With national parks under attack from Trump, actors, athletes, and others team up to celebrate their 101st anniversary.
Taye Diggs joins the National Park Foundation on a #FindYourPark tour at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada. Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images, courtesy of National Park Foundation.
Actor Taye Diggs wants you to #FindYourPark. Diggs is the latest of the famous artists, athletes, and local heroes to team up with the National Park Foundation and National Park Service to champion the benefits of getting outdoors at your local park, as he did growing up in upstate New York.
National parks protect some of the nation’s most fascinating and complex histories, including hidden gems like the marvelous and varied landscapes preserved from the rocky shores of Acadia, to Guam’s War in the Pacific National Historical Park. Many of the more than 400 national parks and thousands of historic and recreational lands across the country also feature stories we haven’t yet heard.
Despite President Donald Trump’s best efforts to undermine our national parks and increasing mobile screen time competing for our attention — an average of four hours for most kids and young people — the time is now to get outdoors. Nearly 300 of the 417 national parks have no entrance fee for visitors, and hiking can go beyond the traditional idea of trekking through trees and trails. Many parks include sights such as a visit to a historic presidential home, a glimpse into an inventor's laboratory, and an interactive exhibit about the history of women in the workforce.
Kayaking on Lake Mead. Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for National Park Foundation.
As part of the National Park Service’s turning 101 years old, Diggs joined a team of park rangers at Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Las Vegas to learn about the town that once thrived below what is now the Hoover Dam.
“In 1929, during the Great Depression, men and their families began drifting to this area in hopes of finding a construction job to help build the Hoover Dam,” says Christie Vanover, a spokeswoman for the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. “Alongside what was then the Colorado River, these families created a ragtown of tents, cardboard boxes, and anything else that could provide shelter. At its peak, 5,000 people lived in this ragtown that is now covered by Lake Mead.”
Today, Lake Mead is one of America’s most diverse national recreation areas, offering hiking along the Historic Railroad Trail where trains carrying supplies to the Hoover Dam with panoramic views of Lake Mead, fishing, cycling, and watersports. The park draws more than 7 million annual visitors, according to Vanover.
“Hoover Dam is something I'm going to bring my kids to,” Diggs told me after his trip around the lake. “Growing up, we were very active outdoors. I'm very much excited to share experiences like this with them.”
Traveling regularly between New York and Los Angeles for work, Diggs said reconnecting with nature is necessary for continued creative output. As a kid, he said his favorite thing was to hike and build forts or, unsurprisingly, act out camping.
But not every child is lucky enough to spend time in nature, and Diggs wants to take an active part in helping to change that.
Taye Diggs with National Park Rangers at Lake Mead. Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for National Park Foundation.
The National Park Foundation has launched several initiatives aimed at creating more opportunities for kids to experience the parks firsthand. An annual program called Concrete to Canyons transports youth from the concrete of Las Vegas to the canyons of Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Zion National Park. Junior Ranger programs teach kids about the park, water, cultural resources, paleontology and night skies, and a passion for science, technology, engineering, and math.
Donors can support such field trips through the Open OutDoors for Kids program, in which $10 opens a door of opportunity for a child. Vanover says with the support of the National Park Foundation, more than 1,000 kids have been able to visit Lake Mead during the past several years.
“We find that kids are amazed when they first experience these natural spaces and night skies,” Vanover says. “Once they get a taste of the outdoors, we find that they want to invite their parents to the park to hike our trails, kayak the Colorado River and look for wildlife.”
Diggs also feels kids will find it useful to reconnect with nature as we come to terms with, and combat climate change, a notion backed by a recent study.
“I think it really helps, especially when it comes down to taking care of our earth,” Diggs said. “It's difficult to take care of things that you don't know about, or that you don't respect.”
The “Parks 101” series kicked off in April this year with Jordan Fisher, the recording artist and former star of the Broadway Musical “Hamilton” uncovering the lesser-known story of Alexander Hamilton’s life at Hamilton Grange National Memorial. It continued with U.S. Navy veteran and Paralympics swimmer, Brad Snyder, touring Monocacy National Battlefield to bring attention to lesser-known battlefield parks. The series also featured Olympic Gold Medalist, Dominique Dawes, touring parks that tell stories of equality in Washington, D.C., including the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, and Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, among several others.