Park Service Centennial Challenges Include Engaging Millennials

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis with Chimani Editor Bob Curley
National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis with Chimani Editor Bob Curley at the OWAA 2015 annual meeting

It’s sometimes said that America’s National Parks are in danger of being loved to death, but National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis sees a very different threat looming as his agency is poised to mark its centennial: an aging visitor demographic and apathy among younger Americans about the outdoors.

One of the big challenges for the Park Service as it celebrates its 100th birthday in 2016 is “connecting with and creating the next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates,” said Jarvis, who noted that as the average age of parks visitors increases (it’s now in the 40s and 50s, whereas once the average was in the 20s and 30s), the Park Service is redoubling its efforts to broaden the appeal of parks, especially through Find Your Park, an advocacy and awareness campaign that encourages people to share their National Parks experiences via the Internet and social media.

Speaking at the recent annual meeting of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) in Knoxville, Tenn., Jarvis argued that nothing better reflects the national values of the United States than its system of 407 national parks, from the striving for freedom showcased at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to the fight for equal rights experienced during a tour of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, to the ingenuity on display at Thomas Edison National Historic Park and the industriousness of those who once labored at the mills of Lowell National Historic Park.

“Above all, though, is the core American value of fun,” he said, referring to the endless recreational opportunities available at U.S. national parks.

The four-day OWAA conference, attended by Chimani editor Bob Curley, also featured a variety of sessions on access to public lands and preservation of wild places, including a panel discussion on climate change featuring Hal Herring of Field & Stream; Todd Tanner of Conservation Hawks; Cameron Wake, Ph.D., a climatologist at the University of New Hampshire, and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who has delivered more than 100 speeches to Congress on climate issues since taking office.