As I drove through the entrance station of Yellowstone National Park, I recognized that familiar, enjoyable feeling I always get. True, part of it comes from using my Golden Age passport to get in free. But it is far more than that. It was the pleasure of entering an area set aside for people like myself.
Before the entrance station, we had driven past the Roosevelt arch with its inscription “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” I experienced that same feeling several times since Cindy and I were on a trip to not only Yellowstone, but Glacier National Park, along with Kootenay and Banff National Parks in Canada.
Each of these national parks contain great natural beauty and abundant wildlife, but also personnel and facilities to enhance the enjoyment of visitors. Each park is managed in such a way that visitors can enjoy themselves in a setting not specifically designed for profit.
Not only do Cindy and I enjoy visiting national parks but we enjoy just knowing they will be there for our children and grandchildren. This enjoyment is not just for those parks we have visited, but just knowing all 61 national parks in the U.S. are there.
On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant established Yellowstone National Park “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service to manage the nation’s growing list of national parks. The National Park Service has a mission statement to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife 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.”
Even with the recent entrance fee increases like Yellowstone and Zion’s $35 per vehicle, national parks have always been a cheap vacation. Young families with children could spend a memorable vacation with only the basics of a tent, sleeping bags and a camp stove.
People visiting parks tend to exercise more and be more physically active. Studies have shown spending time outdoors in beautiful settings relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety, improves mood, and enhances psychological well-being. People enjoy our national parks, and visitations are increasing dramatically. Total visitors to national parks in 2018 were 318,211,833.
Yes, national parks have problems. The sheer mass of visitors, tour buses and vehicles in places like Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon can make a stressful day out of a pleasant visit. Cindy and I have driven through Zion National Park only to discover there is not one open parking space and our only alternative was to leave the park.
Cindy and I enjoy the Canadian concept of a national park townsite with its many residents and different businesses much more than the U.S. national park’s idea of a single concessionaire like Xanterra.
I cannot agree with Yellowstone’s slaughter of excess bison rather than using them to build up other herds outside of the park, simply because the NPS will not stand up to Montana livestock owners. National parks like Glacier are facing severe challenges in the form of climate change. Outside interests like mining are creeping closer to Yellowstone’s boundaries. All national parks are suffering with infrastructure decay because of reduced funding.
Yet all those problems pale when sitting outside our RV in Banff National Park, looking up at the amazing mountain scenery as elk and mule deer wander through the campground. Or hiking across slickrock in a secluded Zion canyon, even if we can hear the continuous traffic on a nearby highway. Even better is being in Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park and watching a grizzly bear and three wolves battle over a recent bison kill. All of these experiences are why I get that pleasant feeling when entering a national park.