Presenting the Centennial Project Grand Prize Winners

Rocío LowerNPF Blog
A couple ballroom dancing at Glen Echo Park at George Washington Memorial Parkway

The Centennial Project contest winners have been announced!

More than 5,400 creative submissions were entered into The Centennial Project contest from late March to early September, 2015 – spanning songs, photos, paintings, poems, and videos. Five grand prize winners, 45 first prize winners, and 50 second prize winners were selected from a pool of 240 finalists through public voting on

The five grand prize winners’ submissions will be the inspiration for original creative projects created by Centennial Ambassadors Bill Nye (scientist), Bella Thorne (Alvin & The Chipmunks, The DUFF), Roselyn Sanchez (Lifetime’s Devious Maids), Mary Lambert (singer/songwriter, Mackelmore’s Same Love) and Terrence J (E! News, Think Like a Man Too).

The Centennial Project Ambassadors

We’re thrilled to showcase the five grand prize winners and share insights into their fantastic #FindYourPark moments. To view the full gallery of winners (including first and second prize winners), you can head over to

Heather Morris

Joshua Tree National Park

Actress Bella Thorne was inspired by Heather’s nighttime camping shot from Joshua Tree National Park. Hailing from Oceanside, CA, Heather considers Joshua Tree to be her hometown park. You can follow Heather on Twitter or Instagram.

Camp tent illuminated at night in Joshua tree

What inspired you to share this #FindYourPark memory?
I took this photo over Memorial Day weekend, during a group camping trip we coordinated for neighbors and friends who'd never been camping out there before. A few of us are astrophotography enthusiasts, so we brought all of our camera equipment out to try and capture some night sky images while we were there.

I'd seen a photo of a starry night with a lit tent in the foreground in a photography magazine, and after reading how the image was accomplished decided I'd like to try it the next time I had a tent and starry sky available (which happened to be this trip). The night sky is so incredible in the high desert, I wanted to try and capture that along with some of the rock formations that are prevalent in the park.

What’s one tip you’d give to a first-time camper?
I'd say: don't worry about bringing a whole bunch of stuff out with you the first time you camp. Start with the basics (tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad for your sleeping bag, food, water, clothing, etc.) and take notes throughout your trip of things you think would come in handy the next time around.

Also, be sure to check the weather before you go to ensure you have the appropriate layers/equipment for your trip. Everyone's camping style is different, and once you figure out the kind of camper you are (bare basics, creature comforts, or glamping), you can start accumulating the gear that will make the experience enjoyable for you.

My personal 'must have' camping items are instant coffee and oatmeal packets for breakfast. They're shelf stable, travel well, and are light weight and easy to pack. All you have to do is heat up water, and you're set!

Jeff Wilson

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Scientist Bill Nye was inspired by Jeff’s creativity, using Chaco Culture National Historical Park as a living classroom for his high school students. Jeff, an educator from Fountaintown, IN, also visits Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial annually with a group of exchange students from his high school.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Jeff Wilson

Why is this #FindYourPark moment so special to you?
This is sunrise on Fajada Butte, June 2013, from my tent in the Chaco Culture campground. This view, after 20 miles of hiking the day before to every Ancient Puebloan ruin in the main Chaco complex, followed by a full-moon tour that night of Pueblo Bonito, made for the greatest 24 hours ever spent in a national park.

Hundreds of photos were taken and could have been submitted, but this sunrise was the icing on the most delicious historical, cultural, and natural "cake" the NPS could have offered the public.

I now conclude my pre-calculus course I teach in my Indiana high school with a one-week unit on the history of Chaco, and a mathematical analysis of the conic sections contained within the ruins and the petroglyphs of this magnificent place, as well as demonstrations of how the Ancient Puebloan buildings and the Fajada Butte stones tracked the solar and lunar cycles.

Having visited over 250 NPS sites (including 50 national parks) over the past 20 years, my two days in Chaco definitely allowed me to 'find my park!!’ Thank you, NPS, for the many wonderful memories.

Which national parks would you like to visit next?
The next "new" sites on my list will be over spring break: Arkansas Post Memorial, Poverty Point NM, (return trip to Natchez NHP and Natchez Trace Parkway – which I love!), New Orleans Jazz NHP, Jean Lafitte NHP & Preserve, Big Thicket Preserve, Waco Mammoth NM, Chickasaw NRA, Fort Smith NHS, Buffalo River, and Fort Scott NHS.

