In a sign of the times, the National Park Service (NPS) recently unveiled a new digital program called Find Your Park. Interactive and fun, it aims to send people off on an adventure to explore America’s national parks. By bridging the gap between the real and digital worlds, NPS hopes to inspire a new generation of Americans to look beyond Yosemite and find the park that best suits them. It might be closer than you think.
The National Park Service is about to celebrate a big birthday. It’s turning 100 on August 25. To commemorate the event, it has teamed up with the National Park Foundation to encourage people to learn about and explore what America’s parks have to offer. Find Your Park features the obvious awe-inspiring spaces like Yellowstone (America’s first national park) but it also turns the spotlight on lesser-known monuments, battlefields, lakes, seashores and trails, all of which are parks, too. (By the way, the White House is a National Park.)
Said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis,
“Our campaign will encourage Americans to ‘Find Your Park’ – to discover a personal connection to a place or a story that provides inspiration or enjoyment, and to then join us in our second century of stewardship of America’s most treasured places.”
This makes sense, since all told, there are 401 national parks, only a handful of which serve as go-to destinations for many Americans. Encompassing diverse topographies ranging from mountain ranges to coral reefs and rare geological formations, these majestic settings have become an important part of the American psyche; quite literally, the essence of what makes America the Beautiful.
Many of our national parks are well known and easily identifiable by a majority of Americans. According to the National Park Service, the ten most popular national parks by number of recreational visits in 2014 were as follows.
But, what about the other 391? A far greater number of lesser-known national parks are literally hiding in plain sight. These parks offer their own unique brand of scenery and historical significance with annual visits numbering well under 100,000. In addition to green spaces, they include National Heritage Areas located along historic trails and waterways and even neighborhoods, where the stories of America’s diverse places and people have unfolded. Here is the list of the ten least-visited parks in 2014.
HAVE YOUR HEARD OF THESE?
Among the lesser-known national parks is Dry Tortugas National Park, located in Florida, with just 58,401 annual visitors. Offering a jewel-toned slice of American history, the park is home to the 19th century Fort Jefferson, the largest all-masonry fort in the country. Overlooking turquoise waters at the gateway to the Gulf of Mexico, it is accessible only by boat or plane. The island’s only campground, the Garden Key, has just 10 sites.
Another little-known national park is the Kobuk Valley National Park, located in Alaska. It had less than 2,000 human visitors last year, but hosted almost 500,000 caribou. The road-less park is so remote that the U.S. Geologic Survey hasn’t yet named some of its sites. In addition to the caribou, there’s rafting on the Kobuk River, hiking on the Great Kobuk Sand Dune and extreme climbing among the mountain ranges that encircle the park.
Also in Alaska, the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, is the northernmost national park in the U.S. with visitors numbering only 11,012 in 2014. There are no roads or trails in the park, and visitors must walk in or use air taxis. Visiting this park, though, (the entirety of which lies north of the Arctic Circle) will immerse you in a pristine wilderness that exists in few other locations on earth.
According to the National Park Service “Gates of the Arctic is one of the last truly wild places on earth.”
I decided to give Find Your Park a whirl. With the tag line “A park can be many things to many people,” it invites visitors to explore and find national parks by matching their interests against what the parks have to offer. In this way, you can plan vacations all over the United States that include visits to national parks based entirely on your own personal tastes.
An interactive button entitled FIND YOURS invited me to explore the national parks. I clicked on the button and was directed to TAKE THIS QUIZ, in which I was asked to choose among the following:
- Experience history
- Learn new things
- Go exploring
- Make a difference
I chose go exploring, then further narrowed my interests (following the prompts) to include water and family-friendly. An interactive map allowed me to click on a state and be connected with the official website for the corresponding state park system.
America’s State Parks include more than 2,200 state parks, or fifteen million acres of further opportunities for outdoor recreation and historical, scientific and environmental education experiences. Find your park works with these, too.
I selected my state (Maryland) and landed on “Geocaching on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake Trail.” The historic trail is a series of water routes extending approximately 3,000 miles along the Chesapeake Bay. I had never heard of it before.
Along with offering hand-picked experiences that can take you places you might otherwise not have imagined, opportunities abound via the website to get involved by going into the “field” as a Citizen Scientist, view locations of America’s famous inventors and pioneers, or step back in time and follow the path of the dinosaurs.
The Find Your Park site features inspiring stories from Michele Obama, Bella Thorne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt among others who talk about their favorite parks and the reasons why they like them.
Did you know? The largest national park is located at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska with 13.2 million acres while the smallest is Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania at 0.02 acres.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more.