I carry with me childhood memories of landscapes passing outside the window of our family’s station wagon, as we drove around the country each year to visit family and, sometimes, national parks along the way. Seeing the ancient pueblos of Mesa Verde National Park for the first time, and swimming and building sandcastles at Cape Cod National Seashore are inseparable from my connection to family and the thrill of exploration.
Of course, national parks are places to experience the wild beauty and wide-open spaces of nature – and, they are so much more. Point Reyes National Seashore is one such place for me. Just out of college, I spent 48 out of 52 weekends in one year on the beaches and headlands of this beautiful place just an hour north of San Francisco – hiking, biking, body surfing, kayaking, and fishing. You might say I found myself there both literally and figuratively! Later on, I took my young kids to Point Reyes to build sandcastles, to learn how to bodysurf and to hike through forests of huge Douglas Fir. The park still holds tremendous meaning to me, as a place of beauty and family connection that now spans generations.
As I have grown in parks, so has my sense of wonder for the number and diversity of national parks, and what lays off the beaten path.
I have learned that national parks tell the story of who we are – our heritage and our history, the triumphs we celebrate, and the profound struggles that test our nation. I recall my first visit to Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site where I had the good fortune to meet Minnijean Brown, one of the Little Rock Nine, a group of young Black students who made history when they walked through the doors of Little Rock High School on September 25, 1957, and stepped into America’s still unfolding story.
More recently, I hiked the Tennessee Valley trail in Golden Gate National Recreation Area with a friend. The stunning view of the Pacific Ocean was matched only by the pulse-pounding excitement of a close encounter with a bobcat. Earlier this week, I met with National Park Foundation Board members in Alabama. There, we visited the Edmund Pettus Bridge, part of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail that commemorates the people, events, and route of the 1965 Voting Rights March in Alabama, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Parks are powerful.
These places we share belong to everyone, and the ways we connect to them are unique and personal to each of us. As we celebrate National Park Week, I invite you to explore our national parks and to discover your personal connection to these amazing places. If you are anything like me, they will feed your soul – and if you’re lucky, you might even experience awe and wonder while you’re there.