I have been going camping since I was 5-years-old. It is second nature to me to pitch a tent or cook over a fire, and some of my fondest memories growing up are from family-and friend-filled campouts. I looked forward to these excursions months in advance, and once I was there, I always felt relaxed and at peace. I thought that this was a normal vacation or family activity growing up, but as I grew older, I realized not everyone had the opportunity to camp or see the wonders of nature like I did.
My family always went to either national parks or state parks. The National Park Service (NPS) has 58 national parks. These parks include the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite, to name a few notable ones. National parks are not just forests and campgrounds. Many parks also have national recreation areas, national seashores, national forests, national monuments and many other historical sites. The NPS preserves these sites and educates people about them.
The NPS preserves not only historic buildings and sites, but also documents, photographs and recordings of audio and video that highlight important historical events. Their physical preservation includes restoring, reconstructing and stabilizing the buildings and items they collect.
The NPS also helps preserve wildlife and helps endangered populations grow. One special example is the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore in Corpus Christi. The Padre Island National Seashore protects and helps hatch Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles. “Turtle Patrol” goes out every morning and evening to search for sea turtle nests; if a nest is found, the park rangers take the eggs and move them to a protected area until they hatch. Once they hatch, they release them back onto the national seashore.
Dry Tortugas National Park is 70 miles west of Key West and has a division of sea turtle research as well. The park has five types of sea turtles that nest there. Even though they are abundant on the islands the sea turtles are all still considered endangered. Unlike in Padre Island National Park, the nests in Dry Tortugas are left to hatch on their own. They are also evaluated by park rangers, and some turtles are tagged to monitor their location.
All NPS parks have what they call a junior ranger program. The program has a checklist of things for kids to do to become a junior ranger, which include spotting a native tree, plant or animal in the park. The program guides can be found online to print before going to the park and are unique to every park. The program is a great way to get kids out into the world to learn about the natural world around them.
My family and I have made a trip to the Padre Island National Seashore every summer since I was a baby. The first time I sat up when I was a baby was at the Padre Island National Seashore. Every summer for me is filled with memories from there. I remember fondly doing all their junior ranger program activities, chasing crabs, learning about the different seabirds and finding sand dollars out in the ocean. I always feel at peace when I am out there. The Padre Island National Seashore is one place that has never changed in all the years my family has been going there. There are no new buildings or resorts. You don’t even get cell service out there. It is 70 miles of untouched, preserved beach paradise.
The animals and their habitats are not the only ones who benefit from the National Park Service. A study by the Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research found that spending time in nature relieves stress. In another study by Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine it was found that spending time in nature can boost the immune system. Visiting the national historical sites educates people on the past and the history of the United States.
This year is the National Parks Service’s centennial year. For 100 years, it has been preserving some of the greatest wonders in the United States. I would recommend going if you haven’t been. If not for the camping, because I know that is not everyone’s cup of tea, for the educational value, the health benefits and the pure awe that nature can evoke in someone