Essay Winner: 17-Year-Old R.J. Huber On How To Address Threats To National Parks

First Place, R.J. Huber, Ohio

The mission statement for the National Park system was found on a government website. It states:
"The mission of the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) is to conserve the scenery, the natural and historic objects, and the wildlife in United States' national parks, and to provide for the public's enjoyment of these features in a manner that will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

In other words, the directive of the park service is to maintain the nations parks in as near its original condition as possible. Create and maintain infrastructures that compliment the parks making them more accessible and enjoyable for the public. While doing all this they also monitor the health of the animals and ecosystems of the parks.

There are many things that could be considered a threat to a national park. Forces of nature like the super volcano under Yellowstone. Too much rain, too little rain. Diseases in the plants or animals. Communities that encroach on park property. Government bureaucracies that control the funding or agencies that fight over control of areas where they overlap.

The biggest threat to the National Park system is the public. Over use of a park stresses its infrastructure and ecosystems possibly causing permanent damage. Under use of a park stresses the parks financial foundation. It puts programs at risk forcing tough decisions on access, staffing, and offering of services.

Without the support and interest of the public, one third of the park systems mission is unattainable and the other two thirds is at risk because it is the public that funds the agency.

How do we increase public interest in the parks? How do we get more people to use services and visit parks? There are four main areas of interest, travel, education, media and new media.

TRAVEL

For most families a visit to a National park is part of a vacation. The park service needs to make sure they work closely with travel groups and agencies. Reach out to other attractions and business’s in their communities to make a better presentation as to why this family would enjoy a visit to this park. In most States there ar many more State parks than National Parks. The national park system needs to partner with them so victors can learn as much about the state or area as they do about the park.

EDUCATION

Develop lesson plans that educators can use to complement their classroom learning. There is nearly no limit to the possibility of topics. Examples for every art and science can be found in the National Park System. Create lesson plans specific to each park for students and families to use when they visit. Additional plans and outreach can be made to homeschoolers. It would even be possible to work with universities for college credit. Due to the extent of possibilities, it is very important to place information for lessons online. Guides can be created for visiting families with lesson plans and activities. This could greatly enhance the family dynamic and their enjoyment of the park. It’s a win win situation! It teaches kids while building stronger families.

MEDIA

Some cities maintain online databases of local images of locations that location scouts in the film industry can use. The National park system should create one of their own. Find ways to encourage professional and amateur film makers to use the parks in their movies.

NEW MEDIA

There is no question that the internet has dramatically changed the world and shows every sign of continuing to do so. The park service needs to make sure its parks are included and linked in every Wikki it can. As for the web site, it should look less like a government site and more like a portal to discovery. Visitor feedback and blogs should be monitored and their suggestions evaluated. The National Parks are truly American treasures with something of interest for every American. With families watching their budgets, there is value to be found in visiting Americas parks. The Parks are packed with adventure and discovery with something new around every corner. There’s no time like the present to plan your next trip to one of Americas National Parks.

Runner-up, Stephanie Sjaardema, New Mexico

America’s National Parks: From Yellowstone, our nation’s first National Park, to President William Clinton’s Birthplace, the most recent, our national parks capture the beauty, heritage, and heart of America. But there are many threats to the parks: pollution, over visitation, and adverse human impact on wildlife and nature just to name a few. However, even with all these dangers threatening the parks, I believe that if we take a stand, we can protect these American treasures.

In order to protect our parks, we must know about them and understand why they need protection. Most importantly, we need to love and cherish these gifts. Therefore, I believe the greatest threat facing our national parks is the next generation not learning to love and care for our parks. Can we teach the next generation to love our parks? Will they care enough to invest the time to protect America’s National Parks?

I have visited and experienced 176 national park units. Each time I visit or return to a park, I see amazing scenery or historical places and learn more about what makes each park special. But when I tell my friends what park I am going to visit, many times they have never heard of it; even some of the most prominent parks are unknown to many young people.

Today’s youth are not being exposed to the wonders of the national parks. Children are often not given the opportunity to see endangered species, the geological features that can be found nowhere else on earth, the one-of-a-kind historical buildings, and the natural places that once gone can never be replaced. If children don’t know about these special places, they cannot learn to care about the parks or want to protect them. If no one fights to protect our parks, then our current parks will begin to deteriorate and no new parks will be created.

We live in a society filled with computers, cell phones, iPods, Facebook, TV, and many other distractions that take up our time. With so many things filling up our days we forget to take time to go hiking or camping on a weekend. Children being raised in this environment are not finding the joy in spending time outdoors. Families need to be encouraged to experience the many varied activities in the national parks such as taking a boat tour in Kenai Fjords, rock climbing in Joshua Tree, taking a ranger tour at Manassas Battlefield, snowshoeing in Sequoia, leaf peeping along the Blue Ridge Parkway, or simply watching the sunrise in Acadia. Kids need to be encouraged to sign off of Facebook, turn off the TV, and find the wonders in our national parks.

A person cannot look upon the majesty of Denali, watch a buffalo wallowing in the dirt in Theodore Roosevelt, see the fascinating Gila Cliff Dwellings, or learn about the intriguing Civil War battle sites without feeling pride for our country and wanting to protect these amazing places. If children and their families are encouraged to visit the national parks, they can learn the natural and cultural importance of the parks. These children will then be the next generation protecting and fighting for our parks in the future. People protect what they love and it is impossible to see a national park without loving it.