My family visited Shenandoah National Park recently, renting a rustic cabin from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. For those of you who have forgone running water and electricity with an infant in tow, you understand this is no small commitment. But we all made it through happily.
There must be something in air this summer, because the First Family flew to Maine recently for an outdoor weekend vacation at Acadia National Park, the iconic end of the line for the Appalachian Trail. More and more people are visiting the great green outdoors. If you haven’t already made plans to visit a national park this summer, it’s the perfect time.
July, designated as National Park and Recreation Month by Congress, salutes the vital role of parks and recreation: How they help us establish and maintain a healthy quality of life, and contribute to the physical, economic and environmental well-being of communities. Since 1985, this month has been a chance to showcase our national parks.
Green and Volunteer Vacations
National parks are a uniquely American creation. They are truly the first foray into what is now called ecotourism. But more simply, they remain one of the best ways to vacation in nature.
After a decade of decline, attendance at national parks shot up sharply in 2009 to almost record numbers—ten million more people visited national parks last year than in 2008. People are once again seeking out greener pastures (and forests and deserts) for their vacations. And vacations aren’t just what they used to be.
Organizations are connecting with vacationers across the country—and the world—for nature cleanups, preservation projects, and to help promote local, sustainable practices. Volunteer vacations are a growing trend and parks in the US are becoming popular destinations. The Ecology Project International‘s Yellowstone program for teens saw a near doubling of participation by students, who take on conservation work at the park.
USA Today posted a great article to get you started on a national park volunteer vacation.
No matter where you choose to vacation, our national parks and refuges are a treasure. My family tries to get out into the woods as often as possible, and our son is working on filling up his National Wildlife Refuge Passport. With 552 National Wildlife Refuges, he has a long way to go. It’s for his generation that we try to travel with five goals:
- Go local, Go green. By supporting local businesses committed to sustainable and indigenous practices, and researching hotels and tour companies that have ecotourism policies and standards in place, we are doing our part to create a market for green vacations.
- Choose green activities. We make use of the parks and their surroundings on our vacations by biking, hiking, whitewater rafting and kayaking, among other outdoor activities.
- Pack in, pack out. We leave as little a footprint as possible, so others might enjoy the same surroundings for years to come. We work to stay on trails, not to leave garbage, and respect the local environment.
- Offset the vacation. I like using such services as Carbonfund.org where we can make sure our vacation is green by offsetting carbon emissions for travel.
- Support conservation. By donating to organizations working to conserve national parks and wildlife refuges before we visit, we can empower a force of local volunteers and Federal workers to continue to give their all to make the places visited safe and green for generations to come.
What can you do?
The First Family’s next trip will be down to the Gulf for a volunteer vacation of their own. Visit our Facebook page to learn more about some work that’s been done right now to protect the eight national parks and 33 wildlife refuges along the Gulf of Mexico threatened by the BP oil spill. Search our database for a local “friends” organization of your parks. Or check out some of these national organizations working to benefit parks and refuges:
- National Park Foundation – For more than a century, private philanthropy has been essential to the preservation and protection of America’s national parks. The National Park Foundation upholds this commitment, working to raise the funds necessary to connect all Americans to their national parks and guarantee their future for generations to come. They recently launched a special fund to help the Gulf in the aftermath of oil spill and to assist sustained recovery efforts.
- National Recreation & Park Association – NRPA is the leading advocacy organization dedicated to the advancement of public parks and recreation opportunities. Founded in 1965 through the merger of five national organizations dedicated to the same cause, NRPA has grown over the years —in total membership, in outreach efforts, in building partnerships, and in serving as the voice and defender of parks and recreation. This year, they’re encouraging all to “Celebrate, Advocate and Recreate!”
- National Park Trust, Inc. – NPT’s mission is to provide important recreational and educational parkland opportunities for current and future generations. As a country, since we’re spend more time indoors and successive generations are growing up with less of a connection to nature, their goal is to build greater awareness and appreciation for the country’s public lands and parks. Their vision: Everyone will have an American park experience.
- National Parks Conservation Association – Americans expect our national parks to have clean air and healthy wildlife, and to be well-cared-for historical treasures. But years of underfunding and external threats such as air pollution and climate change are taking their toll. National Parks Conservation Association is working on these key initiatives to restore America’s national parks by the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016.
Pass this on to friends and family who are interested in going green and exploring our national parks for their next vacation!