Some of the country’s best known national parks — such as Mammoth Cave and the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace in Kentucky and the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee — are within an easy drive of Hopkinsville. But as noteworthy as they are, these three sites are just a small part of the National Park Service.
There are 409 properties in the federal program, ranging from the 13 million acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska to the tiny David Berger National Memorial in Ohio. It occupies just a few square yards with a sculpture honoring the memory of the American-Israeli weightlifter killed by terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
This year marks the centennial of the National Park Service, and the anniversary provides some incentive to reflect on the benefits of the protected lands and renew our country’s obligation to protect them for future generations.
In 1916, the service was established under President Woodrow Wilson. This followed groundwork established by President Theodore Roosevelt when he signed the Antiquities Act of 1906.
But it was President Ulysses S. Grant who authorized the first national park, Yellowstone, in 1872. It was also the first national park in the world. Yosemite followed in 1890.
Less than half of the national parks have an entrance fee. Those that do charge fees, such as Mammoth Cave, will waive the fees on 16 days this year to celebrate the centennial. Next Monday, in honor of Martin Luther King Day, is the first.
The National Park Service provides environmental, historical, cultural and economic benefits across the country.
Perhaps one of the best illustrations of these benefits can be seen at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Anyone who has driven through the crowded commercial strip in Gatlinburg, with its motels, restaurants, theaters and gifts shops, and arrived at the entrance to the national park has seen the dramatic difference between the town and the park. Without the national park, where would the commercial line have ended?
Thankfully, Gatlinburg and the park can exist side by side. The National Park Service ensures the future the Great Smoky Mountains and many other national treasures.
We should never take them for granted.
Kentucky New Era