Growing up in Colorado meant that I spent most of my summers visiting national parks.
My family and I would cram our hiking gear into my dad’s beat-up Jeep. For short trips, we’d spend some time in Rocky Mountain National Park or Mesa Verde. If we had a week off, we’d drive to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, or the Badlands.
National parks aren’t just a fond, childhood memory for me. Many families across the country have similar experiences. In fact, in the past five years, the parks have experienced some of the highest numbers of visitors ever.
Unfortunately, the parks’ infrastructure isn’t getting the support it needs — the National Park System has nearly $12 billion worth of deferred maintenance ( work that’s been postponed due to budget constraints). Despite this looming price tag, the Washington Post reported that in entrance and recreation fees — money meant to improve parks — to help fund President Trump’s Fourth of July celebration on the National Mall.
“The public pays parks fees to fix national parks and for educational programs, not the president’s parade.” – NPCA President & CEO @theresapierno https://t.co/CkCk9DGjRM
— National Parks Conservation Association (@NPCA) July 3, 2019
The parks need our help.
“Visitors should come away with the feeling that this is a treasure,” said Dr. Gil Lusk, author of National Parks Our Living National Treasures: A Time for Concern and retired National Park Service employee. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the Statue of Liberty, it doesn’t matter if it’s Gettysburg Battlefield, it doesn’t matter if it’s Mesa Verde, or Yellowstone. Every unit out there is a treasure, and it’s a treasure to our future. “
By supporting our parks, you can make sure that some of the most awe-inspiring parts of our environment are protected for years to come. Here are a few ways to do that.
1. Leave no trace.
The idea behind leaving no trace is relatively simple: pack out what you pack in, don’t touch or disturb the wildlife (including plants!), and, if you’d like to build a campfire, keep it safe for the area by researching fire danger risks and checking on any administrative restrictions.
Still, what works in one park might not work in another. Since national parks are all so different, Lusk recommended talking with an employee to find out specific ways to leave no trace at the park you’re visiting.
“The best thing to do is to basically establish a relationship with a park person in the park [you] visit,” said Lusk. “Those are the individuals who are going to be able to convey [what] leaving no trace might consist of.”
A simple way to help make sure that national parks continue to flourish is to give them money. The National Park Service website actually allows you to locate your favorite park to donate to directly.
Lusk, for his part, recommended donating to organizations like the National Park Foundation or the National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA).
Organizations like these are meant to help the national parks continue to thrive by providing them with vital assistance. And both the National Park Foundation and the NPCA have a long of aiding the parks and their conservation efforts. The National Park Foundation received from , and the NPCA received , scoring highly on accountability and transparency.
3. Immerse yourself in the community.
When visiting one specific national park, take some time to check out the surrounding area. After all, national parks are a vital part of their communities, and by spending more time in the area, you’ll help support the region as a whole. Plus, this gives you an opportunity to visit multiple parks in one trip, if they’re close together.
For example, if you’re heading to Zion National Park, “don’t just drive 500 miles to look at Zion and then leave. Experience the area,” said Lusk. “Spend a little time down there. You’ve got Zion, you’ve got Cedar Breaks, you have Bryce Canyon, you have Glen Canyon, and Lake Powell.”
4. Start a conversation.
Once you visit a park, don’t let your experience end there. Keep the conversation going. Call your congressperson and tell them that you support funding national parks. Talk to your friends and family about making calls as well.
Lusk emphasized that if you go to a national park and observe any problems, it’s important to have a conversation about it. You can reach out to your congressperson, conservation groups like the National Park Foundation and NPCA, and even peers in your community who can help spread the word about ongoing issues.
After all, as Lusk explained, “it’s important that living treasures get stuck in people’s minds.”