July 25, 2016|By Alexa Viets| Partnerships

Here at the National Park Service, our 100th birthday wish is to connect with and create the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates. Celebrating a century of accomplishments is wonderful, but from the very beginning of our centennial effort we have focused on looking forward. This milestone is really an opportunity for us to leverage interest in parks and, more broadly, public lands. It has strengthened our resolve to reach out to new communities to help them discover and connect with national parks.

The National Park Service and the National Park Foundation launched the “Find Your Park” campaign in order to spread the word about the range of amazing places within the national park system, the inspirational stories that the national parks tell, our country's natural resources, and our diverse cultural heritage. We want the American public to connect with their history and culture, enjoy nature, and make new discoveries through the parks and programs in their own communities.

AV NYCThe launch of the newest National Park Service site—Stonewall National Monument in New York City. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

During the centennial planning process, we’ve noticed many common threads with topics that were relevant during the launch of the organization a century ago. We shouldn’t become complacent. It was, and still is, essential that our work be relevant in order to meet the needs of the public that we serve, and ensure that these places are valued and enjoyed by everyone.

The centennial is also an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the work of our partners as well. Many partners were involved in advocating for parks and a national park system 100 years ago, and it has been crucial to work in collaboration with private philanthropy, youth-serving organizations, and conservation organizations every step of the way. National parks wouldn’t exist without the work that we do with organizations like The Student Conservation Association or The Conservation Fund. For example, The Conservation Fund has helped the National Park Service create or expand nearly 200 park sites since 1985, including First State National Historic Park, Lewis and Clark National Historic Park, Fort Davis National Historic Site, Sand Creek Massacre Historic Site, and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument. We’ve been successful in optimizing public interest around the 100th anniversary, and we want to continue the momentum beyond this celebration. One important way to continue that momentum is through the work that we do with partners.

AV FortDavis Texas GailaHiebertMartin001Fort Davis National Historic Site in Texas. Photo by Gaila Hiebert Martin.

While the actual centennial date is August 25, 2016, we’ve been celebrating all year with events across the country, and you can find an event happening near you by clicking here. A few examples of unique upcoming programs and events include:

Blue Ridge Parkway’s Waterrock Knob Conservation Celebration
The Conservation Fund and the National Park Service will host an event to commemorate the National Park Service’s Centennial and celebrate the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund in protecting lands surrounding Waterrock Knob, a major scenic destination on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The celebration will include a hike to the summit of Waterrock Knob to take in the spectacular views of the conserved landscape. 

The 2016 American Solar Challenge
Challenge for college students around the country to design and build solar powered vehicles for an 8-day, 1800+ mile road race traveling through 7 states. In celebration of the centennial, this year’s route will include 9 national parks, historic sites, or partner properties throughout the Midwest.

Fort Scott National Historic Park Vintage Baseball Game
At Fort Scott National Historic Site in central Kansas, a baseball game will be played in the park with 1916 rules, period uniforms, and good old fashioned fun.

Find Your Park Festival
The national parks of South Dakota will celebrate the centennial in Rapid City, Iowa outside Mount Rushmore National Memorial with a community festival, entertainment and activities for families.

Huna Tribal House Project and Event at Glacier Bay National Park
The Huna Tribal House dedication in Glacier Bay National Park in Bartlett Cove, Alaska, will also feature the performance of original music and art inspired by the park and written in part by local tribal youth.   

AV JeremyboyCelebrating NPS’s centennial is an opportunity to connect with future generations of public land stewards. Photo by Whitney Flanagan.

We’ve had an outpouring of love and celebration from the America’s arts community, which mirrors the support that artists gave when the first national parks were created a century ago. Prior to mass media, there was no easy way to show the majesty of these areas that needed preservation to the public or government leaders. Artists like Thomas Moran and George Catlin, painters who featured the landscapes of the West and Native American culture helped introduce national parks to the public. Artists also helped propel the shift in perception from wilderness being something to be afraid of, something to conquer, toward it being something of greater value to be preserved. The collective love of national parks as places of inspiration has manifested into many art-related centennial projects and exhibits, for example:

Music in the American Wild
Performers will tour seven celebrated national parks to premiere new works in the amazing places that inspired them. From caves, to mountaintops, to forests blanketed with fireflies, Music in the American Wild will honor this major milestone in American conservation by letting new music ring out from sea to shining sea!

"Imagine Your Parks" Initiative
This special arts grant initiative unites the missions of the National Park Service and the National Endowment for the Arts to promote and protect the nation's cultural and natural treasures. Nearly $2 million in grants have been awarded to local arts organizations to put together creative ways to celebrate the milestones of both organizations.

AV EVER Obama 2President Obama at an “Every Kid in a Park” event in Everglades National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

The centennial celebration events combine art, sports, technology or recreation with the national parks in really creative ways, and many underscore the deeper meaning of parks in our lives. Many are good examples of ways that the centennial has further connected the National Park Service to communities, and the result of thinking creatively about partnering with organizations. I’m proud of the work we’ve done, and I’m even more excited about the work that is yet to come with the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates.