The National Park Service Centennial: Reflecting on the past and looking towards the future

By Andy French and Darien Davis

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS), the agency that protects many of the most stunning natural wonders of our country. From the Statue of Liberty to the Great Smoky Mountains to Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, national parks preserve countless pieces of history, breathtaking landscapes and iconic wildlife. The first national park, Yellowstone, was established by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. Since then, 57 more national parks have become a part of a system often described as “America’s Best Idea.”

In addition to national parks, the NPS manages more than 350 national monuments and historic and cultural sites across the country. Each place helps tell the unique stories of those who have fought tirelessly to make our nation a better place. The stories to tell are endless, and our system of parks continues to grow. Just yesterday, to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service, President Obama expanded our nation’s parks by designating the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine’s iconic North Woods.

As we look back on the past century of our nation’s parks, it gives us a great opportunity to reflect and think about what the next 100 years of our parks will look like and how we can ensure that we continue to meet the needs of an ever-evolving society.

Fortunately, President Obama has been forward thinking in his approach to conservation and protecting new parks for future generations to enjoy. As president, he has permanently protected more land and water than any other administration in history, and he has worked to build a more inclusive system of parks by protecting places like the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument here in DC, the Stonewall National Monument in New York City, and many more.

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Stonewall National Monument in New York City

Of course, there’s more work to be done. There are several more special places around the country that need to be preserved. And, as a recent report from the Center for American Progress underscores, we must do more to ensure that underserved communities have access to the outdoors and that parks and monuments tell the stories of all people.

Earlier this week, LCV joined Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Dina Titus (D-NV) and Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) for a tele-press conference to mark the centennial of the National Park Service and call for the protection of three incredible areas in the desert southwest.

The proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument in Arizona, for instance, would help to permanently protect the 1.7 million acres of land and waters surrounding the Grand Canyon National Park, including sites sacred to Native Americans, sensitive habitats and historic places. As ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee, Congressman Grijalva has been a leading voice in establishing the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument. This monument is supported by regional tribes and people in Arizona and across the county.

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Gold Butte in southern Nevada

Another historic area deserving of national monument recognition is the Gold Butte region in southern Nevada. This area is Nevada’s piece of the Grand Canyon and would conserve the unique scenery, wildlife and cultural heritage as well as the historic and prehistoric resources in southern Nevada. Gold Butte is home to wildlife and incredible petroglyphs, where visitors can go hiking, hunting and birdwatching while learning about this historic mining town from the early 1900’s. Unfortunately, this historic landscape is under constant threat from looting, vandalism and desecration. Luckily, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), Congresswoman Titus and people all over Nevada and the Southwest are working to permanently protect Gold Butte for generations to come.

In El Paso, Texas, the Castner Range — 7,000 acres of land located at the heart of the Franklin Mountains — is another public space that must be permanently protected. The range, which is famous for scenic views of beautiful orange poppies, also served as a military training area up until the end of the Vietnam War. Congressman O’Rourke along with community leaders, local businesses, conservation groups and neighborhood associations all support designating the Castner Range National Monument because it will preserve this pristine landscape that has significant archaeological sites, historic resources and provides an outdoor escape for the surrounding urban areas. The Castner Range National Monument would provide countless opportunities for leisure, exercise and outdoor education. In addition, the Casnter Range would establish additional opportunities for the predominantly Mexican-American surrounding community to access the outdoors.

LCVEF looks forward to working with these parks leaders and others in Congress and the administration who are working to preserve pieces of history across our nation for future generations, and we hope that more of their colleagues will follow suit. For the next hundred years, we must maintain our public lands and make sure that additional sites receive the protection that they deserve.