August 25, 2020
The lands that inspire us with dramatic views, intense colors, and endless striking landscapes unite us. Today we celebrate the National Park Service’s 104th birthday, an impressive signal to the world that we have protected these lands and will continue to do so. As the chaotic world throws many curveballs at us, we can reflect knowing the outdoors is a place for togetherness, a space to gain perspective, a chance to disconnect from the mayhem, and a setting to absorb the beauty of nature. The National Park Service offers a realm of resources to keep these beautiful acres protected and ensures that future generations will get to enjoy them. As we celebrate this wonderful agency, we must also acknowledge the history that has led us to where we are today.
A little over a century ago, Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service. This agency embodied the mission to conserve the unique landscapes of the U.S. and hoped to create an unimpaired experience for future generations to enjoy. In the era of Transcendentalism, people perceived nature in a new way, desiring to explore the untouched wilderness, leading a path for many people to support the NPS. While this excerpt is the simplest summary of events, the process of “preserving” this land caused many people to lose their homes. The early events to protect the outdoors, unfortunately, created a precedent of excluding people. Yellowstone was the first signal to encourage this exclusive behavior. When the Yellowstone Act passed, Congress gave 2.2 million of “uninhabited” acres to the American public, but indisputably the land had a total of 26 indigenous tribes, who were pushed to the side for the creation of this national park.
The process of creating the parks paralleled much of the United States’ history. The government excused the behavior of removing people from their homes by creating false narratives about the Native American populations and offering generalized statements about protecting the land for the greater good. While this history is not unique to the National Park Service, it is something to note when looking at the demographics of who currently use these parks, and furthermore creates the opportunity to develop a more inclusive space.
Despite the discouraging beginnings of these protected lands, today the National Park Service manages 84 million acres across all U.S. states and territories and offers people the opportunity to experience nature in its purest form. NPS additionally has an Office of Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion (RDI). Their mission is “to champion for an organizational culture that is increasingly inclusive and participatory, which values the diverse ideas, experience, and background of every individual.” They hope to increase awareness of the parks and give every individual reason to create a personal connection with these lands. They wish to incorporate people of various backgrounds and perspectives throughout the organization to ensure NPS is developing the best thinking possible. And finally, they desire to create a culture that is flexible to each individuals’ values and ideas, creating a space for meaningful participation by everyone. Additionally, NPS created the #findyourpark campaign to encourage people of all different backgrounds to find what adventure would be perfect for them.
While the inception of NPS wasn’t intended to be overly inclusive, their current strides aim to embody the idea that nature should be enjoyed by all. With heightened awareness of disparity in the outdoors, many industries, including outdoor companies, are not immune to the anti inclusion claims. As Black Lives Matter gained a significant voice in 2020, many people targeted companies lacking diversity, and the outdoors community showcased an evident lack of inclusion. While many activists and POC have noticed this disparity for years, this event caused many individuals to see for the first time the stark contrast in demographic representation in the outdoors world.
With the momentum of BLM, the increased social media use due to CoronaVirus, and the national parks needing our help, right now is the perfect time to address these issues, while including others to join the fight. Outdoor sports and spaces are filled with white faces, creating an extremely exclusive environment. For years, brands have chosen lifestyle ambassadors with a specific look, excluding most people from van life aspirations. National park's attendance demographics severely lack many minorities, creating an opportunity to improve education and inclusion strategies. There is a clear interest in nature, a desire to protect the outdoors, and reason to celebrate the National Park Service’s years of land conservation, but there is also a major opportunity to get more people involved.
The era of the modern outdoors is here. This space aims to be a place where everyone feels included, every group has a place to enjoy nature freely, and together a team of environmentally active warriors is ready to fight. Most people who enjoy the outdoors have come to the consensus that the powers of nature are grounding, exhilarating, and an experience that everyone should have. So while we celebrate another year of NPS creating resources to include and diversify their crowds, what can we do to give back to NPS and how can we engage more people to care about these lands?
Here are four gifts we can give to NPS to thank them for aiming to develop an inclusive outdoor space:
Buy Someone a National Park Pass: Including others to join in the beauty of nature will not only be an exceptional gift for this person to experience, but will allow this individual to build a personal connection with the parks, and hopefully create a desire within them to protect these lands. Buying a pass for a friend will not only encourage them to explore but might be the reason they want to protect the outdoors. The America the Beautiful Pass is $80 and will allow a person to explore all the parks without having to worry about entrance fees.
Donate in Honor of Someone:Whether you want to thank the person that first showed you the outdoors, or are inspired by an outdoor hero, donating to NPS could be the reason they will continue to have enough funding to offer supportive resources. These resources not only ensure the beauty of these lands are kept intact, but that people of all backgrounds will be encouraged to visit the parks. You can donate here, having the options to donate monthly or make a one-time donation.
Follow Your Passion and Volunteer:NPS offers a range of volunteer options, whether you want to assist in trail maintenance, write articles for their websites, or take photos for their social media, NPS offers incredible experiences to directly work with the parks. You can feel great following your passion and knowing your work is directly helping NPS continue to create an inclusive environment for all.
Purchase Something While Giving Back: There are many incredible brands creating high-quality products, apparel, and experiences that give a percentage back to these parks with each purchase. These brands not only increase awareness of the parks but allow you to buy something awesome while doing so. National Park Posters designs beautiful prints to purchase of each park and donates 10% of annual profits to various associations supporting the parks. National Park Coffee Co gives you the chance to experience a national park inspired roast while utilizing a portion of profits to educating underserved communities with local area nonprofits and supporting these beautiful protected lands. Good & Well Supply Co creates heavenly smelling candles representing the scents of each park and supports the National Park Foundation with each sale.
As we celebrate the National Park Service’s 104th year, reflect on the history of this agency, and look forward to the possibility of an incredible future, we join together acknowledging that we must protect the fragile environment of these lands and must invite others to join the fight. Buy someone a national park pass, make a monthly donation, gift someone with awesome gear from a small business, share the information you know, and invite someone to go on an epic national park journey, because without NPS we cannot promise future generations the same incredible landscapes that we have experienced.