Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Redefining the National Park Service Role in Urban Areas: Bringing the Parks to the People

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Redefining the National Park Service Role in Urban Areas: Bringing the Parks to the People

Article excerpt

George Butler is celebrated for the value he placed on the role of recreation and parks in human development and his passion for having parks in communities as a means of improving the lives of people of all ages. I couldn't agree with him more. This is why I've chosen to speak to you about the importance of "Bringing Parks to the People."

It has always been the responsibility of the National Park Service to bring the parks to the people. Stephen T. Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, went to Washington in January 1915 as a special assistant to Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane. Mather's efforts to build public and political support for a national park service helped persuade Congress to create the Service in 1916. Mather promoted park access, development, and use.

National Parks Tell America's Stories

Today we have 408 national parks. There are the iconic sites such as Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountain National Parks. And we have unique sites such as the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Park in San Francisco and Edison National Historical Site in New Jersey.

The National Park Service tells our American stories, stories of places that are symbols of our heritage and of extraordinary people who changed the world. One of our newer National Park Service sites is Pullman National Monument. Pullman is located in Chicago's South Side on the original Pullman town site. The town was created in the 1880s by the Pullman Palace Car Company to serve as a model factory town to manufacture railroad passenger cars and house factory workers and their families. It's a story about labor relations, about the rise of the African American middle class who served as porters in the Pullman Palace Cars. In many ways, it was the genesis of the civil rights movement. And today it is a community trying to improve itself by sharing its history.

Last week I was at the dedication for the visitor center at Flight 93 National Memorial. It was a moving experience as the exhibits use photographs, artifacts, and actual audio tapes to convey the Flight 93 story in the context of the other terrorist attacks which occurred on September 11, 2001. Spending time with the families of those lost on Flight 93 humbles me with the responsibility for their story. We tell America's stories. And we work with communities.

National Parks In Communities

While you are in Las Vegas, take a trip out to Lake Mead National Recreation Area. We are partnering with Las Vegas to work on the Northwest Las Vegas Trails and Open Space project, which provides greater opportunities for learning and recreating on one of our designated National Water Trails that flows through Lake Mead. Our Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program supports community-led natural conservation projects like this one, all across the nation. RTCA is the community assistance arm of the National Park Service, providing technical assistance to community groups and local, state, and federal government agencies working to protect natural areas and water resources to enhance close to home outdoor recreation opportunities. We help communities plan, organize partnerships, and achieve success on the projects most important to them.

It is in our mission to conserve these places unimpaired for future generations, an idea that has spread across the globe to nearly 100 countries. This idea has expanded, diversified, and evolved. What the founders of the national park idea had in mind was incredibly innovative, but it is a different time and a different era that requires new ways of thinking and articulating the meaning of parks.

Celebrating 100 Years of National Parks

Earlier this year, we kicked off our centennial marketing campaign, "Find Your Park." It is a message that encourages people to shed their preconceptions of what a "park" is. Not just national parks, but all parks. The campaign is about deepening the public's understanding, not only of the National Park Service, but its own history. …

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