The Real Magic of the Journey
People enrich our park experiences. Last year, I had the incredible opportunity to be part of the Find Your Park Expedition. It was wonderful seeing the Great Sand Dunes, the colorful Colorado hills, and the impressive cliff palaces at Mesa Verde, but the real magic of the journey came from the people.
It was magical meeting park rangers, historians, archaeologists, and park superintendents who wanted to bring the parks to more people, and make the parks a more inclusive and welcoming place for everybody.
I was fascinated to learn about the Ancestral Puebloan people, and to imagine them living their lives on these lands so long ago. And it was wonderful to see the art and hear the stories of indigenous people still living in the region today, who have fought to have their voices heard.
And it was beautiful meeting all of the people who were also part of the expedition. I remember chatting with everybody at a meal, having conversations late at night beneath the stars, and learning about each person's unique experience.
I love backpacking in the wilderness, so for me, the parks can seem like a welcome escape from society; a place free of human influence, and all of the baggage that often seems to follow. But our parks weren't created in a vacuum. They are the result of the contributions, sacrifices, and labor of people with vastly diverse backgrounds and experiences.
What would Yosemite National Park be without the romantic writings of John Muir? Would it even exist if not for indigenous knowledge, and the sacrifices made by the Ahwahneechee? What would our park service be today if not for the Buffalo Soldiers who became our first park rangers?
Our parks and our National Park Service are not static entities. They are continually changing, evolving, and learning from the past. And people today are shaping the parks as much as they were a hundred years ago.
For me, hearing the stories and experiences of the other expedition participants enriched my park experience. Each person interpreted and absorbed the experience in their own, unique way. They each brought something different to the table, sharing things that they saw through their own lenses. Being able to see the parks through someone else's lens helps me to fully appreciate that park. Now, I don't just see trees and streams, but the full richness of the history and cultural landscape of a park.
And it's also these different perspectives that have led to our park service to embrace the influences of indigenous communities. It's these voices that have given us Stonewall National Monument, the first national monument that honors the struggles and the rights off LGBTQ Americans. Like our country as a whole, our park service is becoming enriched, thanks to the influence of millions of diverse Americans.
I was fortunate enough to hear the stories of people, both past and present, while on the Find Your Park Expedition. This year, a new group of 8 people will experience the parks for themselves. I can't wait to follow their adventures online and see what stories they have to share.
Do yourself a favor. When the 2016 Find Your Park Expedition begins on Saturday, listen to the stories of the participants. You will be enriched.
Andrew Lin participated in the National Park Foundation’s 2015 Find Your Park Expedition. He films and hosts the YouTube series Adventure Archives. You can follow Andrew’s adventures and connect with him on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Podcast.