Compelling scenery and massive landscapes lure millions of visitors to national parks
MUNCY – A well documented history of the National Park Service and its mission was given by Matt Enderle at the Muncy Public Library on Tuesday evening, March 26. The guest speaker from Williamsport spoke to a full audience of his experiences while employed as a national park ranger.
Although the National Park Service started in 1798 in Pennsylvania it became law in 1916 by Congress under the direction of President Woodrow Wilson to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein andleave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Interestingly enough, a man from Wilkes Barre, was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to paint “what was out there!” George Catlin was a famous painter in the 1800s and he would paint massive landscapes with huge river valleys and mountains in the 1820s and 30s according to Enderle. He specialized in painting the Native Americans and was a renowned traveler.
Yellowstone National Park was one of the first established in the national park system with many more to follow such as Sequoia, Yosemite, Grand Teton, Mt. Rainer, Rocky Mountain, Grand Canyon, Mt. Zion, and Glacier National Park. By 1910 there were 9 or 10 established “but no laws were yet enforced to show wear and tear.”
The National Park Service was set in 1917 to maintain the parks and by the 1930s over 8 million visitors a year were coming to the parks.
Visitation was down during WWII but in the 50s the statistics went way up according to Enderle as he showed a chart. In 1944, 86,593 visitors came to Yellowstone and by 1954 that number was up to 1,328,900. “That was a 1400 percent increase in ten years. We were not prepared to facilitate large numbers of people then,” he said. Today it is over 80 million visitors.
Protecting these valuable lands was a big reason why Enderle wanted to become a park ranger. “Keeping these landscapes unaltered and to see what hasn’t been touched by the hand of man,” he said.
Pennsylvania has a great share of national land that is preserved such as Valley Forge Park, Gettysburg and Steamtown in Scranton.
Enderle also suggested a drive to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. “It is only 4 hours from here and part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The scenery is nationally significant. It is a cool park just a short distance away, and established in 1935.”
Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio was another one to visit nearby with a massive park and a scenic railroad to see. “The train rides are great in the fall,” he added.
Careers with the National Park Service are available for those who love the outdoors, and for retirees and older adults, there are numerous volunteer positions to be had. “There are lots of important jobs to do, from biologists and anthropologists to a fire crew and administrators.” Also there are seasonal employees and resource protection personnel for “law enforcement.”
Fee rangers take care of the customers and visitor assistance. Volunteers are a huge asset and help take care of the concessionaires.
The federal budget for the National Park Service is over 3.4 billion. “It has dropped but the land continues to grow.” Unfortunately, there are over 100 million pounds of trash disposal per year, although “we are becoming more green.” Recycling and a sponsorship by Subaru have helped with waste removal.
Enderle said he and his family would visit the parks, and his childhood dreams took him to 48 states. After high school he obtained a degree in Recreational Parks & Tourism. He started in southwestern Utah at Mt. Zion as an interpretive ranger. At 9,000 feet above sea level he said he learned lots of Native American history. “Keep wild animals at a thumb’s distance away,” he explained when someone asked about encounters with wildlife.
Last year he was at Yosemite, then went to Grand Teton for academic research where he said he hiked many trails. In two more weeks, Enderle said he will be taking a position at Glacier Park in Alaska.
There are 58 national parks in the United States. At over 7 million acres, Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska is the largest park in the country, and Hot Springs in Arkansas is the smallest measuring 8.7 miles. It is a national reserve from 1827.
Visiting national parks is an incredible experience and Enderle recommends driving through a park first “then explore areas you want more closely.” Some offer bus tours and shuttle services like Mt. Zion or the Grand Canyon. Some offer lodging, most offer camping and it is advisable to make reservations about a year in advance.