The numbers are in and looking pretty good! Already this year, North Carolina, Wyoming, and Montana have each announced a third straight year of record attendance, while New York’s state campgrounds were the most popular they’ve ever been. Add to this the record 305 million visitors to our national parks, and it’s easy to see that many parks across the country fared well in getting people outside.It wouldn’t be hard to speculate that this boost in attendance is because of increased park awareness through big events like First Day Hikes and National Trail Days as well as initiatives like Take a Child Outside Week and Every Kid in a Park. Or maybe it’s because parks are centering their attention and resources on making improvements to biking/multi-use trails and camping facilities as well as making parks more accessible to people of diverse abilities. And when you come down to it, cheaper gas prices, a stronger economy, and stretches of decent weather probably haven’t hurt much either. Regardless of what the parks are doing—whether advertising better, making attractive improvements to popular amenities, or a combination of those things—it’s working. All across the country, folks are looking to take full advantage of the public spaces we all share. And it is wonderful! At their heart, these record attendance figures represent something larger and reveal something about the people attending the parks. Every visitor contributes to the conversation that surrounds the importance of large, open natural spaces that belong to all of us. Every visitor reinforces the relevance of places where one can get lost in their thoughts while taking a stroll on an earthen path, pass an afternoon doused in birdsong, sit on a fallen tree near a babbling creek, witness wildlife grazing on a distant hillside, hear the chattering of bats as they mitigate mosquito populations, stand in a stream to cast a fly, or any of the innumerable ways one can detoxify from the demands of modern life by engaging with landscapes. Each person who takes their child to a park to teach them how to fish, safely build a campfire and make s’mores, tell a story at that campfire, or study the history that is preserved and interpreted at parks across the country underscores the significance of the natural world in our cultural narrative, past and present. And, of course, it also lays the groundwork for what will hopefully be a nature-friendly future in an age of increasingly present technology and what can sometimes feel like a departure from the wildness and wilderness of our roots. Whether you’re a solo adventurer or enjoy experiencing the majesty of nature with your family, children, dog, or friends, you know that our state and national parks are an invaluable resource and genuine treasure for all who visit and support them. So let’s leave off all that talk of virtual reality and go for the real stuff! Download a Pocket Ranger® mobile app, plan a trip to a park near you, and keep that conversation rolling.
If travel to a national park during this time of year is too much hassle, but you want to get going on your Junior Ranger passport, don’t worry! The NPS offers the WebRanger program with lots of fun interpretive and educational activities to enjoy from your computer, perhaps while you await or plan your next trip to a national or state park. And as always, look to our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps for your next state park adventure!