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Today marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service

Aryeh Alex, August 25, 2016

My first national park visit wasn’t that long ago. On a Route 66 road trip with a friend, we saw an interesting sign outside of the small town of Chambers, Arizona that said “Welcome to Petrified Forest National Park.” Our one rule on this trip was either of us could request a stop for anything we thought would be interesting and this seemed very interesting to me. Not only had I never been to a National Park, a petrified forest in the middle of the desert sounded fascinating.

We quickly pulled off RT66 and entered the park. A short stop at the ranger station to get a map and pick up some retro-postcards and we were driving the winding back roads of the desert park. It didn’t take long for us to pull off the road and venture by foot. The multicolored sand hills, various desert landscapes, and large portions of petrified fallen trees had me in awe. We spent hours exploring the park until sunset cast a reddish-orange hue over the park and our a ranger politely asked us to leave as the park closed.

Finally making it back to our motel I started filling out those retro-postcards and sending them to my family and friends. I proclaimed that there was something wonderful there in the desert and I was so glad that our National Park Service was protecting it.

I started researching what other National Parks we would be close to our route as we continued to head west towards California. The Grand Canyon, one of the most famous National Parks, was just a short detour off of our planned route. We agreed that we needed to visit one of the wonders of the natural world.

Of course, I was not disappointed. Hours were spent walking along the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I didn’t speak—just stared in wonder at the massive canyon that lay just before my feet. Pictures could not capture the feelings I had and I knew that I had to experience all of the parks and monuments of the National Park Service.

I had the National Parks bug. As I traveled the country for work, I made it a point to stop by every National Park and Monument, I could find. Friends and family started getting more of those retro-postcards and my National Park Service Passport started filling up with stamps from across the country.

Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah, John Muir, Pinnacles, Redwoods, Crater Lake, Mt. Rainer, Olympic, and so many more National Parks filled my soul as I explored the beauties of the National Park Service.

But I didn’t need to travel the country to explore the National Park Service. Back home in my homestate of Ohio, there are numerous sites protected under the Antiquities Act. From Perry’s Monument in Put-in-Bay to the Hopewell Cultural National Historic Park. My weekend trips to visit eight protected areas of the National Park Service in the backyard of our state make me proud to be an Ohio and an American.

The crown jewel, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, just outside of Cleveland, has some of the most beautiful trails and historical sites. From the old Erie Canal towpath flanked by wetlands and swamps, to the trails leading to an overlook of the valley, to my personal favorite, Brandywine Falls, the park’s nearly 33,000 are an oasis in the heart of it all.

The NPS has been protecting natural wonders and historical sites across America for a century and I hope that future generations get to experience and enjoy these areas as much as I have and continue to do for the next 100 years.

Share your pictures and stories on social media by tagging your posts with #NPS100. Here’s to another 100 years.