Nature Valley kicks off 2011 Preserve the Parks campaign

As we’ve mentioned on several occasions recently, Saturday kicked off National Parks Week here in the U.S. To help celebrate, Nature Valley, in conjunction with the National Parks Conservation Association, launched their 2011 Preserve the Parks campaign in the beautiful desert near Joshua Tree in California.

Nature Valley started the campaign last year after their customers expressed how much they loved the national parks. In 2010, the Preserve the Parks program raised $400,000 for the NPCA, with those funds going directly to protect national parks from a variety of threats. The 2011 edition of Preserve the Parks hopes to raise even more money, while also taking a more direct, active role in the preservation of these fantastic natural spaces.

This year, Preserve the Parks has a charismatic and charming spokesman to help spread the word about the campaign. Josh Holloway, who played Sawyer on the television show Lost, is an avid outdoorsman who also happens to love America’s national parks. He was on hand for the kickoff event this past weekend to not only help get the festivities underway, but to also get a little dirty too. Holloway joined a host of volunteers who went to work building trails and helping to protect the habitat of desert tortoises that inhabit the region around Joshua Tree.I had the opportunity to chat with Josh on several occasions throughout the day and came away quite impressed. This isn’t the case of a celebrity spokesperson slapping their name on a project and paying lip service to it. Josh truly does have a love for the outdoors and was eager to lend a hand in the actual physical work of the day. For most of the morning he had a shovel, rake, or other tool in his hand, and was doing his part alongside the rest of the volunteers who were there to take part in a restoration project.

Despite the warm weather (temperatures approached 95 degrees Fahrenheit) the Nature Valley event drew an impressive turnout from volunteers. After a brief orientation about the area, including instructions on how to avoid stepping on a tortoise den, we were off on a mile long hike to the various work sites. Once there, we broke into teams that took on a variety of projects that included clearing trails of plants and other debris to more clearly define where to walk, as well as restructuring part of the landscape to allow water to flow naturally, without causing undue erosion. These simple efforts can go a long way toward protecting the area and ensuring that those who visit it can pass through without endangering the creatures that live there.

Nature Valley has a number of other similar events planned for the summer ahead, when the program will really kick into high gear. Those events will take place in Yellowstone, Acadia, Biscayne and several other national parks. Details on those events has yet to be completed, but you can watch the Preserve the Parks website for details on when they’ll be occurring and how you might be able to join in.

National Parks Week is a time that is dedicated to celebrating the spectacular natural beauty that exists inside America’s wilderness wonderlands. It is also a great time to acknowledge some of the threats that face the parks, such as environmental concerns, land management issues, lack of funding, and more. Organizations like Nature Valley and the NPCA recognize the importance of the parks on American culture and are working hard to protect them for future generations to enjoy as well. Programs such as the Preserve the Parks campaign are a perfect model of how businesses, non-profits, and grassroots activists can all work together to improve and protect the parks.

This trip was payed for by Nature Valley, but the ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.

National parks are free again next weekend!

Next weekend, August 14-15, is the third, and final, fee free weekend in America’s national parks for 2010. For those two days, more than 100 of the parks will open their gates to the public at no cost, giving visitors a chance to experience “America’s best idea” for themselves.

The complete list of parks that will be waiving their entry fees can be found by clicking here. That list includes such spectacular icons as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Acadia, as well as lesser known, but no less amazing, parks like Big Bend, the Dry Tortugas, and Crater Lake. All told, more than 40 states are represented on the list, which means there is a national park or monument that will be free to visit next weekend near just about everyone in the U.S.

The fee free weekends have been very popular that past few years, and crowds in the parks will no doubt be high. But if you can’t make it out to your favorite national park on the 14th or 15th, never fear, as there are still two more fee free days to come in 2010. On Saturday, Sept. 25th, the parks will be free in celebration of Public Lands Day and then once again on Thursday, Nov. 11th, in honor of Veteran’s Day.

With summer quickly coming to a close, take advantage of this last fee free weekend of the year for some outdoor fun and adventure.

