If you haven’t heard yet or can’t figure it out from that clever title, it’s the 100th anniversary for the National Park system. They are hosting some events in various parks across the United States, including free park admission to all parks from August 25th to August 28th.
The National Park System is an amazing organization that protects and shares America’s wild places, cultural landmarks, and so much more. It includes a giant 412 protected areas, and was created on August 25, 1916. In 2015, a total of 307,247,252 people visited our parks. Although often access to such things are taken for granted, they are a treasure we should certainly celebrate. These parks take hard work, money, and many volunteers and philanthropists to endure.
This Is #MyParkStory
If you scroll through some of the top outdoor brands, top travelers, top photographers or any well-known content creators for anything outdoors on the internet, you’ll soon pick up an idea of some of the most beautiful and memorizing National Parks there are. If you were to turn to page 33 of National Park System magazine from April, you’d see an article called “Your Park Stories” that speaks of inspiring personal tales. These are the ways how I’ve learned about places like Zion, Acadia, Denali or my latest trip: the White Mountains in New Hampshire.
Except there is a common denominator among these parks: the size. These are the big dogs. These are the parks that make for stunning photos and wistful adventures. We follow along in a daydream as we read in awe of their lovely stories. But somewhere along the lines other, smaller parks get left behind.
The closest park to me is Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Part of a larger collection entitled Gateway National Parks, it is park so small in comparison to some of these “big dogs” I guess they had to lump it together with a few more.
Sandy Hook is a, 1,665-acre peninsula full of a large and sometimes threatened ecology of flora and fauna. It also hosts a lighthouse, a current United States Coast Guard base, and the historical buildings of Fort Hancock–what once was a very important Army base. The Fort was a strong point of defense starting as early as 1895, all the way until it was decommissioned in 1974.
Finding History In My Own Backyard
What makes the historical part of this base all the more interesting for me is that my father was stationed at Sandy Hook when he was in the Army Reserves just before it was closed down as a base.
My father joined the Reserves in 1967. His own father, my grandfather, had been in the Merchant Marines during World War II, and later cut soldier’s hair as a civilian on the base. Even my Uncle was stationed in the Reserves at Sandy Hook.
This was another world, another time. It might not seem so many years between that time and now, but the difference in generational views when it comes to the military is very apparent to me. The experiences my grandfather and father have had seem like a dream or a movie; they are not tangible enough for me to understand in the way that they have.
Yet, it is places like Sandy Hook–which preserve the memories of our history–that better connect us with our past. Understanding is not a memory past down, as I have once said before, but it is a foundation to start with. When I can go beyond mere words and see the events and places of not only our history as a country, but as a family as well, that is a much deeper connection than any school book could give.
Sandy Hook Is Much More Than Just Beaches
So many people see Sandy Hook as another beach getaway. It’s true, the park has many beaches. Public beaches line the Eastern shoreline: North Beach, Gunnison Beach, and South Beach. On the Southern side, beaches, fishing areas, and a single restaurant–the Seagull’s Nest–all create a popular summer destination. But the park is more than just another spot for catching a wave.
Sandy Hook is also a center for learning, research, and promoting coastal conservation. Hosting organizations like the A Littoral Society, Brookdale Community College, and M.A.S.T., the Hook provides a unique setting for people to learn about our natural world–and hopefully help protect it.
I’ve personally had the opportunity myself to learn in a M.A.S.T summer program when I was a child at the Hook, and the knowledge and appreciation I’ve retained from that stays with me still. Understanding our environment, our planet, comes the same way that understanding our past does: through the tangible, through living examples.
It is these foundations, especially in the young, that help us promote a world where not just places like the Grand Canyon or the Ever Glades exist–but even the small ones, too.
Because this isn’t just My Park. This is Your Park.
This is all of ours.
How are you celebrating the NPS Centennial? Cotopaxi, an outdoor gear and adventure company, shared these National Park infographics with me to inspire some park pride. There are so many parks and so many opportunities to learn more and enjoy them! Check out some of Cotopaxi’s travel backpacks and start exploring some parks below!