This week, April 21-29, 2012, is National Park Week, which means it’s a perfect time to reflect on the value of “America’s Best Idea.” My own love affair with the national parks is of fairly recent date, but I have gotten so much out of my visits that I’m eager to proselytize on their behalf. The National Park Service protects the best (and the worst) of our history, preserves our natural wonders, educates our citizens, and provides us with the opportunity to experience our country in all its diversity and grandeur.
I think every American ought, at least, to visit the parks closest to home. They are often free, and most people live within an hour or two of one if not more park sites. You don’t have to visit a “National Park” proper, like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon; there are National Monuments, National Historical Parks, National Battlefields, and lots of other location types gathered under the NPS banner. Every site has a story to tell.
In my visits to the national parks, I have stood above the grave of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, peered over the edge of the Grand Canyon, and counted the dead at Shiloh. I have seen the farm where Lincoln was born, walked beneath the great trees of Muir Woods, and watched elk graze in the Great Smoky Mountains. Every visit has been an adventure and a memory to treasure.