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Celebrating the Centennial of America's National Parks

06/22/2016 11:49PM ● By Laura Christman

Aging Beautifully

July 2016
By Laura Christman
Photo: Courtesy of the National Park Service

The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th birthday, and the gifts are all for you: forest trails, bubbling mud pots, glassy lakes, splashy waterfalls, massive volcanoes, towering redwoods and ancient lava tubes.

“It really provides an opportunity to reconnect with the American public,” Lassen Volcanic National Park Superintendent Steve Gibbons says of the Aug. 25 centennial.

“National parks represent the conservation message for the United States,” Whiskeytown National Recreation Area Superintendent Jim Milestone notes. “These unique landscapes are something that we really value.”

The National Park Service’s birthday wish is for people to spend time in a park. In Northern California, that’s a cinch. We’re got Lassen Park, Whiskeytown, Lava Beds National Monument and Redwood National and State Parks.

Centennial programs across the nation began last year and continue through 2016. The goal is getting more people— particularly young adults and children—to experience and value national parks.

“We’re really reaching out to that next generation. We need those advocates,” Gibbons says.

Lassen is celebrating two other 100-year milestones too:

• The 100-year anniversary of Lassen Peak’s big explosion in May 1915 following a year of steamy, ashy outbursts from the volcano after 27,000 years of quiet.

•  The 100th birthday of the park on Aug. 9. 

Lassen was among the first national parks, designated ahead of high-profile areas like the Grand Canyon and a couple weeks before the National Park Service came to be. 

“It’s a pretty exciting time to be here … Most parks just get to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial,” Gibbons says.

National parks are important to Northern California. Visitors infuse millions of dollars into nearby communities each year from money spent on gas, food, lodging and other services. But the parks also are special places for North State residents—strongly linked to the region’s identity and offering areas for exploration, recreation and relaxation.

“I feel Whiskeytown really improves the quality of life for people in Shasta County,” Milestone says. “Within 10 or 15 minutes of Redding, you can come over the ridge and be in a natural and beautiful landscape.”

Whiskeytown and Lassen are rich in biological diversity with interesting plants and creatures.

“We’ve got bald eagles, Pacific fishers, salamanders, turtles, bears, mountain lions … Whiskeytown is pretty wild. It’s a pretty incredible place,” Milestone says.

Both Lassen and Whiskeytown like to play up their dark sides too. Without the haze of artificial light from urban areas, stars pop against the night skies.

“We’re not nearly as affected by light pollution. That’s another resource that I think a lot of people don’t think about,” Gibbons says.

Protecting resources and preserving history are key roles of national parks.

“You have both this natural and cultural history of the United States woven together in the quilt of the National Park Service,” Milestone notes.

There are 407 National Park Service sites. The first national park was Yellowstone, designated in 1872. Early parks were managed under a mix of agencies and didn’t always share the same emphasis on preventing exploitation. Establishing the National Park Service was crucial to protecting the nation’s treasured places, Milestone says.

The centennial is a time to look back and ahead. 

Whiskeytown uses prescribed burns as part of a long-term approach to promote healthy, old-growth forest for the future. Trails are being rehabilitated and developed and programs created. New this summer are ranger-led stand-up-paddleboard tours.

Lassen Park this summer celebrates the renovated Lassen Peak Trail and opening of Volcano Adventure Camp for youth campers. Further ahead is creation of Lassen Center for Collaborative Studies. Gibbons sees it as a resource for U.S. Geological Survey, NASA, University of California and others conducting research in the park. 

“We would be providing office space, classrooms, meeting space and hopefully overnight accommodations to facilitate research,” Gibbons says.

What will things look like 100 years from now?

“I would hope it would look even better, due to public support and research that informs and supports our resource management systems,” Gibbons says.

“I wish I could see it,” Milestone says of Whiskeytown in 100 years with old-growth forests. “It will really be a spectacular place to visit.” 

Centennial events

Alumni gathering 
July 22 at Lassen Park. For current and former employees and volunteers.

Day in Park Festival 
Aug. 6 at Lassen Park. Activities, displays, ranger programs, music, barbecue and ribbon-cutting for Volcano Adventure Camp.

Naturalization Ceremony 
Aug. 9 at Lassen Park. One hundred new citizens will take United States oath in ceremony at Manzanita Lake on 100th birthday of the park.

Centennial celebration with orchestra and floating luminarias. 
Aug. 20 at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.

Circle of Discovery exhibit 
Oct. 1 to Jan. 8 at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding. Exhibit on seven national park sites in Northern California and Southern Oregon: Lassen Park, Whiskeytown, Lava Beds National Monument, Redwood National and State Parks, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon Caves National Monument and Tule Lake Unit of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.