Essay Winner: 11-Year-Old Marion Watson On Why National Parks Are Good For Kids

First Place, Marion Watson, Michigan

Trees, stately giants beyond imagination. Rocks, boulders, and majestic mountains; timeless, living tapestries of light, shadow, and color. Streams, rivers, lakes, waterfalls; shimmering serenity, purity, and excitement.

Endless, flowing plains; pathways to the sky. Flowers, leaves, needles, grasses, mosses; a kaleidoscope carpet. A billion billion snow diamonds, softer than baby feathers. Heavenly air; purified and sweetened by the birth, life, and death of beauty. ... Where can you experience, these, and countless other miracles of nature? America's national parks.

Eagles floating, ablaze in brilliant sunlight. Herons at dusk. Deer, elk, antelope, bears, wolves, and coyotes, free to be free in fields and forest castles. Fish, dancing rainbows in crystal waters. Snakes, slipping in whispers, spies in landscape unseen.

Where can you experience these, and countless other miracles of nature? America's national parks.

In every habitat or combination of habitats you can think of -- wetland, scrubland, grassland, marsh, tundra, mountain, or forest -- you will find at least one national park.

Each, in its own way, is medicine for modern life. Each, with its own family of species, alive and happy, remains untouched by people. Yet each was envisioned for us by people, gifted to us by people, is protected by people, and is deeply loved by people (including we kids).

Our national parks. Yours and mine. What a gift!

When kids visit our national parks, we are removed from fast food, fast schedules, and fast life. We are removed from traps we don't even see ourselves in: cages made of concrete, congestion, calamity, and culture. We get awy from living with -- and for -- things that are temporary, disposable, convenient, and basically unimportant.

In exchange, we are filled with wonder, inspiration, joy, and hope. Our minds and our steps are lightened. Our bodies energized. We are reminded that simple, natural, friend, and family things are far more important than just ... things.

Visiting our national parks teaches us, through nature, that there are things bigger and more lasting than ourselves. They remind us that nature is a gift to us, and something we should respect and treasure. They lead us, just by experiencing their beauty, to make better choices in what we buy, use, recycle, and discard. They encourage us to get involved and to speak up for what's right and balanced for all of America's lands -- not just her parks. They give us reasons to try harder and to do better.

That's my best answer to the question, "why are national parks good for kids?" The quesiton I can't seem to answer is: 'Which one is my favorite?"

Runner-up, Grant Forbrig, Michigan

National parks are really great for kids. I know this from my own life. I am happy that I have parents who like to travel and explore new places. My family has always gone hiking, boating and exploring. Some of the best places that we have traveled to are at America’s National Parks.

The first national park that I visited was Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore near Glen Arbor, Michigan. My family climbed a giant sand dune and hiked different trails by Lake Michigan. I really liked it and wanted to go to more!

My wish came true. After first grade, my family went on a big trip out west. My Mom, Dad, younger brother and I traveled in our car to different National Parks. We went to the Badlands, Wind Cave, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks. It is my favorite trip so far!

National parks show children that their world has amazing things. First of all, you can get close to nature in national parks. I know I did! All the parks are places like nowhere else. An example is Yellowstone. This park has steaming geysers, wide hot springs and bubbling mud pots, being one-of-a kind. The most awesome waterfalls that I have every seen, have been those in national parks. Their mountaintop water is some of the cleanest. Kids learn not to be litterbugs and see the natural beauty without trash.

These parks are for enjoying the wild plants and animals. In the Badlands, I saw hundreds of prairie dogs as far as the eye could see. I got to view an animal that I always wanted to see. It was the American Bison. Children like watching wildlife that they couldn’t have in a city and learn that animals are not tame! The national parks teach about the protection of animals and plants to have the species in the future.

Kids also find out about the history of the parks and America. When I went to different national parks, I learned about who lived there long ago, like the Native Americans. I got to know a lot about the many parks from the visitor centers. One of my favorite visitor centers was in the Badlands. It had saber tooth tiger bones and other interesting fossils. Some national parks even have battle sites.

Kids get exercise when hiking and camping in the national parks. These activities help prepare you for being in the outdoors. You can also learn new stuff like fishing and paddling a canoe or kayak.

Being with your family in national parks can be a lot of fun. Here are some reasons why it is fun. You can swim, play games, sightsee, make new friends, sleep in a tent and watch the stars at night.

This essay should help tell others why national parks are important for kids. I can’t wait to go to another one!