The Parks 101 campaign aims to celebrate 417 national parks, writes Beth J Harpaz

Last year, America's National Park Service (NPS) marked its centennial, but the celebrations are far from over.

The Parks 101 campaign, which kicked off last week on the NPS' 101st birthday, aims to draw attention to the hidden gems of the 417 parks in the system.



The National Park Service hosted a record 331 million recreation visits in 2016. But half of those were in just 26 of the system's superstar destinations like the Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, Yosemite and Yellowstone.

This year's effort highlights lesser-known treasures that even locals might not know about. One of the Parks 101 celebrity ambassadors, Hamilton star Jordan Fisher, recently filmed a video at California's Channel Islands National Park.

Though Fisher calls Los Angeles home, he hadn't heard about the islands before.

"My eyes were opened to an incredible experience," he said.

"You can see for miles. We hiked. There's tonnes to do. You can kayak around the island, go into coves and caves or have a diving experience."


Parks 101 activities and digital content features topics such as kayaking 101, battlefields 101 and shipwrecks 101. But the campaign also seeks to show the breadth of programming offered at national parks — everything from art to yoga.

Do you hate bugs and mud? That's okay, too, because another message of Parks 101 is that visiting national parks doesn't need to involve hiking, camping or road trips. In fact, many of the 417 national park sites have nothing to do with the great outdoors, for example, a house dedicated to the history of America's first ladies in Canton, Ohio, and a nuclear missile site in South Dakota.

And nature isn't the only way to find peace and quiet in the park system: "You can enjoy solitude walking through a historic home," said Alanna Sobel, spokeswoman for the National Park Foundation, which raises money to fund critical projects such as the restoration of trails and historic structures.


Visitation is already trending upward at lesser-known park sites. While attendance overall in the national park system was up 7 per cent in 2016 over 2015, it was up 10 per cent at destinations that traditionally see fewer visitors, according to NPS spokeswoman Beth Stern.

Last year's centennial was just one reason for the record visitation. Relatively good weather, low petrol prices and robust international tourism helped, too. Park numbers for 2017 will likely get a bump from watchers of last week's total eclipse.

The centennial also spurred donations, more than doubling National Park Foundation contributions from $81 million in 2015 to more than $164 million in 2016.

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- AP