As I am in the midst of packing and closing out my affairs in New Bern, I will have to keep this brief. Last Tuesday, my Mom and I traveled south to New Bern (in my new Element!) via St. Louis, Nashville, and Asheville. We sampled the vegan offerings of each city and saw some of the major sites. Although my short time in each city was barely enough to scratch the surface, it was clear to me that Asheville continues to reign supreme as a mecca for foodies, explorers, and progressives alike. Yet it was in St. Louis where we made a surprising discovery…
At 5:20 PM, we walked into the visitor center underneath the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, ready for our trip to the top. In the lobby, we saw sign after sign emblazoned with the words “centennial”, “celebration”, “#findyourpark”, etc. At first, I was a little confused by this ad campaign, but then I remembered the history of the National Park System. Proposed by Congress and signed by Woodrow Wilson, the National Park Service Organic Act came into effect in… 1916! Part of me must have known this, but I had not put the pieces together. I will be touring our nation’s park system on the eve of its 100th anniversary! Fate has a wonderful way of working its magic.
After I calmed down about the serendipity of life, I began to survey the room once more. There were exhibits on park history, fun activities for kids to do, and many other exciting additions to celebrate the centennial, but there was also a lot of construction and renovation. If 2016 is to be one of the most celebrated years in NPS history, then 2015 must be consumed by improving the infrastructure and beautifying the parks for the crowds to come. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a curse, but I can imagine seeing a little more orange tape and fresh cement at the parks I will visit during Phase I than I will during Phase II. Luckily, I am saving many of America’s grandest parks for 2016. At the same time, I can also imagine that park attendance will undoubtedly increase for the 2016 season. Even though they may be an inconvenience for me, renovations and increase park attendance are both positive symptoms of this centennial celebration.
In the end, I can only be excited about this strange twist of fate. Crowded and under construction as they may be, this centennial will only serve as a reminder to Americans of how lucky they are to have access to our National Parks.