The United States’ National Park Service turns 100 this week. Specifically, August 25th. On that day in 1916, Congress approved of the agency and tasked it with the role of preserving the natural and historic sites it is entrusted with, keeping them available for public use. Today, the NPS employs over 20,000 people, and has 59 official national parks, and also oversees thousands of historic sites and preservations across the country. It’s pretty cool.
To celebrate their birthday, the National Parks Service’s marketing team put together a year-long social media campaign #FindYourPark, where participants post photos, stories, etc. etc. about their favorite national park experience. It’s been a fun year of celebrating all that the service offers, and a great reminder of the importance of supporting this organization to help preserve these sites in the future.
It’s also a great reminder of what our own country has to offer. Over the years, I’ve noticed a big trend in the destination choices of Millennials—it’s no longer cool to travel to somewhere new, now you also have to travel to some obscure place just to up your cool factor. In my own experiences, when you start down the path of conversation about travel, most of these hipster types will rate your travel juju based on where you’ve been—Europe isn’t cool enough anymore, so any tales of your semester abroad in France should be set aside.
Part of this has to do with privilege—Millennials are a part of a generation where their parents were able to expose them to world travel at a younger age because they could afford it. My own parents stuck to local vacations growing up, and didn’t even travel to Europe until my sisters and I were in high school. A big trip to another country was a luxury, where for Millenials, it’s just another badge of coolness on your Instagram. We had the opportunities to see Europe and much of the US at a younger age, so our desire to find new and exciting experiences is heightened—and thanks to technology and engineering, getting to farther places has become easier and easier.
So I get the desire to explore somewhere new, but in this race we sometimes forget about all of the destinations the US has to offer–we can hike through jagged mountains, run with Buffalo on the plains, and watch the sun set over the Pacific, all in our big backyard.
I think that’s what I love so much about the National Parks’ #FindYourPark campaign—it lets us celebrate the majesty of our country, and inspires us to visit the incredible variety of places in our own country.
It took me some time to find my park—there’s so much I desperately want to see, but to celebrate the anniversary I had to trace back to my first love—the Appalachian Trail. This ‘park,’ as you may call it, is a National Scenic Trail stretching 2,180 miles along the east coast, from Georgia to Maine. Every year, thousands of people hike through the trail, either in segments, in day hikes, and for a few, all the way through. For New Englanders like myself, it’s a common activity in the warmer months, and encountering a ‘Thru Hiker,’ as we call them, is as much a tale as actually doing the hike.
I think I first became enamored with the AT in middle school. I had hiked Mt. Greylock in western Massachusetts with a camp group, and learned all about this culture of hikers and their multi-month living and walking in the woods lifestyle. I read up on the AT, trying to learn anything and everything about becoming a thru hiker. It became my obsession, something I desperately wanted to achieve. Of course, years passed and between college and a full time job (that I enjoy!) and the glamour of quitting so I could camp for four months seemed distant. Occasionally, I dream about hiking the whole trail, but to still make this more of a reality in some way, I’ve dedicated my free time to hiking the AT in pieces—sometimes just a day hike, sometimes a few days, just to get the experience I crave, while still making money and trying other hobbies. Plus, hiking the AT has become a regular part of my life, versus a one shot attempt of the whole thing.
So my park is the AT. It has the most beautiful views and has challenged me as I grow, change, and become stronger (both physically and mentally). It’s been there for me through high school, through college, and it was a lifeline during my years in New York City—the AT was more than just a hike, it was home.
Ten years ago, I graduated high school and spent three days hiking the Presidential Range up in New Hampshire’s White Mountains with my dad. It was my first taste at real hiking, and after that I was hooked. I’ve returned to those mountains many times, most recently trekking through Franconia with my sisters. Ten years have passed, and my list of hikes has grown, but there is one thing I know for sure—as long as I am able, I’m going to keep hiking.
Want to learn more about the National Park Service? Visit their website here.
Clarity is a series of personal essays or vignettes about my travels and the lessons I learn while there. You can read more pieces of Clarity here.