Advancing the National Park Idea

20 October 2009 | Downloads - publication

National parks today serve purposes and provide benefits far broader than were envisioned for them a century ago. They also face threats to their survival not imagined in the beginning. But their mission remains fundamentally important to America, and grows ever more vital as ecological and social challenges demand solutions.

 One year ago, the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association convened an independent commission charged with developing a 21st-century vision for the National Park Service and for the magnificent collection of unique places it holds in trust for the American people. The commission consisted of a diverse group of distinguished private citizens, including scientists, historians, conservationists, educators, businesspeople, and leaders with long experience in state and national government. We met five times, and heard from conservation and preservation experts, field staff of the National Park Service, teachers, volunteers, and groups that help support the work of the parks. At three additional public meetings we listened to the ideas and priorities of concerned citizens. Commission committees focused on key issues. Their reports and minutes of commission meetings are online at We are grateful to all who helped us. Our yearlong concentration on the national park idea convinces us that its evolution has been of exceptional value to the nation. Continued expansion of that idea should play a central role in solving some of our most daunting problems. Our recommendations capture strategies that will, if they are adopted now, strengthen education, reduce impacts of climate change, provide meaningful opportunities for young people, support a healthier and more interconnected citizenry, preserve extraordinary places that reflect our diverse national experience, and safeguard our life-sustaining natural heritage on land and sea.

This agenda is urgent. America stands at a crossroads: Down one road lie missed opportunities and irretrievable loss of our natural and cultural legacy. Down the other is a future in which national parks—protected forever and for all—help forge a better world. We encourage all Americans to join us in learning more about our national parks, and in building a path to hope.