Happy 100th Birthday National Parks! — America’s Best Idea

100 years ago today, the uniquely American idea of preserving our nation’s “crown jewels,” precious and often vast sections of the America wilderness, for everyone and for all time, became formalized in a new federal agency. On August 25, 1916, congress created the National Park Service to preserve the ecological and historical integrity of the places entrusted to its management. To celebrate, the National Park Service is granting free admission to all 412 national parks from today through August 28!

As we celebrate the national parks’  legacy, we should be thinking about the next 100 years: what actions we can take now to ensure our parks stay magnificent and for all to enjoy. That’s why we salute the Pew Charitable Trusts’ “Restore America’s Parks” initiative and support their request for Congress to fund deferred maintenance on our national parks system and to dedicate annual federal funding for national park repair.

A Smart Investment

We talk to our clients about “deferred” investing, which basically means waiting as long as possible to cash out in order to maximize returns. The impact of deferred maintenance and repair can have the opposite effect – cascading smaller issues into larger concerns because they’ve gone unresolved. The maintenance and repair of national parks that could’ve been funded over many decades will now cost an estimated $12 billion. And we also need to fund annual maintenance going forward.

The national parks not only preserve our magnificent landscapes and the history of our people, they are also a boon to local economies. In 2015, visitors spent an estimated $17 billion in the communities within 60 miles of national parks. Here in Washington State, that figure was $470 million, in support of 6,000 jobs. Vibrant parks are important to the health of the national economy, too. By all measures, they are an excellent investment.

Getting Involved

At our 2013 Thought Forum™, author/historian Dr. Douglas Brinkley discussed the key role that parks and designated wilderness areas continue to play in the unfolding story of America. At that talk, Brinkley emphasized how important it is for young people of all backgrounds and nationalities to get out into nature. He noted that many of our greatest conservationists, like Theodore Roosevelt, spent time in the wilderness as children learning to love and appreciate the restorative power of nature. I hope families and young people take advantage of the free admission to national parks this weekend, so we can continue to inspire the next generation of conservationists and park lovers.

At Laird Norton, we have a passion for parks. We’ve been championing the discovery and use of our local parks recently through the Pianos in the Parks program and by helping to establish the King County Parks Foundation. It is all levels of the parks system – national, state and local – that make our region as attractive and livable as it is. Each system has a role to play.

If you love our parks, I encourage you to contact your elected officials to let them know you too believe in taking care of one of our country’s greatest assets, our national parks. Parks Matter.