The Fourth of July is a time for those of us living in the United States to think about what makes this country special.
The 62 national parks certainly are one of the country’s greatest treasures.
I was fortunate to grow up less than an hour’s drive to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hiking in the Smokies with my parents and my Girl Scout troop helped me develop a love of nature and an appreciation of the National Park Service.
One of my Girl Scout service activities was helping prepare hundreds of brochures for park visitors to purchase to learn about the park’s trails, and my first backpacking trip was with my GS troop in the Smokies.
Over the years, I have continued to hike in the Smokies and to explore other national parks – from the Grand Canyon to Olympia to Mesa Verde to the Everglades. Each park has its own special features – geography, wildlife, plants and the stories of the people who lived in the area before it became a national park.
Here are a few views to provide you with a virtual visit to some of my favorite national parks.
You can take a deep breath and enjoy the special beauty of each park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
GSMNP has more than 900 miles of maintained trails in the North Carolina and Tennessee sections of the park.
For the last several years, GSMNP has been the most visited national park. Last year the park had more than 13 million visitors.
Even with lots of trails, some trails can be quite crowded, and bear jams occur as tourists stop their cars to look at and photograph bears.
Few other hikers were on the 13-mile roundtrip hike to Rocky Top. Not only did we have a great view from the top but also saw mountain laurel and flame azalea.
Olympia National Park
Located in Washington, Olympia National Park is a combination of forest hiking, mountain top vistas, crystal lakes and fast-running rivers that are spawning locations for coho salmon.
We stayed at the Lake Crescent Lodge and could enjoy the view of the lake from the windows of the dining room while we ate breakfast or from chairs on the lake’s edge when we returned from hiking.
We had a different view of Lake Crescent when we hiked Mount Storm King Trail and admired the lake far below as we ate lunch, with eager Gray Jays swooping in to pick up any crumbs dropped from our sandwiches.
Yosemite National Park
Vernal Falls is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite. The hike is about three miles round trip, with more than 200 stone steps to climb on the final section to reach the top of Vernal Falls.
Depending on the breeze, hiking the section beside the falls, appropriately called the Mist Trail, is like being in a light shower with some wonderful rainbows. The footing on the stone steps is slippery.
At the top of the falls, signs warn hikers not to go to the edge of the river, which swiftly flows over the falls.
Every few years, someone walks past the signs and climbs over the fence to take a photo and is swept over the falls — a reminder of the power of nature.
So stand back with me and enjoy the view.
Great American Outdoors Act
Creating the National Park Service in 1916 required vision, governmental leadership, legislative collaboration, and funding. Supporting the National Park Service in the 21st Century requires those same qualities.
Congress is in the final stages of approving the Great American Outdoors Act, which has strong bi-partisan support and shows the kind of accomplishments that can happen with legislative cooperation. The Senate passed the legislation last week, moving the legislation to the House.
If approved by the House and signed by the president, the act will provide $9.5 billion over five years to fund the huge backlog of maintenance needs in the national parks.
If you have been a visitor to the parks recently, you know those funds are needed for repairing roads and bridges, restoring trails and historic buildings, and making necessary improvements to restrooms, campgrounds and visitor centers.
You can contact your representative in the House to express your support for the legislation.
We can enjoy the parks now and maintain them to be enjoyed by future generations.