National Park Service prepares for its second century

Last week the National Park Service celebrated its 95th anniversary. Over the past nine-and-a-half decades, the NPS has been protecting and managing some of America’s most amazing wild places, with the charge of ensuring that those places are “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” That hasn’t always been an easy task however, and now more than ever, the parks face incredible challenges. Yesterday, the Park Service released a comprehensive plan that will chart its course over the next five years, leading up to its centennial in 2016, and beyond.

In that plan, which is entitled A Call to Action: Preparing for a Second Century of Stewardship and Engagement, the Park Service challenges its employees and partners to work together towards a common goal, namely preparing the NPS for a second 100 years of service. The plan outlines 36 different areas of opportunity for the Park Service in which they can more fully engage visitors in the parks, continue to preserve America’s favorite places, improve educational outreach, and become more efficient as an organization.

A Call To Action identifies a variety of goals for the Park Service, including creating a “State of the Park” report for each of the 50 States, studying the economic impact that parks have on surrounding communities, and finding ways to enhance cultural diversity across the entire system. The report also acknowledges the importance of addressing the impact of climate change and establishing a national parks endowment, amongst other things. In short, it is an ambitious, important outline of where the Park Service wants to go by the end of its first century, so it can be better prepared to serve in its second.

The National Parks Conservation Association, was quick to praise the Park Service plan as well. The organization’s President, Tom Kiernan, called A Call To Action “a very strong and important step towards ensuring our spectacular national park landscapes, wildlife, and American history and heritage are better protected for future generations.” But the NPCA says that for this plan to succeed, it needs the support of Congress and the President. With a $600 million annual budget shortfall, the Park Service obviously faces serious difficulties in completing its mission on a yearly basis.

U.S. national parks continue to be very popular travel destinations for both Americans and foreign visitors alike. With this plan, the Park Service has set its sights on the future, while identifying its biggest challenges and ways to overcome them. Those challenges, at times, can seem very daunting, but the Park Service, the NPCA, and their partners are prepared to take them on.