THIS WEEK MARKS THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY of the founding of America’s National Park Service. Some of our greatest natural wonders as a country — the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Everglades — are still around, still untouched, thanks to the NPS.
The National Parks have been called “America’s Best Idea.” But ideas need protecting. And in an age of climate change and mass extinction, there a few ideas that are more in need of protection than our country’s parks. So here are some ways you can help support the NPS and the nation’s wild places.
1. Bring your kids to the parks
The Parks are for everyone in America. Granted, it’s a lot easier if you live out west — the concentration of National Parks is a good deal thinner on the East Coast — but even if you’re in New York, take your kids on a trip to Wyoming. One of my best memories as a kid was when our dad took us to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.
Not only is it an amazing experience, but it ensures that the next generation will have an appreciation for the parks (and for all of nature) and will still be stewards of them after we’re gone.
2. Follow the rules while you’re there.
There’s been a spate of unfortunate encounters between animals and guests over the past few years: there’s the bison calf that famously had to be put down because of visitor interference, there’s the woman who was caught on video getting head-butted by a wild elk after getting too close, there are the many people who have been gored while posing for selfies with bison, and the man who died after falling into the hot springs in Yellowstone when he left the trail.
There’s a very easy way to make sure that you aren’t harming the wildlife, putting yourself and others at risk, or causing environmental damage to the parks you visit: just follow the posted rules. Don’t leave the trails. Don’t approach the animals. Listen to the Rangers. They aren’t pointless — they’re there for a reason.
3. Take whatever you bring into the parks out of the parks.
The Parks are monuments in their own right to environmentalism and stewardship of the land. A few of the parks are currently trying to become “zero landfill” — that is, to send none of their waste to landfills. One of the ways you can help with this is by taking any and all garbage you bring in to the park out again with you. In some of the Parks, it is really difficult and costly to remove trash, so lend a hand — don’t add to it.
4. Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
This rule doesn’t just apply to the National Parks — it applies to pretty much everything everywhere. These parks belong to everybody — so let your photos and your memories be your souvenirs. You don’t need to take a piece of it home with you.
5. Donate to the National Park Foundation
The NPS is publicly funded, but the parks are also supported by the National Park Foundation, which accepts private donations to help keep the parks clean and functional. Check out their donations page and set up a one-time or monthly donation to the NPF.
If you own a business, you can set up a program where you match employee donations, doubling the difference you make.
6. Donate to other organizations which support the parks and conservation.
If you want to support conservation, but want to support it more broadly than just giving to the parks, check out the Conservation & Preservation Charities of America. They’ve listed dozens of excellent charities that support conservation and the environment worldwide. Another great one to support is the Sierra Club, which was founded by John Muir, one of the Park system’s earliest and most eloquent supporters.
7. Volunteer for the NPS.
What better hundredth birthday present than donating your time to helping the NPS at one of the parks, forests, monuments, or historical sites? The NPS supports far more than just the 59 National Parks — they also take care of sites like the Washington Monument, the Gettysburg Battlefield, and the Stonewall Inn in New York. They’re tasked with preserving not only the country’s natural resources, but its history and culture as well. You can find a place to volunteer at over at their website.