My wife and I are flying from Houston to Merida, Mexico, to visit a former foreign exchange student and the Mayan ruins of the Yucatan, but we decided to check off another dozen National Park sites in the process both going to Houston and returning home.

Megan Pagado

Glen Echo Park

Actress Roselyn Sanchez was inspired Megan’s submission. Glen Echo, which is considered to be part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, will always have an important place in Megan’s heart as the place where she met her fiancé.

She also loves conquering the Billy Goat Trail at Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. You can follow Megan on Twitter or Instagram

Megan Pagado

Can you tell us about your romantic #FindYourPark memory?
Glen Echo Park played a big role in bringing my fiancé Donald and I together. In the early stages of our relationship, we'd go swing dancing in Glen Echo Park's Spanish Ballroom nearly every weekend!

I distinctly remember standing at the corner of the dance floor when one guy was slowly sauntering up to ask me to dance – but Donald quickly swooped in and offered his hand first. I just had to say yes!

What other parks are on your to-visit list?
Donald's family lives in Titusville, FL. We haven't been there together yet, but I'm looking forward to exploring the Canaveral National Seashore during our next visit!

Grace Hassler

Grand Canyon National Park

Singer/Songwriter Mary Lambert was inspired by Grace’s connection to national parks and their role in maintaining a healthy mindset. Originally from the Washington, D.C. area, Grace’s earliest national park memories were at Rock Creek Park. You can follow Grace’s #FindYourPark adventures on Instagram.

Colorado River running through Grand Canyon National Park
Grace Hassler

Why is the #FindYourPark movement important to you?
National parks are key to maintaining my mental health. As someone who struggles with anxiety, these public lands provide an escape.

The most prominent example I can think of is the week I spent rafting through the Grand Canyon National Park.

Before we left, our guides gave us one last chance to back out of the trip if we didn't think we would be able to complete it. My anxiety was so overpowering that I almost did back out.

I am thankful every day that I didn't, because the Grand Canyon changed my life.

A mile below the rims, I discovered that I was capable of being my own person, and I was responsible for my own happiness. I emerged 187 miles downstream a better version of myself.

Every day I am inspired by the strength I found in the Grand Canyon, and how fortunate we are that we have this irreplaceable National Park rather than a series of human-made dams and lakes.

Thank you, NPS, for maintaining these parks as havens for all. As a way of showing my gratitude and support, I pledge to participate in all 99 Ways to Find Your Park before the centennial celebration next year. Number 41: Share Your Story.

What will be your next #FindYourPark adventure?
I have been steadily working through my 99 Ways to Find Your Park list! I am currently at 43/99.

I'm not sure which I plan to do next, I usually just look for opportunities wherever they arise, but I hope to get to at least 50 by the middle of February.

From time to time, I'll go on "Find Your Park Adventures" where I spend the day travelling to national parks to cross off as many of the numbers on the list as possible. On one trip I drove almost 350 miles through 5 states.

I'm thinking that my next trip will be spending a day down on the National Mall. Although I can't complete every number in a national park, I do my best. If I can't make it to a national park, I try to complete them in state parks or similar places.

For me, the point is to get outside, try new things, and make memories. I also hope my posts could inspire other people to do the same thing.

The DasGupta-Mueller Family

National Park System

Actor and television personality Terrence J was inspired by the family connection of Sayantani DasGupta’s submission. Based out of Palisades, NY, the DasGuptas enjoy traveling to national parks near and far where Kirin and Sunaya can participate in the Junior Ranger program.

With such an impressive collection of Junior Ranger badges, which parks do you plan to visit next?
In the near future, we're also planning to go to Big Cypress National Preserve in South Florida and Dry Tortugas National Park in Key West - two South Florida Junior Rangers the kids missed doing last time we were there!

With the National Park Service Centennial upon us, there’s never been a better time to get out and explore the over 400 national parks across the country.

If you need some ideas on what to do or where to go, check out our free series of Owner’s Guides or the upcoming events calendar.

Whenever you visit a national park, share your story with us on and post your favorite pictures to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr using #FindYourPark and #EncuentraTuParque.

Last updated February 17, 2016.

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