100 Years of the National Park Service

By Special Contributor posted 10-14-2015 16:44


By: Jonathan B. Jarvis

This post by Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, is the first in a monthly series of blog posts celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

A visitor looks out over Stewart's Canal at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument at dusk. | Credit: National Park Service

Stewart's Canal at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland. | Credit: National Park Service

In 2016, the nation celebrates two of our most important conservation and preservation laws: the Organic Act of the National Park Service of 1916 and the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Cumulatively they represent 150 years of protection of our greatest treasures, from the Grand Canyon to the Liberty Bell, from Jamestown to the Statue of Liberty. This essential work has instilled patriotic pride, driven local economic renewal, grounded our education system, inspired domestic and international tourism, and reminded us of our values as American citizens. While we have much to celebrate, this is an opportunity to act upon the second 150 years by ensuring we are telling the complete story of America and protecting places that are representative of all our citizens.

This opportunity reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, sometimes attributed to Abraham Lincoln, though I think most historians doubt this. Regardless of the source, the message is resonant:

"A child is a person who is going to carry on what you have started. He is going to sit where you are sitting, and when you are gone; attend to those things, which you think are important. You may adopt all policies you please, but how they are carried out depends on him. He will assume control of your cities, states and nations. All your books are going to be judged, praised or condemned by him. The fate of humanity is in his hands. So it might be well to pay him some attention."

Since the fate of humanity is in his and her hands, so is the fate of our most important historical and cultural sites and stories. So we better pay them some attention.

View of the Statue of Liberty's face and diadem (crown) which symbolizes the seven seas and continents of the world. | Credit: National Park Service
View of the Statue of Liberty's face and diadem (crown) which symbolizes the seven seas and continents of the world. | Credit: National Park Service

The National Park Service continues to develop young and diverse leaders to carry on the work we have started. Since 2012, the National Park Service and the Greening Youth Foundation have been operating HBCUI, a joint program placing students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities in internships at NPS sites across the country. Ehren Vance, a student from Howard University, solidified his love of historic preservation while interning at the Statue of Liberty National Monument last summer. He has taken his knowledge and experience from his internship to help inform his studies and share with his peers and community. His experience has also inspired his desire to pursue a career with the NPS after graduation.

Ehren is just one of the many young people who have been positively affected by our youth programs designed to provide an opportunity to learn from the past and have conversations about the present and future.

The presence of youthful and diverse preservationists also helps to ensure that broader culturally and historically important spaces and issues are considered and protected and that all aspects of American history are brought to light and examined honestly. We intend to do just that.

In partnership with SHPOs, the National Trust for Preservation and other organizations are working together to complete theme studies of the contributions and experiences of women, Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific islanders and of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. This has resulted in new designations such as the César Chávez National Monument, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, the George Nakashima Woodworker Complex, the Stonewall Inn and the murals of Diego Rivera.

Front facade of Central High School. | Credit: National Park Service
Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas. | Credit: National Park Service

The National Park Service has set as its Centennial Goal "to connect with and create the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates." We are activating this effort through the largest public awareness campaign since Mission 66, when we invited everyone to "See the USA" in your Chevrolet. This time we are inviting all Americans and global citizens to “Find Your Park” or “Encuentra Tu Parque” and then share their stories and encourage others in their family and community to do the same. For those of us who have walked the sacred ground of Gettysburg or hallways of Little Rock Central High School we know it can be life changing. With this effort we hope that people will accept the invitation (see video below) and experience these places for themselves. These places and experiences belong to all of us.

We want to inspire the next generation of historians, archeologists, and curators, but more importantly, the next generation of good citizens, steeped in the American experience, and committed to the preservation of all stories.

So join me at or to share your story, connect with the next generation and pass along our generation's passion for historic preservation.

Jonathan B. Jarvis is the director of the National Park Service.

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