Celebrate Your National Parks During National Park Week

By Charissa Hipp, Girls Who Hike Maryland Ambassador

Every year for one week in April, the National Park Service (NPS) and the National Park Foundation join forces to celebrate America’s best idea. National Park Week, April 21-29, is the perfect time to visit parks, explore stories of history and culture, attend special programs and #FindYourPark.


History of the NPS

The mission of the National Park Service is to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations. The agency, a federal bureau in the Department of the Interior, has been entrusted with the care of our national parks since 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act into law. The Organic Act created the agency for the purpose of protecting the 35 national parks and monuments that already existed as well as those yet to be established.

Today the National Park System covers more than 84 million acres and is comprised of more than 400 sites. There are at least 19 different designations in the National Park System. While most are familiar with many of the 59 iconic national parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Canyon, there are also historical parks and sites, national monuments, battlefields and military parks, preserves, recreation areas, seashores, parkways, lakeshores, reserves and more. The NPS also helps administer dozens of affiliated sites through programs like the National Register of Historic Places, National Heritage Areas, National Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Historic Landmarks and National Trails.


More than 20,000 permanent, temporary and seasonal workers in green and gray are employed by the National Park Service to manage, operate and protect the parks as well as the nearly 900 visitor centers and visitor contact stations. The NPS has more than 500 concession contracts to provide visitors with food, lodging, transportation, shops and other services. Upwards of 275 million people visit NPS sites each year.

National Park Week 2018

The theme for this year’s National Park Week is “Park Stars,” celebrating everything from starry skies to superstar volunteers, park features and resources. Saturday, April 21, the first day of National Park Week, is one of only four fee free days in 2018. All entrance fees are waived on fee-free days, but amenity and user fees for activities such as camping, boat launches, transportation and special tours are not covered.


National Park Week kicks off on April 21 with National Junior Ranger Day. The Junior Ranger Program is a great way to explore national parks no matter what age you are! When visiting an NPS site, be sure to ask the rangers what you can do to earn a Junior Ranger badge. Some special limited-edition National Junior Ranger Day buttons will be available for National Junior Ranger Day. The NPS will also celebrate Volunteer Day on April 21 in recognition of the nearly 400,000 volunteers who provide more than 8 million hours of volunteer services each year.


This year marks the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System and the Wild & Scenic Rivers System. The National Park Service will celebrate that anniversary on Sunday, April 22, which is also Earth Day. Along with its partners the NPS is inviting visitors to #FindYourWay -- explore America’s national scenic, recreational and historic trails and wild and scenic rivers as well as all rivers and trails in your neighborhood.


On Saturday, April 28, the National Park Service will celebrate Military & Veteran Recognition Day. The NPS is connected to our nation’s military, both past and present. The agency employs over 5,800 active-duty military and veterans in a wide array of careers. NPS units like military parks, historic sites and battlefields interpret military actions from the past. Today those sites provide staff rides for military students to train at those same places, connecting them with stories and tactics from the past. The NPS also honors military service by hosting ceremonies upon request.

National Park RX Day is planned for Sunday, April 29. Park Rx (prescriptions) are collaborative programs with healthcare providers and community partners to improve individual and community health by utilizing parks, trails and open spaces. This day is celebrated throughout the United States to promote the growing movement of prescribing parks and nature to patients to improve health.

Spending time in nature, or getting Vitamin N(ature)  has been proven to improve your mood; combat obesity by increasing physical activity; improving physical, mental and spiritual health; fostering social connections among friends, family and community; providing physical, cognitive and social benefits for children through active play and more. Give yourself the gift of good health by getting to one of your local NPS sites for National Park Rx Day.


Looking Forward

The National Park Service celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2016. It joined forces with the National Park Foundation to launch the #FindYourPark public engagement campaign, designed to help people discover their own personal connections to parks. Kicking off its second century, the NPS remains committed to its original mission - to maintaining and protecting our national parks for the continued benefit and enjoyment of all Americans.

The National Park Service faces a multitude of challenges now and in the years ahead. Adequate funding is one of the most talked about issues. Our parks are dealing with less than optimum funding which translates to less staffing, programs and services. At the same time they are facing record visitation and trying to address the $11.3 billion backlog of deferred maintenance projects. With recent talk of increased entrance fees during peak season at the most visited parks, there is a great deal of concern about pricing some families out of their parks. Other concerns include oil and gas drilling at park borders and shorelines, removal of federal protections on wildlife such as grizzly bears and wolves, and changes in borders of national monuments.


Our National Parks belong to all of us and we must continue to preserve and protect these magnificent places for future generations. National Park Week is the perfect time to visit favorite parks or parks you’ve never been to. From April 21-29 there are countless opportunities across the country at more than 400 national park sites to join an event or simply enjoy the great outdoors. Visit the National Park Week calendar online or check with your local parks for details about special events. Celebrate America’s best idea and #FindYourPark!

Additionally, Girls Who Hike will be celebrating our favorite National Parks all week long on our blog!

Charissa is the ambassador for our Maryland chapter. You can join her local meetups and discussions through the Maryland chapter by clicking here. To become a member of Girls Who Hike, click here.