The mission of the National Park Service is to preserve and protect the natural and cultural resources within each unit "for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations." With 417 park units that protect natural scenery like the jaw-dropping vistas at Yosemite National Park or the culturally significant relics at Gettysburg National Military Park, that's a lot of ground for the NPS to cover. Want to help them achieve their mission? Here's how:
Donate: The national parks are always short on funds, as evidenced by the group's $11.9 million maintenance backlog. You can donate items to the park bookstore, support a particular program at your favorite national park, or send funds to the National Park Foundation, the nonprofit chartered by Congress to raise money for the NPS. Find out more about the best ways to donate money here.
Volunteer: If you can't donate money, consider donating your time. National park service volunteers help build trails, answer visitor questions and maintain buildings. Check out this site to find out more ways you can volunteer in your favorite national park.
Get scientific: If you have a background in the sciences, the NPS might be able to use your skills at one of its Research Learning Centers. From collecting and analyzing samples to maintaining equipment and databases, there's plenty to do to help preserve and protect the natural and cultural resources of our nation's parks. Find out how you can get involved here.
Create art: Calling all artists! Many national parks have artist-in-residence programs that give artists an opportunity to get up close and personal with their favorite inspirational settings. You can stay at a remote cabin in Denali National Park or get an in-depth look at the history at Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. The art you create can help inspire future generations of national park stewards. Programs are available for visual artists, writers and musicians. Check out the NPS Artist-in-Residence site for more details.
Speak up: Another great way to support the national parks is to stay updated on what's going on with the NPS system and within your favorite national park. Public comment periods give everyone the opportunity to share their thoughts on new policies and procedures. Bookmark this page to find out which policies are open for public comment and what you need to do to get involved.
Make a call: No matter what's going on in the political realm, it's always a good idea to call, write or email your politicians to show your support for our national parks. Here's where you can find the contact information for your representatives in the House and Senate. Let them know that you want them to show their support for the NPS as they draft legislation and vote on budget bills.
Go visit your favorite national park and be sure to thank a ranger while you're there! (Photo: NPS)
Go visit: There's no better way to show your favorite national park some love then to get out there and see it. Bring a friend and take in some history and culture. It will remind you why our nation's parks really are "America's Best Idea." Oh, and while you're there, be sure to thank the park rangers for all they do to support our national parks.