When this year’s Ride the Rockies cyclists entered Rocky Mountain National Park in June for the annual bike tour, they experienced the thrill of entering via Trail Ridge Road, the highest road in the country and were amongst the first to help celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service in one of Colorado’s four National Parks.
On August 25th, the Centennial State of Colorado will celebrate the Centennial Anniversary of The National Park Service.
The other three Colorado National Parks include the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Montrose, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Mosca and Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado near Cortez. In addition, Colorado has nine national trails and historic sites controlled by the National Park Service including Bent’s Old Fort in La Junta, the Yucca House in Cortez and the Sand Creek Massacre Historic Site in Kiowa County.
Touting a series of anniversary celebrations, the National Park Service will invite communities to engage through “recreation, conservation and historic preservation programs.” Of note is the, ‘Every Kid In a Park’ program which will allow all Colorado 4th graders and their families free access to national parks for the anniversary year.
During his time as Secretary of the Interior in the Obama administration, Colorado native Ken Salazar emphasized creating additional opportunities for U.S. residents to experience our country’s National Parks and National Refuges. “Our parks are our country’s crown jewels. In Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park has the most visitors of any national park around the country. The park helps to define Colorado. We have a lot of work to do to connect more Americans to our park system.” Salazar believes our country’s history can be protected through the National Park Service, “The national parks help to tell our story and protect our history. American Indians, women and Latinos all deserve a more complete picture of their contributions to our country. We have a lot to celebrate but this anniversary should remind us that we still have more work to do.”
Salazar points to the creation of a monument to Cesar Chavez as an additional chapter highlighting the contributions of Latinos in the United States. In 2012, Salazar helped to create the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument honoring one of the Latino community’s iconic heroes. Along with the Nuestra Señora Reina de La Paz Historic Site, the 187-acre campus served as the national headquarters of the United Farm Workers of America. Chavez lived on the property starting in the early 1970’s and the Keene, Calif. park is home to a memorial garden and the gravesite of Cesar Chavez. Salazar credits First Lady Michelle Obama for her work in highlighting the importance of the National Park Service. Along with former First Lady Laura Bush, Mrs. Obama serves as Honorary Co-Chair of the National Park Service Centennial. President Obama is also doing his part. Besides announcing the Cesar Chavez National Monument and launching the Every Kid in a Park Day of Action, he took the first family on a visit to Carlsbad and Yosemite National Parks to underscore the importance that parks play for U.S. residents.
Current Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced National Park Week on April 19th and delivered a detailed speech to put into place a new emphasis and management plan for what she calls ‘The Next 100 Years of American Conservation.’ Jewell noted the degraded condition of the national parks in the 1950’s when the country made an important investment in the system to upgrade parks with substantial improvements in time for the 50-year anniversary in 1966. She now calls on the country during the 100-year anniversary to make a similar investment in the parks system. In a press release, Jewell states, “Mission 66, as it was called, was rooted in the simple idea that investing in our national parks was an investment in the heart of our nation - not only our economy but our very identity.”
With a record number of visitors in 2015, Jewell highlights the need to continue to invest in the system and work toward eliminating a maintenance backlog. Besides outdoor enjoyment and appreciation of U.S. history, Jewell shines a bright light on the role of the National Park System in conservation of wilderness areas, “What’s more, climate change - the most pressing issue of our time - threatens our land and water in existential ways, with longer, hotter fire seasons, record-breaking droughts and more frequent and severe superstorms.”
Jewell continues the 100-year anniversary momentum this month with the announcement of new national recreation and water trails. This month, the Department of Interior added 350 miles to the National Trail System and 600 miles to the National Water Trails System. Jewell also celebrated National Trails Day on June 4th and encouraged residents to hike, ride bikes and explore our waterways as part of the celebration. None of the additions to the system are in Colorado, but neighboring Oklahoma added the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area Trail to the national system. The trail system is only seven miles from downtown Tulsa. Eastern neighbor, Kansas, also added the Arkansas River Water Trail with 192-mile waterway extending to the border with Oklahoma.
Sec. Jewell has continued the work of Sec. Salazar in working to make the parks relevant for all residents. She has even taken to Twitter to appeal to a younger audience of millennials. @SecretaryJewell has been active with photos and tweets of significant developments. She also agrees with Salazar that more needs to be done to appeal to women, communities of color and younger people, “Right now … we haven’t done enough to celebrate the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, or Latinos, or Native Americans, or African Americans.”
Good news for seniors aged 62 or over; a lifetime pass to the National Parks can be purchased for only $10. The pass allows admittance into the park along with free admission for up to three adults in your vehicle. Children under 16 years of age are admitted at no charge. The Senior Lifetime Pass is also valid at more than 2,000 recreation sites managed by the federal government.
For more information on the 100-Year National Park Service anniversary or to register for the ‘Every Kid In a Park’ program, please see www.everykidinapark.gov.