Still our best idea

“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” – Conservationist Wallace Stegner

Immortalized in the Ken Burn’s documentary series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” the quote above is as appropriate today as when it was spoken in 1983. In an era when civility in public discourse seems a distant memory and public opinion seems more fragmented with every issue, nearly everyone retains a positive impression of our parks.

Exactly 100 years ago today (Thursday), on Aug. 25, 1916, the National Park Service was created by President Woodrow Wilson. The service was charged with caring for the nearly three dozen national parks and monuments then in existence. The park service now oversees nearly 400 areas across the U.S., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and islands in the Pacific. In all, some 84 million acres are protected.

Wilson’s action came nearly a month after the creation of Sieur de Monts National Monument, which later became Lafayette National Park and eventually was renamed “Acadia.” On Saturday, officials will gather at the Jordan Pond House for the major event in this year’s celebration of both centennials.

In 2015, the total number of visitors to the park system reached 307,247,252, an impressive number. And over the past century here at Acadia, visitations have increased significantly. As reported in last week’s Islander, Acadia continues on the upswing. The number of visitors is expected to exceed three million for the first year since a verifiable counting system was introduced in 1990.

During the early years of the National Park Service, Sierra Club founder and champion of Yosemite, John Muir, talked about the importance of parks as a connection among people and a bridge between generations.

“The land belongs to the future … that’s the way it seems to me. How many names on the county clerk’s plat will be there in fifty years? I might as well try to will the sunset over there to my brother’s children. We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it – for a little while.”

Happy 100th birthday, U.S. National Park Service.

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