Spring. It's a fresh, vibrant season in the National Park System, one of renewal, for the parks' wildlife, vegetation, and even for human visitors. After long, dark months of cold and snow across much of the system, the arrival of March, April, and May provide greater warmth, daylight, and access in the parks.
As Patrick Cone explains in Yellowstone Reborn in our Essential Park Guide, Spring 2014, this is the season that allows us to watch gangly and wobbly youngsters'elk and bison calves, ducklings, wolf pups and bear cubs, among many others'in places such as Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier national parks. But those parks don't monopolize the wildlife boom. Black bear cubs are on the loose in Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks, whale calves can be seen at times from Olympic National Park and Point Reyes National Seashore, and sea turtles are nesting, and hatching, at parks and seashores along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
The melting of winter snows, and the green-up of the landscape, practically beg us to stretch our legs with a hike away from the parking lots and into the colorful blooms of the season. Inside the guide we also point out some great early season hikes, some wildflower festivals, and some great early season campgrounds.
But spring's arrival also should serve as a reminder that the National Park System is a fantastic learning center. Helping us learn about nature in the parks are field institutes that stretch from North Cascades National Park in the Pacific Northwest across the country to Prince William Forest Park in northern Virginia. These nonprofit operations'the North Cascades Institute, NatureBridge, Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, among others'focus largely on introducing youth to nature.
There, out in the forests, walking across meadows, or perhaps paddling across lakes or climbing mountains, field institutes instill in their students an appreciation for all things wild and natural, and spark a desire to chart their educational goals so they can have careers in concert with nature. A look at some of these institutes'how they operate, what they accomplish, and how you and your children can benefit from them'can be found in the guide.
Seemingly operating in tandem with the field institutes are national park friends groups. While their mission is primarily to help individual parks overcome funding shortages, these groups also play a key role, introducing youth to nature and the parks. Friends of Saguaro National Park, for instance, helped connect about 11,000 kids to Saguaro National Park in 2013. Danny Bernstein opens a window on the good deeds these organizations do.
Within the covers of Traveler's Essential Park Guide, Spring 2014, you'll also find some tips on where to bird during this season, and what to carry when you head out into the parks with your camera. You can find the guide by clicking on the cover in the upper right-hand corner, or simply read it a bit at a time as we post the articles here in the weeks to come.
And to help you start thinking about warmer weather in the parks, we're featuring an artwork by Diana Roper McDowell on the cover. The Maine-based artist captured sail boats racing in the waters of Acadia National Park, a decidedly unusual aspect of fun in the park!
Spring. It's an inviting season begging you to get a jump-start on your national park explorations for the year!