Celebrating the Centennial Series: Honoring the National Parks Service’s 100th Anniversary

Originally considered a radical idea – an idea some condemned as a hindrance to social progress – the conception of the “National Parks” and the unified system created to preserve them is now often touted as America’s Best Idea. Fearing the greatest natural wonders of the nation would soon be destroyed by developers or reserved solely for the priveleged, preservationists succeeded in granting all citizens the right to America’s stunning beauty by achieving federal support dedicated to preserving the land for future generations.

While the National Parks’ fascinating history dates back much further, it was in August of 1916 that President Woodrow Wilson signed into law an act creating the National Park Service (NPS), a single federal agency designed to provide uniform procedures and regulations for all sites deemed National Parks.

NPS employees have no small job, managing 58 parks with environments as varied as you can imagine. Still, those who envisioned the NPS issued an even taller order – a dual focus on managing the parks for the enjoyment of the American people, while at the same time keeping them “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” An inherent contradiction openly acknowledged by the bill’s author Horace Albright, it could be accomplished, he believed, “with rational, careful and loving thought.”

100 years later, the National Park System is still examined, debated and unfolding, its curious evolution far from over – yet through it all, the parks have steadily provided precious memories, lessons from nature and deep shifts in perspective. Those who fought so hard to create this now century-old system would be proud of its success in preserving America’s great outdoors full of natural treasures as diverse as its citizens.

This is the first installment of Lifestyles After 50’s Celebrating the Centennial series, created to highlight the unique features of one National Park per month. Readers are encouraged to share personal National Park adventures – email your story to Editor@LifestylesAfter50.com for your chance to be published in next month’s issue.

Best Park to Visit in March: Joshua Tree National Park

Established as a National Park by President Roosevelt in 1936, California’s Joshua Tree National Park functions almost as a museum for desert plant life. Home to more than 700 species of vascular plants, Joshua Tree powerfully defies stereotypical notions of the desert as a place where nothing can survive.

Nationally renowned for its diversity, this park in southeastern California is most loved for its wildflowers. Visitors in March often gaze at blooms of colorful sand verbena, canterbury bells and brown-eyed primrose, framed beautifully by the cream colored blooms of the Joshua Tree itself.

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