100 Years of the National Parks

“It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it.”- Theodore Roosevelt


I love birthday parties!  They are such a fun celebration.  When we got closer to planning this year of adventure and narrowing down where we would like to go, visiting the national parks seemed like the perfect choice.  Aidan loves the outdoors, we have so many states we have never been to, the national parks have a great education service component, and 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.  We decide to #findourpark and get our kid into as many parks as we could during this year. We have learned so much about nature, ecology, politics, preservation, conservation and people behind the national parks in such a short time.

In the early years of the United States, there were no official “public” lands. The idea of preserving lands for the general public began with President Abraham Lincoln signing the Yosemite Grant Act in 1864. In 1872, Yellowstone National Park became the first national park managed by the Department of the Interior. It was designated a “public park for benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks were added by President Benjamin Harrison in 1890.


President Theodore Roosevelt is often referred to as the most instrumental figure for the National Park system. Shortly after becoming president, Roosevelt traveled timages.jpego California in 1903 for a 3-day camping trip with naturalist John Muir.  Muir was an eloquent and outspoken advocate for the preservation of the land and greatly influenced Roosevelt. While in office, President Roosevelt created five additional national parks, created 18 national monuments, set aside four national game refuges and more than 100 million acres of national forests monitored by the Department of Agriculture

Now, I do not wish to ignore the fact that the Native American peoples had been enjoying, benefitting, and preserving these lands for years. However, the commercial exploitation of settlers from the trek westward did not hold the land and its resources in the same value. Even though the land now had park designation, it was still necessary for the government to intervene where it had failed to previously be proactive and protect these lands from Unknown.jpegfurther harm. In some cases, major rivers were dammed, ranches were established, hotels were built, logging was rampant, and railroads went directly through designated lands. There were also some in the government that believed setting aside the parks was not necessarily for preservation and protection of the land, but instead to set aside these lands for profit and provision for the U.S. Government. The main problems stemmed from a lack of congressional oversight, separate agencies overseeing the various lands, as well as differing preservation goals, so in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act to create the National Parks Service to monitor and care for all of the National Parks, Monuments, Memorials and Historic Sights. Today there are over 400 areas united in the National Parks system, covering 84 million acres in all 50 states and U.S. Territories.

August 25, 2016. The day the National Parks Service celebrated the 100 Year Anniversary of the National Parks System, as we know it today.   We chose to head to Mount Rushmore to commemorate this day. The national parks celebrated in many ways, but the universal celebration involved free admission to the parks for the entire weekend. We were prepared for the parks to be very busy, so we arrived early! Teddy Roosevelt greeted us upon arrival, though I couldn’t get Aidan to take his picture with him.   We picked up the Junior Ranger program materials & set to work learning all about the Memorial.


South Dakotan, Duane Robinson, conceived of the idea to carve western heroes, such as Lewis & Clark, Buffalo Bill Cody and Red Cloud in to the Needles of the Black Hills to promote tourism. When he began to consult with his sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, they rejected the Needles site because of opposition from Native Americans and a lack of material to carve since the granite crumbled too easily. They settled on the Mount Rushmore site due to the large face of granite and southeast exposure. Borglum also suggested the site should commemorate a more national focus and decided to carve the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln into the granite.   Construction began in 1927 and finished in 1941, 6 months after the death of Borglum.IMG_9650.JPG

We listened to a Ranger program about the art studio where Borglum originally carved the scaled model that would be used as reference for the larger project outside of his window. Even his smaller sculpture was huge and quite remarkable. It is here that you can see his plan to carve more than just the faces of these former presidents.

IMG_9660.JPGWe learned that over 90% of the Mount Rushmore Memorial was sculpted with dynamite, which they set off twice a day. They built their own electrical plant on site and used pneumatic tools for the final smoothing process. Each day, the workers climbed over 700 steps to the top of the project and were lowered down the face to use basic geometry to set the dynamite that would carve the shapes and contours. The details were quite remarkable, down to Roosevelt’s glasses and Lincoln’s beard.   Not a single worker was lost in the project and many were grateful for the work during the depression. However, the death of Guzman and the advent of WWII prevented the project from continuing to completion by carving the bodies to go with these iconic faces.   Not to mention, the problem of how to now remove the enormous pile of blasted granite below, which ended any hope of finishing Borglum’s vision.



The site had a great museum with photos, a film, first- hand interviews and memorabilia from over the years. We walked up to the base to get a closer look and on our walk back, realized the park was getting crowded. They were set to have cake in the afternoon to celebrate, but the clear local streams were calling to Aidan, so we left before then and headed to some sweet fishing spots nearby. The park had scheduled a special 100 years celebration for the evening, so we planned to return.


On our drive back to Mount Rushmore, rain began to downpour and the temperature dropped. We did not let that deter us, so we broke out the fleece and all of the rain gear and headed to the outdoor amphitheater. The rainy evening made the faces look like their noses were running, which wasn’t their best look for this big night.


The rain stopped shortly after the program began. We listened to the Park director speak about the history of Mount Rushmore, and the National Parks. “Theodore Roosevelt” spoke about what the parks meant to him and how they came to be.   They honored former park employees and military members in the audience, which was very moving. They ended the service with videos about finding your park and by retiring the American flag. Then they lit the sculpture up in the night sky, which was beautiful.6891365652_5e5d1511eb_b-1.jpg

Upon our departure, they handed out a gift to commemorate the day. I love a good party favor & especially one that is unexpected! Our gift came from a fallen pine tree on the property, which they branded with the date, location and 2016 Anniversary logo. & is such a great keepsake! More adventures to come as we wander and wonder…IMG_9747.JPG


2 thoughts on “100 Years of the National Parks

  1. What a great day you guys had there! I loved the day (and evening) I spent at Mt. Rushmore. I loved reading about the artist, and I loved seeing all of the WOMEN’S names on the list of people who worked on the sculpture, too. The lady who took me grew up in the area and said that they used to do a huge fireworks display on Independence Day, but they can’t do it any more due to fire risk (pine beetle). She also said that the local high school still has their high school graduation at the monument, and they walk across the “stage” at the bottom of the viewing area. How cool is that???


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