Happy 100th Birthday, America's National Park Service

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Glacier National Park on a cloudy day

Ansel Adams/ Looking across lake toward mountains, "Evening, McDonald Lake, Glacier National Park," Montana

The National Park Service is 100 years old today. National parks came earlier; Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872. The NPS explains:

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service, a new federal bureau in the Department of the Interior responsible for protecting the 35 national parks and monuments then managed by the department and those yet to be established... "the Service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments and reservations... which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."
credit: Ansel Adams/ "Grand Teton" National Park, Wyoming

In the 1930s photographer Ansel Adams photographed national parks; according to Wikipedia he was " inspired by the increasing desecration of Yosemite Valley by commercial development, including a pool hall, bowling alley, golf course, shops, and automobile traffic." Many of his photographs were property of the US government, which hired him in 1941.

credit: Ansel Adams/ The Tetons and the Snake River (1942)

The National Park system is now under threat from a number of sources. "Additions to the National Park System are now generally made through acts of Congress, and national parks can be created only through such acts. But the President has authority, under the Antiquities Act of 1906, to proclaim national monuments on lands already under federal jurisdiction." But Republicans don't like the President having such power, and are actively trying to gut the legislation to prevent this, as well as giving up federal control of lands. More: Republican Party goes after Theodore Roosevelt's legacy Inspiring posters from when national parks and nature preserves were celebrated, not occupied

credit: Ansel Adams/ "Court of the Patriarchs, Zion National Park," Utah

Other threats are more straightforward. Darryl Fears writes in the Washington Post:

These days, the views at the parks aren’t all pretty. The system faces a $12 billion maintenance shortfall that has left such entities as bridges and restrooms in disrepair. Yellowstone’s backlog alone is $603 million with crumbling roads, buildings and wastewater systems. Congress has declined to provide funding needed for fixes that have lingered for more than a decade.
credit: Ansel Adams/ Canyon de Chelly (1941)

And it is not just lack of money that is threatening.

Climate change is making matters worse. Rising temperatures and and sea-level rise are grinding away at the Assateague Island National Seashore and decreasing snow and rain, stunting the growth of vegetation in several parks, including the Grand Canyon and the Mojave Desert, leaving bighorn sheep with little to eat. At Glacier National Park in Montana, rising temperatures have caused the most accessible glacier in North America at Mount Grinnell to virtually disappear.
credit: Ansel Adams/ North Palisade from Windy Point (1936)

Evidently washrooms are closed, trails are not maintained, campgrounds and services are lacking. The Interior department asks for more money, and what happens? "Republican members instead called on the Government Accountability Office to investigate the Park Service to determine whether it was collecting enough visitor fees and membership dues to address the problem on its own." There is a point that can be made about admission fees; they are very low. According the the Wall Street Journal.

When the first national parks were created, they were expected to be self-supporting. Receipts for Yellowstone and Yosemite in those early days often exceeded expenditures. Adjusted to 2016 dollars, entry fees then were astronomical. Mount Rainier, the first to allow cars in 1908, sold 1,594 auto permits at a price of $475 in today’s dollars. In 1916 seasonal auto permits, also in today’s dollars, ranged from $120 at Glacier and Mesa Verde to $240 at Yellowstone. Today the price of a seven-day pass to Yellowstone for one vehicle is $30.
credit: Ansel Adams/ View with rock formation in foreground, "Grand Canyon National Park," Arizona

But raising entry fees might be counterproductive, given that the Parks Service is desperate to attract minorities and young people. Darryl Fears writes in the Washington Post:

A significant group of park visitors are older than 65, and at that age, entrance is free. The bulk of paying visitors are between 50 and 60, paving the way for a revenue crash from fees in the next decade. The Park Service desperately needs new visitors as it moves into its new century.
credit: Ansel Adams/ "In Glacier National Park," valley, snow covered mountains in background.

Perhaps the key message here should be "use it or lose it." The current park clientele is primarily made up of boomers whose parents went to "see the USA in your Chevrolet." National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis told AP:

"They came in droves, and in the back seat of that station wagon in the national parks were today's boomer generation," Jarvis said. "They are our base today. The question that we're facing is who's going to be the next generation of park supporters.

So get out there and visit a National Park this year. Some more reasons to take your kids camping this summer.