National Parks Gem: San Antonio Missions

The San Antiono Missions National Park is a cultural and historical treasure.The U.S. national parks system certainly isn’t lacking in fantastic destinations for summer escapes. From Yellowstone to Yosemite, there are enough natural and historical wonders to delight and enthrall travelers of all ages. But there are also a number of lesser known parks that are worth visiting as well, offering up their own unique experiences and lasting memories.

Take for example the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Located deep in the heart of Texas, the park is home to four Spanish missions, the first of which was built in 1690, more than 85 years before the United States started down the path to independence. Those missions were originally built to bring Christianity to the local population and prepare them to eventually become Spanish citizens, and they were used for decades in a variety of capacities, even after Spain and Mexico abandoned their claims on the territory.

Located within the park are Mission Espada, Mission Concepción, Mission San José, and Mission San Juan Capistrano. Each has been preserved to one degree or another, and each offers an intriguing look at a chapter in early-American history that is very different from the Colonial Era settings found in the New England states. Visitors can stroll the grounds, discovering what life in, and around the missions, was like in the 18th and 19th centuries, while admiring the historical architecture as well.The missions have played a vital role in the San Antonio community for centuries delivering a religious and cultural impact on the residents that continues even to this day. But they have also proven to be an economic boon as well, as a recent study by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has discovered. According to the study, for every federal dollar invested in the park, $20 in local economic activity is generated. In 2009 for example, $8.2 million in funds from the Park Service, and its local partners, was invested in the park, which created $98.8 million in revenue for the surrounding community and directly impacted more than a 1100 local jobs.

Despite this indelible legacy however, the Missions are facing some challenges to their future. In that same report, the NPCA recommended seven initiatives that if enacted, would help preserve the missions for future generations, while also increasing the economic impact of the park even further. Those recommendations included building a new park headquarters to help enrich the visitors experience, linking the park to the nearby San Antonio river via trails to further connect it to the community, and developing new cultural demonstrations to further immerse visitors in the historical setting. You can read the full NPCA report and recommendations by clicking here.

Like so many of the national parks in the United State, San Antonio Missions is a unique experience unlike any other. It truly is one park that needs to be visited to be fully appreciated. It is a great historical destination that is often overlooked, but when you’re passing through central Texas, take a little time away from the Riverwalk to enjoy a walk of a different kind. One that takes you back through history in a fascinating and unique setting.

[Photo Credit: Liveon001 via WikiMedia]

NPCA outlines challenges, opportunities for Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park is easily one of the most popular and well known destinations in the entire U.S. Each year, more than 4.5 million visitors make the journey to visit the park and take part in some of the outdoor adventures it has to offer, including whitewater rafting, hiking, camping, and more. The Canyon is considered one of the great natural wonders of the world, and the spectacular scenery that is the hallmark of the place, is practically unmatched anywhere else on the planet.

With more than 1.2 million acres of land inside the park boundaries, managing and protecting its considerable resources can be an overwhelming challenge. It was with that in mind that earlier this week the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) released its “State of the Park” report that outlines the challenges and opportunities facing the Grand Canyon in the years ahead. That report identifies such threats as mining and air pollution as potential problems, while citing the opportunity for restoring and protecting the natural habitats of native plant and animal species as an area where improvements can be made.

This new report points to a number of external threats that are obstacles to the future health of the Grand Canyon and its surrounding environments. Amongst those threats are air pollution from cities as far away as 100 miles which will have an impact on scenic vistas and possibly the health of visitors. Noise pollution has also become an issue, as the airspace above the canyon is often crowded with traffic with both commercial and scenic flights crossing over head. Perhaps the greatest of these external threats however, is ongoing mining activities in the lands adjacent to the park. Those activities could result in the contamination of both the environment and the watershed in the region, having a detrimental effect that could take decades to reverse.
Not surprisingly, the park is also facing severe financial shortfalls in its operating budget. While this is a common story in these troubled economic times, the NPCA’s report states that the Grand Canyon needs an additional $6.2 million in annual funding just to support the basic day-to-day operations of the park. While that is a large number of course, it pales in comparison to the $300 million in park maintenance that has been backlogged for lack of funds to address the issues.

As a response to their findings, the NPCA is recommending a number of changes to help preserve the park for future generations. For instance, they believe that changes to the flow of the river would help prevent erosion and promote the return of natural resources, including plant and animal life, to the canyon. They also recommend giving the Park Service the authority to manage the airspace above the park, restricting the number of flights that pass over head in an attempt to keep certain areas quiet. Perhaps most important of all, the report requests an act of Congress to permanently protect sensitive lands around the park from all future mining activities.

The national parks have been called “America’s best idea” and the Grand Canyon is chief amongst them. As one of the crown jewels in the entire system, it deserves to be protected and managed for future travelers to enjoy, which is exactly what the NPCA hopes to ensure with this report and its recommendations. There are significant threats to the park’s environment, but by identifying those challenges now and preparing to meet them head on, the Grand Canyon can remain one of the top adventure destinations in the entire world.

To read a summary of the NPCA’s report click here. For the complete 82-page report click here.

[Photo credit: David Jolley via WikiMedia]