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Maine's Acadia was the first national park established on America's East Coast. (Photograph by Carr Clifton, Minden Pictures/National Geographic Creative)

A Birthday Wish for America’s National Parks

When I was 16 years old, I went to Yosemite and fell in love with America’s national parks, so much so that I now live next to one—Acadia, in Maine. In 2016, the National Park Service (NPS) turns 100, and planning for commemorations has already begun.

Yellowstone became the world’s first national park in 1872, leading the British diplomat James Bryce in 1912 to declare national parks “the best idea America ever had.”

Indeed, it was, and is. But celebrations and plaudits aside, look at what we have done to our national treasures. Our parks are plagued with a host of problems caused by, among other things, poor management and budget cuts.

According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the annual budget for the NPS constitutes less than one-fifteenth of one percent of the federal budget, meaning that American households pay on average just $2.56 each year, about the cost of a cup of coffee. Yet every dollar spent on the NPS yields some ten dollars in economic activity.

We need to reinvigorate our national parks. Support the National Parks Conservation Association and join one of the many “Friends of … ” organizations so that America’s best idea can thrive for centuries to come.

This piece, written by Traveler Editor at Large Costas Christ, appeared in the magazine’s November 2014 issue.