[Photo credit: National Park Service]

Acadia Night Sky Festival scheduled for early September

The second annual Acadia Night Sky Festival is scheduled to take place in Bar Harbor, Maine this September, offering a chance for stargazers to take in the most spectacular views of the night sky along the entire eastern seaboard – from one of the most spectacular national parks in the entire U.S. no less. The event will offer both day and night time activities, with plenty to offer the entire family.

Official activities will get underway on Thursday, September 9th with a panel discussion, photography workshop, and stargazing at the Jackson Laboratory. The festival really gets going on Friday, September 10th however and will continue through the weekend, ending with the sunrise creeping over the 1532 foot tall Cadillac Summit on the morning of Monday, September 13th. In between, you’ll find seminars on understanding our universe, photography exhibitions and classes, picnics, star parties, and much more. Some of the events will be conducted by rangers from Acadia National Park who will offer insights into how to navigate by the stars and what it’s like in the park after the sun goes down.

The festival is used to raise awareness of the increase of light pollution in the U.S. as it is a celebration of the wonderful night skies over Maine, which has the most star filled skies east of the Mississippi River. With urban sprawl continuing to grow, and more urban centers sending light into the heavens, our views of the stars are becoming more and more impeded all the time. The Acadia Night Sky Festival hopes to remind us just how amazing those views above us really are.

Obamas visit Acadia National Park this weekend

Last summer the First Family spent some of their vacation time in Yellowstone National Park, one of the most popular and iconic parks in the entire U.S. system. It seems Barack, Michelle, and the girls enjoyed their visit so much that they decided to check out another one of the amazing national parks, this time opting to spend the weekend in Acadia National Park, just outside Bar Harbor, Maine.

The Obamas arrived in Bar Harbor yesterday and had a full day of activities already planned. Upon arrival, they immediately went for a bike ride along a secluded trail that had been cleared by a team of park rangers and the Secret Service. After that, it was off to the top of Cadillac Mountain, which offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside from its 1530 foot summit. Later, the foursome would explore Frenchman Bay by boat, although that tour was cut short when bad weather moved in. The rest of the weekend will be filled with similar outdoor activities, with some quiet relaxation mixed in as well.

Acadia is a wonderful destination for those looking for an active escape. The park offers great road cycling routes, fantastic sea kayaking, and some of the best hiking in the northeast. For the more adventurous, the granite cliffs make for great climbing and the backwoods camping offers plenty of peace and solitude, even when you don’t have your own Secret Service agents to clear the area.

If the park is good enough for the First Family, it’s probably good for yours too.

[Photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak]

Canon offering free photography workshops in national parks this summer

Camera manufacturer Canon is preparing to hold a series of digital photography workshops in several national parks this summer beginning in Yosemite this June. Those workshops will run from the 7th through the 28th, before moving on to the Grand Canyon National Park in July, then on to Yellowstone and Acadia National Park in August. You can check the full schedule of locations, dates and times, by clicking here.

The workshops will be led by teams of professional photographers, who will share a host of tips to improve your photography skills, including how to get the best outdoor scenery shots possible. Best of all, the workshops are absolutely free, and you don’t even need to bring your own camera equipment if you don’t want to. Canon will have several of their own DSLR models, as well as a variety of lenses, on hand for you to test drive.

Each of the parks will offer their respective workshops on a variety of days and times, but generally there are options for morning, afternoon, and evening sessions. Check the schedule for the park you intend to visit to find the time that works best for you. It is also recommended that you get there 15-30 minutes early, as the photos courses are expected to fill up quickly.

And when you’re done with the workshop, and you’ve captured that perfect photo, you can enter it into the Canon Photography in the Parks contest. All landscape and wildlife photos are eligible, and the winner gets an all expense paid trip for two to a national or state park, and a Canon photography package that includes a Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM kit lens, and a Pixima Pro9500 Mark II photo printer.

[Photo Credit: Mila Zinkova]