Looking ahead to the next 100 years of the National Park Service

August 24, 2016

By Carolyn Ward, CEO Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation

As we mark the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service, I am reminded of the ultimate vision and absolute hope that our parks represent. More than 100 years ago, a dedicated group of people came together and thought beyond the woes of the day and the bounds of their time and envisioned an agency that would be the caretaker of parks and public lands. On August 25, 1916, when Congress gave birth to the National Park Service with the adoption of the Organic Act, there were just 35 national parks and monuments. Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, was the first. Today, more than 400 National Parks showcase landscapes that define our country and places that embody our past.

Thanks to their foresight, we are able to experience some of the world’s most amazing natural wonders, discover the stories of our cultural history, and make memories that last a lifetime. It is all because of the vision of these individuals who could look past their moment in time and dream of a future they would never see. It takes faith and strength to invest in a future beyond your own.

Now, with 412 units of the national park system covering more than 84 million acres, we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. We celebrate the parks and public lands that belong to each of us. Just as it was in 1916, the future is uncertain. What lies ahead for our parks when less than 1 percent of the federal budget supports the necessities of caring for the parks? Will a growing maintenance backlog continue to reflect a crumbling infrastructure? Will the modern amusements of our time overshadow our deeper connections to nature?

These are all tough questions we must examine, but because of the commitment of our Community of Stewards at the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and the millions who love to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway each year, I have hope. Just as those who came before us, we can look beyond the woes of our day, the divisive politics of the moment, our day-to-day challenges, to plan for a vibrant future. This is our time; these are our parks; and this is our moment in history to leave a legacy for the next 100 years. I am honored to be a part of a small group dedicated to making the experience of the Blue Ridge Parkway a lasting memory for the generations I will not see. All we need is the courage to invest and believe in our future.   

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