The National Parks System began with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872. Then, on Aug. 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service, and this year marked the 105th anniversary! The National Park Service is responsible for overseeing and protecting 35 national parks and monuments. In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order that transferred 56 national parks and military sites into the National Park Service: land that makes up most of the parks we know today. There are now over 400 acres of land in the National Park Service that spans over all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and the United States territories.
Benefits of Getting Outside
You know that feeling when you step outside, take a deep breath of fresh air, and feel the sun on your face? Imagine that feeling for hours while you explore a national park! Spending time outdoors reduces stress through physical activity, and exposure to the sun increases vitamin D in the body. Reducing stress also reduces blood pressure, boosts the immune system and contributes to overall wellness. Vitamin D helps build strong bones, and can help your body defend against heart disease and even cancer. Remember that too much sun is harmful, so wear SPF 15 or higher sunscreen and reapply about every two hours. Once you’re ready to head outside, pick a lush, green trail: studies have shown that spending time around abundant plant life helps boost your mood and increase relaxation and concentration.
Virginia National Parks
Virginia is home to 22 national parks. One of the most popular is the Appalachian Trail, which is a hiking path that spans about 2,180 miles through 14 states from Maine to Georgia. Virginia actually contains the longest portion of the trail. Shenandoah National Park is the largest and most visited national park in the Commonwealth. It contains over 200,000 acres with a wide variety of plants, animals and terrain to explore.
Plan Your Trip
Most importantly, you need to remember to pack sunscreen! Getting too much sun without adequate skin protection over the course of your life could lead to serious skin cancers. Make sure to wear comfortable, weather- and terrain-appropriate clothing and shoes. Bring plenty of water and healthy snacks to fuel your adventure: we recommend packable recipes such as Apple Spice Raisin Snack Mix, Granola Bars or Herbed Popcorn & Pretzels.
While several National Parks charge an entrance fee, there are fee-free days to look forward to. The last ones in 2021 are Saturday, Sept. 25 and Monday, Nov. 11. Keep a lookout for next year’s fee-free days on the National Park Service website. There are a few other ways to save on the entrance fee. First, every child under age 16 gets into National Parks for free. Every Kid Outdoors is a program for fourth graders that allows them and their family members (or anyone in the car with them) to get into the park for free. If you have any family members over the age of 62, they qualify for the $20 Annual Senior Pass or the $80 Lifetime Senior Pass. Either one of these passes provides free entry to anyone in the car with the pass holder. If you are an active-duty, retired or reserve military, you and your dependents can get into the park for free with valid identification.
Now that you know more about our nation’s National Park System, you’re ready to hit the trail! Where will your first hike be?