Discovering Our National Parks

Pictured: Brian Ettling, park ranger, teaches visitors about National Parks.

Pictured: Park Ranger Brian Ettling teaches visitors about Crater Lake National Park.


 It’s the lovely month of May, as they say in “Camelot.” Summer unofficially begins on Memorial Day and it’s time to plan that big summer vacation. This year, the focus may be on visiting our national parks, which are in the midst of a century celebration.

By Don Corrigan (South County Times)

“The national parks are getting a lot of publicity due to the anniversary,” said Brian Ettling of South County, who serves as a park ranger at Crater Lake National Park in the summers. “I think we will see a lot of vacationing families this year.”

Ettling has been a ranger for the national park in southern Oregon for 24 years. He said his ranger contacts have also allowed him to spend time at Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and many more parks.

“When visitors ask me which park I like most, I always say which ever one I visited last. They all leave that kind of impression on me,” said Ettling. “I like the parks around Mount Ranier and in the Northwest generally.

“But I enjoy the Gateway Arch and the Ulysses S. Grant sites right here in St. Louis as well,” noted Ettling. “Some residents don’t realize these local sites are national parks and there’s so much history to learn right here at home in our own backyard.”

Ettling has some good advice for park vacationers: Plan in advance. Avoid July 4th and the Labor Day stretches, if possible. Take your time at any one park, and don’t rush to try to take in everything.

John Terry of Kirkwood, who wrote “Letters From The West” about his own national park travels, offers much the same advice as Ettling. Terry adds that you should avoid taking selfies with the wildlife with your smart phone; and, always keep track of potentially bad weather in remote locations.

In his book, Terry recalls his travels to Yosemite, Moab, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Escalante, Big Bend, Rocky Mountain National Park and more.

“I think the 100th anniversary is going to put plenty of people in the parks,” said Terry. “But a bigger factor is cheap gas and a rebounding economy that puts money in people’s pockets for a vacation.

“My family and I will probably go out to Rocky Mountain National Park north of Denver,” said Terry. “It’s underrated and doesn’t get the press that Yellowstone or Yosemite get,” said Terry. “People say we don’t have the kind of rugged mountains that they have in the Alps. They haven’t been to Rocky Mountain National Park. Parts of it are breathtaking.”

Plenty of Outdoor Ink

The national park anniversary has been getting plenty of ink with major stories in USA Today, AARP Magazine, and American Automobile Association’s (AAA) Midwest Traveler magazine. The AAA magazine profiled several of the more than 400 park sites.

“Our May-June issue is actually devoted to the centennial national parks celebration,” said Deborah Reinhardt, managing editor of Midwest Traveler. “We do have members who are coming into our AAA offices with the magazine wanting information on how to travel to the parks.

“I know the people in our office in Crestwood on Watson and Grant roads are always ready to help with maps and brochures,” added Reinhardt. “Two national parks that people always want to know about are Yellowstone and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

Area residents don’t have to rely on maps and print media to find out more about the parks. The Saint Louis Science Center’s OmniMax Theater features “National Parks Adventure” through August. The film takes audiences on off-trail adventures into the nation’s awe-inspiring untamed wilderness.

Greg MacGillivray’s film commemorates the National Park Service’s 100-Year Anniversary in the production narrated by environmentalist and outdoor enthusiast Robert Redford.

“There are 408 national parks in our country that many families have not been able to explore,” according to MacGillivray. “Our hope is ‘National Parks Adventure’ will encourage our audiences to discover the beauty and sanctuary of these American treasures, which belong to every one of us.”

Filmed in more than 30 national parks across the country, the film for IMAX® theatres follows world-class mountaineer Conrad Anker, adventure photographer Max Lowe and artist Rachel Pohl as they hike, climb and explore their way across America’s wild and beautiful places – including Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, Yosemite and Arches.

Parks Closer To Home 

Tim Good, superintendent of the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site located at 7400 Grant Road in Grantwood Village, noted that the park is a perfect stop on a “staycation” for residents this summer. It’s also a great destination for visiting relatives who are vacationing in St. Louis.

The park, adjacent to Grant’s Farm and the home of the Budweiser Clydesdales of Anheuser-Busch, has the mission of educating Americans about the Civil War General and 18th President Ulysses S. Grant, his wife, Julia Dent and the enslaved African-Americans and other residents of the White Haven farm.

Like other national parks, the site of Grant’s White Haven is marking the exact date when President Woodrow Wilson signed an act creating the National Park Service (NPS) on Aug. 25, 1916. Julie Northrip, the chief of interpretation at the park, said there will be a concert on the grounds of the park on Aug. 25, 2016, to commemorate the date.

“We will also present, ‘Lift Every Voice: The Black Experience in the Heartland,’ on Aug. 26 at 7 p.m.,” said Northrip. “The National Park Service and Bright Star Touring Theatre teamed up to produce ‘Lift Every Voice.’ It’s designed especially to celebrate the National Park Service’s Centennial and the many Black Americans who made a difference in the American Midwest. It’s free, but reservations are required.”

Folks at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial are encouraging residents to take advantage of the “Every Kid In  A Park” program. All fourth graders and their families can get free access to hundreds of America’s national parks, including the Gateway Arch, with the “Every Kid In A Park” voucher. Go to to sign up for the program.

In addition, the parks anniversary will be celebrated at the Arch and Old Courthouse starting Aug. 25 with a three-day extravaganza of concerts, live programs, and unique NPS birthday cupcakes. More information will be announced soon.

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