This Land Is Your Land: Why National Parks Matter

Our national parks are public treasures that provide more than a window to our past or a means to preserve the natural bounty within them. They’re some of the most beautiful places on Earth, where you can rekindle your sense of awe and adventure.

  • Yellowstone National Park
    Grand Prismatic Spring; Yellowstone National Park; Wyoming
  • Mount McKinley
    Mount McKinley; Denali National Park and Preserve; Alaska
  • Grand Canyon National Park
    Grand Canyon National Park
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park
    Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • National Park of American Samoa
    National Park of American Samoa
  • Big Bend National Park
    Big Bend National Park
  • Acadia National Park
    Sunrise on Eagle Lake; Acadia National Park; Maine
  • Young Grizzly
    A young grizzly rests on a piece of driftwood in Katmai National Park in Alaska. National park habitats have been crucial to the survival of these bears and other American wildlife.
  • Yosemite National Park
    Yosemite National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
    Bryce Canyon National Park

  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Mount McKinley
  • Grand Canyon National Park
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • National Park of American Samoa
  • Big Bend National Park
  • Acadia National Park
  • Young Grizzly
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park

Last week, I had to step off the trail I was on to let a band of bighorn sheep rams go by. It was a beautiful route. No matter which way it turned, it led through wildflowers that all but buried the mountainsides in avalanches of color. Golden eagles sailed among the summits. Patches of sun spotlighted waterfalls on the cliffs below. The world seemed in mint condition. I breathed it in deeply and felt recharged. Topped off with hope. Unbounded. And all I’d done was go for a walk in the park.

Much of the pleasure of being there lay in knowing that everything within view belonged to me — because this was Glacier National Park, a U.S. national park. We the people essentially own 58 national parks. Gifts from previous generations, these special reserves of public land encompass nearly 52 million acres of the country’s most spectacular natural settings and intact wildlife communities. They will be one of the most valuable legacies we bequeath in turn to those who follow in an increasingly crowded world.

More Than Money Can Buy

People say that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. National parks are an exception. If you were the richest, most powerful person on Earth, nothing you could ever possess would outshine this treasury of permanently protected canyons, rivers, prairies, beaches, ancient forests and ice-sculpted summits that the most ordinary U.S. citizen inherits. There may be a more perfect expression of democracy. Offhand, I can’t think of what it would be.

When I stayed on Isle au Haut, part of Maine’s Acadia National Park, I liked to glide along the coast in a rowboat with only my thoughts and silent tendrils of fog for company. My favorite thing to do, though, was ramble the shores with my wife, showing our infant daughter the universe of creatures in a tide pool or eider ducks and gray seals out among the waves.

In Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, we explored orange sandstone mountains eroded into a maze of fins. Our daughter was leading the way now, with a younger brother in tow, scouting for crevices wide enough for us adults to squeeze through. At a visitor center, we found out that the crust atop the desert floor wasn’t formed by minerals but, instead, by a webwork of fungi, algae, bacteria and other microbes. What looked like dark varnish on sun-struck rocks turned out to be a product of bacterial colonies that concentrate manganese. The lesson? Even the barest-looking ground can be teeming with wildlife — it just happens to be mostly too small to see.

As the kids transformed into organisms hardly anyone understands — teenagers — we flew halfway around the world to the South Pacific Islands and one of the U.S. park system’s more recent and innovative units — the 10,500-acre National Park of American Samoa. A little more than three-quarters of the park is lush rain forest and cloud forest. The rest is underwater in the form of a multihued marinescape of coral.

3/18/2019 3:24:51 PM

The senior pass increased last year, but it's still a great buy, and lasts a also includes taking in a total of 5 relatives. Why did the price of the Senior Pass increase? The price of the America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass increased as result of the Centennial Legislation P.L. 114-289 passed by the US Congress on December 16, 2016. When was the last time the price increased for the Senior Pass? The Senior Pass has been $10 since 1994. How much did it increase? The lifetime Senior Pass increased from $10 to $80.

8/1/2012 3:29:48 AM

The National Parks are spectacular! I didn't see them until I was an adult. It is awesome to share them w/my son. I totally agree, the best idea America ever had.

Rick Casey
6/4/2012 5:08:44 PM

It is a shame that the UN owns several of them that were given to them in leiu of our annual payments to continue to be a member of that organization.



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