Celebrating as national parks turn 100
by Nathan Hale Sargent
The National Park Service turns 100 years old August 25. We are proud that as a part of our centennial, President Barack Obama established the Stonewall National Monument in New York City June 24, and directed us to share this vital story of our nation's LGBTQ heritage – and to preserve that site forever. Stonewall is emblematic of the mission that America has assigned to the National Park Service: to preserve unimpaired our country's cultural and natural resources for the education, inspiration, and enjoyment of all. Put simply, the National Park Service tells the story of America; our mission is not accomplished until that story is inclusive of us all. The NPS' LGBTQ Heritage Mapping Project is actively reviewing sites that could be eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places or as a National Historic Landmark, and includes over a dozen sites in San Francisco. Places like the Women's Building, Jose Julio Sarria's home, Finocchio's Club, and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital Wards 5B/5A are all locations that tell the stories of our LGBTQ community.
We want you to join us in celebrating our country's national parks, and so here are our top five tips for marking the National Park Service Centennial:
August 25 – Founder's Day – marks the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, and the commemoration has lasted all year with one simple message: Find Your Park. Discover new park experiences and reconnect with the parks that hold special meaning for you. And we want to celebrate our birthday by honoring all public lands, not just units of the National Park Service. So venture out to some new city and regional parks, historic houses, and other local treasures. You could take a road trip to the iconic national parks of the West, or you could look to the smaller national historic sites and monuments that reveal our cultural heritage. The diversity of stories might surprise you. In addition to Stonewall, some of our newest park sites share the story of Cesar Chavez, the Underground Railroad, and the Buffalo Soldiers. We have a special website to help you make new discoveries: http://www.findyourpark.com.
2. Stay local
We are spoiled in the Bay Area with parks in our backyard that some people travel the world to see. Golden Gate National Recreation Area welcomes 15 million visitors a year. You have likely joined them for a snapshot of the Golden Gate Bridge, a walk through Fort Point National Historic Site, or a trip to Muir Woods. But probe deeper and you'll see so much more. For example, did you know that Cold War-era veterans are volunteering in the Marin Headlands to show you the underground missile sites where nuclear warheads once hid beneath our feet? Our new Golden Gate National Recreation Area app for the iPhone can lead you to these lesser-visited sites of interest in the park.
3. Share your perspective
Seeing Stonewall elevated to national monument status – and with that action, the gay rights struggle etched permanently and firmly into the story of the national parks – made so many hearts sing. That sense of affirmation and recognition is a feeling we want others to share. And so when my colleagues and I welcome visitors, we want each and every one to feel empowered to share and celebrate their own story at the park. The LGBTQ story does not stop at Stonewall, of course, and the National Park Service is currently conducting a theme study to help assess sites important to LGBTQ history for recognition as national historic landmarks.
4. Enrich yourself
The stories of our heritage sites can enrich your understanding of the world; they may affirm your experiences and views and they can also introduce you to the perspectives of others.
You may remember sitting around a campfire in a national park as a kid, listening to the stories of a park ranger. If you have not attended a park ranger program in the past decade, you might be surprised. No longer content with recitations of scientific facts and historic dates, we want our park programs to engage our visitors in meaningful conversations about the ideas of our day. Walk through the cellblocks of the federal penitentiary on Alcatraz Island, and ask yourself about the role incarceration plays in our society today. At Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, learn how our country united and sacrificed in the face of a crisis, and wonder if we can do the same in the face of climate change. Allow parks to challenge you.
5. Introduce your favorite park to someone new
As we work to make our parks more inclusive and the stories we share more representative, please help us introduce parks to the next generation of park visitors, stewards, and advocates. Bring your kids. Invite a niece or nephew or neighbor along with you to a campfire program at John Muir National Historic Site or to explore the tall ships at San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Volunteer or donate to a program that brings youth or first-time visitors to the park. Parks can be the places that unite us, but only if you visit!
Nathan Hale Sargent is the public affairs specialist at Golden Gate National Recreation Area.