Happy Birthday to the National Park Service, which just celebrated its 97th birthday on August 25, and is beginning to ramp-up for a really big, all-year celebration when it turns 100 in 2016.

Enjoy a hike in Yosemite National Park and many more terrific trails shared by John McKinney in the "National Park Hike of the Week" on TheTrailmaster.com
Enjoy a hike in Yosemite National Park and many more terrific trails shared by John McKinney in the “National Park Hike of the Week” on TheTrailmaster.com

There is much to celebrate about the National Park Service and the natural and cultural treasures in its charge. To help my fellow hikers celebrate, appreciate and just plain enjoy our national parks, I’ve launched the “National Park Hike of the Week.” Each week, from now through 2016, The Trailmaster will post a description of a favorite hike in a national park.

While we’re celebrating our parks by taking a hike or exploring them in other ways, it’s important we do a bit of contemplating them as well. I have strong feelings about the future of our national parks and the way we view them—gained from three decades of hiking about, and writing about dozens of them, from Death Valley to Acadia, and from Yosemite to Everglades

I can affirm that our national parks as a whole need many and major infrastructure repairs and upgrades. National parks need roadwork, bridgework, ecological restoration and improved visitor facilities. The backlog of deferred maintenance is both obvious and appalling and speaks of decades of under-funding.

Widespread bipartisan support exists for the parks. But if during the big buildup to the National Parks Centennial we taxpayers only write out checks for park improvements and do not demand more from the National Park Service, the agency and citizens alike will squander an opportunity.

NPS ranger tells the story of Spectacle Island on a guided hike in Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.
NPS ranger tells the story of Spectacle Island on a guided hike in Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

The NPS could help lead the way to a renewed interest among Americans toward the natural world in general and our parks in particular. We are fast moving toward a society that is disconnected from nature. “Nature Deficit Disorder” is becoming the norm among young people, who will be the future park-goers, park stewards, park funders and park conservationists.

The National Park Service could help reverse this alienation from nature by taking the lead in showing Americans where to go outdoors; by partnering with nonprofits and the private sector to teach outdoor skills; by partnering with local enterprises to offer more guided tours and activities. It’s already doing a lot of this already, but could do more.

Of course considering the stresses of modern life and our addiction to devices with screens, getting us off the couch and into the great outdoors might be too much to ask of a government agency, even a can-do and creative one like the National Park Service.

But it’s worth a try.

Meanwhile, let’s appreciate the accomplishments of the National Park Service, celebrate our national parks, and take a hike.