Crater Lake National Park

Thoughts of Conservation And National Parks Week

Saturday, the 16th, marks the beginning of National Park Week in the US, which lasts til April 24th.

Every year I mention National Park Week… but it occurred to me (not for the first time) that this might not always be such a great idea. Not because we should not learn about the parks, or what they stand for. Not even because we shouldn’t visit the parks.

But with the larger visibility come more visitors. Often more than a more popular park is able to handle. Especially during National Park Week. I often feel when visiting during “rush-hour” or “rush-week” we actually might hurt the sites the park system is trying to protect.

Of course, park rangers know this, the park system knows this. Still, we celebrate National Park Week. Because it raises awareness. Not only about the parks themselves, but about the need to protect them, to protect nature, and historical sites.

Mount Rainier National Park
“This is Paradise!” – Mount Rainier in August

National Parks – Why They Exist

Though National Park Week is really only about US National Parks, National Parks exist in almost every country in the world. The idea of National Parks as they are today originated in the US, with Yellowstone. At least that it the most prevalent idea. Indeed, Yellowstone has been a National Park since 1872.

However, the idea of a protected natural site originated much earlier, most likely in Mongolia. The Bogd-Khan Mountain was officially designated as protected since 1778, and had protected status even earlier, since the 12th century, according to UNESCO.

Regardless who was first, the idea of National Parks originated from the need to protect natural sites. In the United States and Canada, they tend to focus on protecting both land and wildlife, in the United Kingdom they focus mainly on land, while in Africa they focus mainly on wildlife. Most other countries also have national parks or nature reserves, including Mexico, where I visited a few, and Romania, where I grew up (one of them is Turda Gorge).

I Wish We Didn’t Need National Parks – But I Am Grateful They Exist

Though a great idea, having National Parks around the world wasn’t enough. As many parks as we have around the world, they are not enough.

We should have designated our whole planet a protected area. It is sad to realize that we actually needed to designate protected areas. And who are we protecting them from? That is the saddest part of it all. We need to protect nature from ourselves.

How nice it would be if we didn’t even need the National Parks? If we all knew from the very beginning to live in harmony with nature, to protect what we have, everywhere, not only in designated areas.

I would love if everywhere we went, nature and wildlife would be protected, or not even need protection, since we would live with them without harming them. But as it’s not the case, the National Parks offer an alternative.

Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon

National Parks in the US

Still, I love the National Parks. I visit as many of them as possible with my family. We always buy a yearly pass, and support the Park System as much as possible. And, obviously, I write about them a lot. Not only about the parks I visit myself, but I also ask others to contribute and talk about their favorite National Parks, in the winter or in the spring

In the past decade or so I’ve seen a trend in the US of the National Parks becoming more and more popular. And not only the biggest names, or best-known parks. This is great news, especially when you consider the awareness the parks raise about the importance of protecting pristine lands, wildlife, historical and archaeological sites.

I’ve learned so much about different environments, geology, natural history, archaeology, and even paleontology from our visits to different National Parks over the decades. They were especially beneficial for my kids, who learned from early on to enjoy and protect our environment. But these benefits, if only available in National Parks, proved not to be enough.

As may people as visit National Parks, it still seems not enough of them learn what the parks are there to teach. And many don’t have the chance to go… Expanding protected areas beyond National Parks seems like the way to go forward. National Parks are proving that people visit pristine lands, which is another benefit of the park system.

In the meantime though, the National Parks in the US at least, are overtaxed, especially during National Park Week when even more people than usual take the opportunity to visit them. For many parks, those visits might include long lines for parking lots and bathrooms, and crowded scenic viewing areas.

Diablo Lake, North Cascades National Park

The Paradox of National Parks – and How It’s Often Solved

National Parks need all those visitors, they need tourism for revenue. Unfortunately, we live in societies where we can do nothing without money – not even protect our lands – , and the budgets from the government is not enough to keep the parks clean and operating.

But when too many people visit, we inevitable ruin at least parts of the parks. Visitor Centers, gift shops, restaurants, hotels, parking lots all take away from the protected land. And the cars pollute the environment in the parks.

However, if most of these places would not be protected, mining companies and oil companies would ruin them. So our footprints, even when we are talking millions of them, still cause much less damage.

Besides, visitors spread awareness about the natural environment, learn to appreciate wilderness areas and are more likely to protect them.

Still, the paradox remains: too many visitors might ruins the parks, but without them, the parks might cease to exist. So the National Park System is coming up with ideas to solve this problem.

Most parks limit the places tourists can visit, leaving huge areas totally wild, undeveloped, untouched. This is the case in the North Cascades National Park, where we can only visit a small percentage of the park, at least without backcountry hiking and camping.

For the most popular parks, the US Park System came up with an added way to prevent congestion. They introduced the reservation system, where potential visitors need to buy a reservation ahead of time to enter the park. Since they only give out a certain number of them for any given day, it reduces the number of visitors in the park. We experienced this in Yosemite last year, and I noticed the system’s effectiveness.

Another thing they implemented years ago at the Grand Canyon, Zion, and several other parks, is the shuttle system. Most of the park is closed to car traffic, visitors required to ride a free shuttle, walk, or – in the Grand Canyon at least – rent a bike. Shuttles run on natural gas, so they don’t pollute.

Grand Canyon South Rim 1

How To Celebrate National Parks Week

Every year, the National Park Week has a different theme. In 2022, the theme was “sPark Connections”. Each day of the National Parks Week visitors (and virtual visitors) can sPark a connection with the park system, through differen themes.

The weeklong celebration of National Parks starts with a park free day on Saturday, April 16th this year. This is the day anyone can visit a National Park without paying a fee. My family usually avoids visiting on this day, but when we were young and broke, it was an opportunity for us to visit a park. So I still see it as an opportunity for people who can’t afford the entrance fee, to enjoy a park.

Throughout the week, parks offer other activities, geared towards different groups. Sunday is sPark creativity day, encouraging everyone to create something inspired by a National Park. Other themes include sPark Collaboration, Innovation, Opportunities, Preservation, Action, Curiosity, and Memories.

Even without visiting a park, we can participate in any of these events.

Visit a National Park – But Try To Find A Lesser-Known One

Scattered petrified log pieces in Crystal Forest

And visit a National Park during this week, or any time. However, especially during National Park Week, as a challenge, find the least-visited, the least known one in the area you live.

In Arizona, opt for the more remote Petrified Forest National Park, instead of the Grand Canyon, for example. I still notice more visitors in even the most remote parks than we’ve seen two or three decades ago, but they still don’t get as a congested as the best-known ones.

The US has over 400 National Parks (and Monuments), we all have plenty to choose from. You can search the NPS website for parks in your state or the neighboring states. Find one you haven’t heard of before, and visit that one instead of the one everyone knows about.

Regardless how you celebrate, enjoy National Park Week, and help raise awareness about the parks and what they stand for: preserve our environment.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.