Millennials In The Parks Are Not An Endangered Species

Alternate Text

Carli Jones, second from right, with other millennials gathered at Tenaya Lake in Yosemite National Park/Carli Jones

What is better than packing a car with sleeping bags, tents, new tunes, and good friends? Not much in my opinion! Here in northern Utah I am spoiled with weekend desert adventures that range from meandering around Devils Garden in Arches National Park to canyoneering the narrow ravines of Zion National Park. Exploring the natural wonders, and connecting with friends, is kept alive by the National Park System. The parks make for a great getaway.

Some of my fondest, adolescent memories were generated from time outdoors, enjoying national parks with my family. Revisiting the parks reminds me of my fanny-pack-toting childhood. It’s what brings me back time and time again.

Despite my outdoor adventures, there has been a steady decline over the years of Millennials visiting the parks, and the National Park Service is concerned that this lack of young visitors will leave future generations disconnected with nature.

While this observation stands on its own, there are those of us who plan our vacations around the parks, with our annual park pass handy in the glove compartment. It’s not uncommon for Western Millennials like me to have grown up around weekend trips to the desert; our national parks are nature’s playgrounds. The avid park visitors in my generation long to discover the hidden gems each park offers, searching for a truly unique experience.

In a recent interview with the Traveler, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis touched on what Millennials look for when visiting national parks: “They want to experience it in perhaps different ways than their parents did… they want an element of discovery and adventure... they like to [experience national parks] within their peer groups, not necessarily as a family group.”

Elements of discovery and adventure are exactly what Millennials hope to find, a sincere one-of-a-kind experience. National parks provide an outlet for us to spend time with genuine friends hiking, biking, climbing or just lighthearted joking around a campfire. Parks set the stage for candid friendships, giving visitors a place to relate to one another outside of the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Though city nightlife and skyscrapers are appealing to some, I prefer the serene landscape of towering mountains and the smell of wildflowers in the spring. Searching for new adventures through the charming blossoms and lofty peaks, I snap photos for the sole purpose of sharing these experiences on social media. Social networking outlets are more than just a virtual domain to keep in touch with the people who come and go from our busy lives. It is where we can share our excursions with not only our friends, but also the world through technological means.

Director Jarvis and the National Park Service are very aware of the Millennials’ obsession with staying connected through social media. “They also want to utilize their electronic devices as part of that experience, their iPhones, iPads, whatever the latest device is, they’re not going to leave it at home,” the director told us. “Lack of connectivity is a concern, they want to be able to immediately share that experience on social media. That’s where they exist.”

Sometimes our generation can be spotted hiking dirt trails with a device in hand, in an effort to share personal journeys of self-discovery through their love for wildlife. We are tech-savvy and at times, too connected even when “tuning out.”

I am guilty of this, too, and look forward to reliving past trips through photo sharing with others. There always seems to be at least one pal who captures our amusing outings effortlessly, from the car ride, to inside jokes, to packing up the campsite. High quality snapshots are more accessible than ever to the common traveler with a cellphone conveniently placed in your back pocket. Why not post and share for the rest of the world to see? The question seems to answer itself.

Just last summer, a group of friends and I managed to roadtrip our way from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Yosemite National Park in California. For an ambitious group of 20-something vagabonds, just arriving at the park in one piece was a feat in and of itself. Through social media, each one of us was able to share and document the entire journey with those back home, inspiring them to visit the stunning 1,169 square miles playground for themselves.

Describing the marvels of Yosemite Valley with only words would take eons, yet posting a photo on Instagram or Facebook took only a few seconds. Not only do Millennials hope to show off the breathtaking view of lush green pines framing Half Dome from the valley, but they also want to give an exact location so others know where they can go to gaze at the towering granite wonder. Hashtagging and geotagging photos posted on social media outlets allow friends and followers to see exactly where the photo was taken. For the National Park Service, this is great news. Millennials are essentially promoting and exposing national parks online with spectacular photos that capture the beauty and wonder each park offers.

Alternate Text

Carli Jones in the field/David Glover

“The main reason I moved from Chicago to Utah was to be able to do more stuff outdoors. I can take off Friday afternoon and be camping in Moab or the Tetons in only a few hours. It doesn’t get much better than that,” says Salt Lake City transplant John Conlon.

The short, few hours it takes to get from Salt Lake City to Arches National Park feel like heaven after devoting the majority of my free time during the week to being indoors attending lectures and memorizing Pi to the tenth place.

Did I mention that heaven’s price tag fits well within my starving student budget? Toss a tent, sleeping bag, and few camping essentials into the car and voilà! It’s the perfect recipe to celebrate acing finals week, no matter what the season may be. Add a swimming suit to the mix and I’m ready to raft down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

For those thrill seekers who like to fly, they can pack along their squirrel suit and do some base-jumping near Zion, or skydiving just outside of Arches. Free-falling through towering sandstone formations is an experience not many try. Those brave enough to take the leap are likely to remember the experience unlike any other.

While some wonder why kids don’t engage with the outdoors, I’m here to tell you that we like to experience it in different ways than our parents did. Challenging the traditional camping weekend and making each getaway different from the last is what makes trips to national parks exciting. We are more prone to canyoneering, base-jumping, hang gliding, or bouldering along the side of busy trails trying to make each visit more memorable than the last. I don’t plan to stop visiting our parks, ever.

Utah native Carli Jones grew up exploring the outdoors on family outings, weekend camping trips, and hiking in Zion and beyond. An editorial intern for the Traveler, she is a student at the University of Utah studying communication and nutrition. During her spare time she cycles, hikes, rock climbs and snowboards.

Comments

As a well qualified old fuddy-duddy, I found this article to be a refreshing bit of information that presents a completely different viewpoint than any I had before reading it.

I'm in Morefield Campground in Mesa Verde right now -- using the wireless connection provided by the concessionaire that runs the campground. On two sides of me I have neighbors just like me. White haired old folks keeping warm in our mobile motels. On the other two sides are younger folks. One group appears to be two families of young adults and young children. The other consists of two young men and two young women. I have to admit that when they moved in beside me I found myself thinking, "There goes the neighborhood." But, happily, I was wrong.

There has been a lot of laughter from both sites. Happy sounds of little kids enjoying this place while their parents laugh and joke. On the other side, a couple of guitars came out the other night and I found myself enjoying a short concert before rain drove them inside their tents. While my fellow geezers sit inside our trailers with furnaces running (It's been uncomfortably cool and wet here for the last two days.) the young families are keeping a fire going and then climbing into their cars to head into the park. I heard them talking about how much they enjoyed a ruins tour and watched them helping the kids work on requirements for Junior Ranger badges. All this despite some initial bad impressions from a bunch of tattoos and some pretty foul language.

Thanks, Carli, for perhaps making me stop to think a bit and challenges some of my stereotypes. As much as I --- and perhaps most of peers --- hate to admit it, time is moving on and sometimes we old ones are being left behind.