Photo of Glacier National Park by National Park Service.

Celebrating 100 years of the National Park Service

By Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell

From the halls of an Arkansas high school that forever changed the course of the nation’s ongoing fight for racial equality to glaciers melting at alarming rates because of climate change in Glacier National Park to the Roosevelt Arch, gateway to America’s first national park — this week I will visit public lands across the country to mark the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

With more than 400 places that make up the most incredible park system on the planet, these natural, historical and cultural treasures show the wide range of what the National Park Service preserves, promotes and protects for future generations to enjoy.

Thursday we will rededicate the Roosevelt Arch in Yellowstone that has witnessed millions of visitors from the furthest reaches of the globe who come to marvel at the majesty of “Wonderland” from sky-high geysers to majestic wildlife.

Yellowstone’s Castle Geyser by Kristi Staebler (www.sharetheexperience.org).

It is fitting to celebrate the National Park Service on its 100th birthday at the first national park, but the Centennial is also an incredible opportunity to foster the next generation of park visitors, advocates and stewards to ensure the National Park Service remains an inspiration to the world — where our nation’s treasures and the places that tell our stories of triumph and struggle welcome visitors from all walks of life.

We have made great strides with President Obama’s Every Kid in a Park initiative that gives 4th graders and their families free access to all public lands across the country, and we have invited every American to get outdoors and #FindYourPark throughout the Centennial year. We also continue our efforts to make national parks relevant to all Americans.

President Obama designated César Chávez National Monument in 2012 to honor the civil rights leader and the farm labor movement. On Wednesday, I will tour the site with Latino leaders and hold a community town hall discussion on ways to engage more diverse audiences.

Some of my favorite moments as Secretary have been spending time with young people on public lands to watch their love of parks grow. In Minnesota on Friday I look forward to getting out on the river with youth from Outdoor Afro in Mississippi National River & Recreation Area — a natural oasis full of wildlife in a densely populated urban area.

Photo of junior rangers with a park ranger by National Park Service (left). Secretary Jewell hugs a young girl at an Every Kid in a Park event at Virgin Island National Park (right). Photo by Tami A. Heilemann, Interior Department.

Our national parks are a living, breathing history book of American culture and heritage. In New York on Monday, I’ll tour the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area to discuss how historic preservation is boosting tourism and fueling local economies, while telling important stories about our journey.

With a nod to the innovative spirit of Thomas Edison National Historical Park and to inspire new generations of park enthusiasts, Monday night we’ll join “Bill Nye the Science Guy” to illuminate the New York City skyline from Brooklyn Bridge Park by controlling the color of the One World Trade Center Spire for the first time ever through interactive, collaborative puzzles on a giant circuit board.

As America’s storyteller, it’s also important for the National Park Service to add new chapters — not just those that make us proud, but also those that teach us painful lessons from which to learn.

At Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, the National Park Service preserves the history of nine high school students who played a crucial role in the desegregation of public schools. I will join two members on Tuesday of the original Little Rock Nine, who personally integrated the then-segregated school, to discuss how far we have come as a country and how far we still have to travel.

National Guard escorts Little Rock Nine into Little Rock Central High School. Photo from National Archives.

In the past year, we have seen President Obama designate Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, which was home to the National Woman’s Party for 90 years and epicenter of the struggle for women’s suffrage and women’s rights. He also designated Stonewall National Monument to preserve the history of the Stonewall uprising — a milestone in the quest for LGBT civil rights that provided momentum for a movement.

Photos of Stonewall National Monument by the Interior Department.

During the next century of conservation, we must also continue to tackle the greatest challenges before us so our grandchildren and future generations can experience the quiet of the night pierced by the howl of wolves that once again roam Yellowstone; feel the first rays of sun while catching the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia; or try in vain to wrap their little arms around the old growth trees in the Pacific Northwest.

Climate change — the most pressing issue of our time — threatens our land and waters in existential ways, with longer, hotter fire seasons, record-breaking droughts, and more frequent and severe superstorms.

Nowhere is this more visible than Glacier National Park where climate change threatens to melt giant masses of ice for which the park is named, potentially within decades. I will tour the park with scientists and stakeholders on Wednesday to better understand how to mitigate against climate change and reverse this dangerous trend.

Grinnell is one of the 25 remaining glaciers in Glacier National Park. Photo by Julie Shoemaker (www.sharetheexperience.org).

All Americans are encouraged to use this special year of the National Park Service’s Centennial to not only reflect on the last 100 years, but use it as a catalyst to make the next century that much brighter.

If we remain committed to doing this, future generations will visit national parks that tell stories as inclusive as our nation is diverse. Our parks will steal their breath as they gaze at amazing landscapes we refused to lose to the devastating effects of climate change. They will be reminded of the struggles our country faced and how we persevered on our march toward a more perfect union.

All Americans — no matter where they come from, how they worship or who they love — will see themselves in these public lands and feel they can take part in caring for these treasured assets as though they were their own, because they are!

When looking back at the past 100 years and all we have accomplished by working together, I’m eternally optimistic about the next century of conservation. I look forward to seeing you outdoors as you #FindYourPark this year and every year to come.