
Originally appeared in the April/May 2016 issue of Virtuoso Traveler
The dean of Western writers, Wallace Stegner, famously stated that our national parks are “the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”
They began in 1872, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed a law setting aside more than 1 million acres in the American West as a “pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” With a swoop of his pen, he created Yellowstone National Park, marking the first time in history that land was set aside not just for royalty or the rich, but for everyone.
Theodore Roosevelt, the “conservationist president,” would greatly extend that legacy, protecting millions of acres of public land, including five national parks. By 1916, 35 sites were under federal protection, and that summer, President Woodrow Wilson signed an act establishing the National Park Service as their official steward.
Today, there are 59 national parks
– along with 350 other protected areas, totaling some 84 million acres – which comes as a great boon for children, according to Bozeman, Montana-based Virtuoso travel advisor Caroline Bach Wood. At the parks, she says, “Kids can see functioning ecosystems, learn about changes to our planet being brought on by climate change, realize the value of volunteerism, and establish a lifelong connection to our natural world.”
Ready to commence or renew this connection? Mark 2016’s centennial celebration by attending one of the special events taking place in nearly every park across the country. Here are a few of our favorite sites, and the best ways to see them – ask your travel advisor to plan an adventure that’s right for you and your family.
Photo Credits: (Acadia) Prisma Bildagentur AG/Alamy, (Yellowstone) Sergio Lanza Cosado/Alamy, (Great Smoky Mountains) Charlie Choc/iStock