In the United States, National Parks protect more than 84 million acres of land in order to preserve the ecosystems and beauty of these important wild spaces. As deforestation, climate change and human behavior endanger natural lands, National Parks have become critically important to protecting the environmental and health benefits that cannot be found anywhere else…or replaced by anything else.
For 150 years, National Parks have served as “outdoor classrooms” where students, young and old, have an opportunity to learn about the natural world around them. The protection of wild spaces in National Parks preserves ecosystems that are key to the health of people and the planet. Since their establishment in the 19th century, the impact of National Parks has been well-recognized (and celebrated) by everyone from Presidents to poets. In fact, they have their own official week. A Presidential proclamation was set forth to honor the beauty and diversity of America’s National Parks, while appreciating the Department of the Interior and National Park stewards.
There are countless advantages of National Parks, but three key benefits of them can be boiled down to the betterment of environmental health, human health, and education.
If we stop and think about it, National Parks are hard at work providing essential “products” for the environment like clean air, water and healthy soil. Preserving wild spaces has an incalculable impact on local ecosystems and the planet as a whole. The diverse ecosystems that thrive within these parks are large, complex and delicate; without them, many species of plants and animals would go extinct.
These ecosystems sustain a variety of plants, trees, and soil that are interdependent on each other. The disruption in the health of one, can have devastating effects on the entire system, impacting hundreds of species and nearby communities that depend on nature’s support structure to prevent erosion, landslides, and flooding.
More so, the protected vegetation of these areas substantially supports carbon sequestration, the process of removing harmful levels of carbon in the air which contributes to climate change. Conservative data suggests that the average carbon sequestration of National Park Service land amounts to 17.5 million metric tons of CO2— a direct impact on climate change and the future health of the environment.
Nature Promotes Well-Being
National Parks are sanctuaries that promote human health and wellness by providing people with the opportunity to connect with nature. Studies show that natural spaces promote a myriad of physical and mental health benefits, including lowered blood pressure, reduced stress and anxiety, improved cognitive function and increased sense of belonging. In fact, nature is described (and prescribed) as an antidote to stress.
“The growing body of research — combined with an intuitive understanding that nature is vital and increased concerns about the exploding use of smartphones and other forms of technology — has led to a tipping point at which health experts, researchers, and government officials are now proposing widespread changes aimed at bringing nature into people’s everyday lives,” said Jim Robbins of Yale University
The pandemic helped spotlight the importance of nature on human health and wellbeing. It also spurred researchers to begin new longitudinal studies that more deeply explore the benefits humans receive from being connected with the outdoors. When people have a connection with nature they’re more prone to protect it.
When we know better, we do better. Stewards of the National Parks have spent decades working to generate awareness through visitor education. Park tours, interpretive centers, journals and publications, and events have long promoted environmental education and ecological awareness.
Studies show that environmental education helps improve awareness, behavior and the enjoyment of nature concluding, “Environmental education research and practice contribute to transformative activity that can impact environmental quality through a variety of avenues.”
Being immersed in nature has inspired awe and curiosity for centuries. Learning from nature and the environment can help influence humans to think and act more sustainably. As climate change impacts ecosystems and species become extinct, widespread environmental education efforts will help protect and preserve green spaces and the natural resources that we depend on.
One of the current educational efforts by National Park stewards offers free park passes to all 4th-grade students. This initiative engages a new generation of people to teach the benefits of environmental preservation. Educational campaigns like this help teach the value of outdoor spaces and can help promote sustainable behaviors like water and resource conservation, as well as prevent and/or mitigate littering. This effort will hopefully create life-long advocates of the environment to sustain parks and outdoor spaces for future generations to come.
Celebrate and Support National Parks
Our National Parks deserve to be celebrated. They promote life changing benefits that encourage environmental protection and support human health. They act as a conduit for preservation education that has led to positive impacts on the climate.
As we emerge from a pandemic and begin traveling again there are three ways you can celebrate and support our National Parks.
- Visit: Experience the diversity that America’s parks hold.
- Volunteer: Volunteer to help with maintenance and operations.
- Donate: If you can’t volunteer, the National Parks Foundation can use your financial support to help maintain infrastructure, preserve history and culture, and promote education.
Supporting these spaces not only benefits your own health, but it helps protect the ecosystems that are critical to the future of our planet.
Recreation Northwest is a 501(c) 3 charity. Our mission is to teach the health benefits of nature, promote outdoor recreation, and steward the places where we play. Learn more online and give at RecreationNorthwest.org.
Co-authored by, Lauryn Haywood, Recreation Northwest Spring 2022 WWU Communications Intern
Todd Elsworth is one of the many “Mossy-haired lunatics roaming the dripping peninsulas”, described in “I’m Here for the Weather” by Tom Robbins. As executive director, he works to fulfill our mission to teach the health benefits of nature, promote outdoor recreation, and steward the places where we play.