We've been counting down to the Centennial for years, and it's finally here! This year, 2016, the National Park Service commemorates its 100th Birthday, a milestone worthy of a year-long celebration.
In 1916, President Wilson signed the National Park Service into existence. At that time, America had already designated 37 national parks; spectacular areas including Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Rock Creek parks were set aside as places to go visit. Individuals recognized the value in pristine natural and cultural lands. But consider how difficult travel would have been then, before interstate highways and fast cars, how unlikely it would be for families and individuals to venture out and fill up passports of national park stamps. Additionally, they didn't yet have the technology to bring images of national parks into their living rooms, or even into the palm of their hands, on demand.
But even without the firsthand experience, people still saw parks as important, and lands worth being conserved and protected. That's because parks are more than just distant majestic landscapes. Parks represent unparalleled mountain views, unique rock formations, sanctuaries for are animals, and places to experience and reconnect with our shared natural and cultural heritage. Say "national parks" and people instantly think of a variety of ideas—conservation, recreation, nature, beauty, family trips, wilderness, memories—the list goes on.
The Service certainly has plenty to be proud of in its first century, but the NPS Centennial is not just about celebrating past accomplishments or remembering pivotal events. It's also the perfect time to look ahead and to refine the role of the NPS in the next century. This is an exciting time to be part of America's Best Idea.
This year, with the spotlight on the National Park Service, we have the opportunity to set an example for conservation practices and policies in parks throughout the world. Management issues raised by climate change, invasive species, wildfires, exotic diseases, etc., require us all to work together. In the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science directorate, we have technical expertise about natural resources and these challenges facing them.
Our leadership in natural resource conservation takes many different forms. We invite people to use our parks as rich laboratories for scientific exploration, whether as students conducting ecological research in a university setting or visitors participating in citizen science endeavors like BioBlitz. We offer guidance to resource managers in parks. We participate in broad conservation initiatives that reach beyond park boundaries - protecting dark skies, preserving important viewsheds, bringing bison back to the range, for example. This is important work, and it supports the NPS mission to both preserve natural resources and to extend the benefits of that conservation throughout the world.
I'm energized about 2016, the NPS Centennial, and the important role our work for natural resources continues to have. I don't know if you were able to watch the Rose Parade on Jan. 1, but I thought it was such a thrill to see national parks so prominently displayed. It served as a good reminder of how much the public values national parks—and not just as destinations, but as a point of pride for Americans.
Here's to another century of national parks, and to spreading their values of conservation, exploration, and wonder. Happy 100th Birthday, NPS!
— Ray Sauvajot
Associate Director, Natural Resource Stewardship and Science