August 25, 1916

This is the date that the National Park Service was created by the U.S. Congress under the National Park Service Organization Act. President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill with the intent “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Up to this point, a handful of national parks were individually managed by the Department of the Interior.

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RW2 and I not only love the outdoors and traveling, but watching movies. Most genres are attractive to us, but we are particularly fond of the Ken Burn’s style of filmmaking. His documentaries cast a bright light on many different topics from the birth of jazz to, you guessed it, the National Parks. During the fall of 2009, Netflix was kind enough to deliver all 6 discs of the series, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

I was particularly struck by the adventures of Edward and Margaret Gehrke. They started visiting the national parks in 1915 and for the next 25 years, visited every park that existed at that time. Margaret chronicled all of their visits in journals and wrote of the beauty and majesty of the parks. I often wonder what Margaret would think of the national parks that have come to be since her death in 1978 and how she would describe her surroundings that are often indescribable.

Likewise, John Muir was an American naturalist and author. He was instrumental in preserving the wilderness of the United States, greatly through his writings. He is the founder of the Sierra Club and inspired many people to preserve, support and visit our national parks. Muir’s passion for wilderness is apparent in the architecture of a cabin he built on a stream in Yosemite national park along Yosemite Creek. He designed the cabin so a portion of the stream would run through a corner of the room for him to be able to hear the sound of the running water. Here in suburban Chicago, if I want to hear that sound, I have to turn on the tap.

I suppose that Margaret and John’s visions have been successful. If they were still alive, I know they would embrace me with open arms at the gate of every park. I would like to visit all of the U.S. national parks and after watching Burns’s beautiful film, I too have been bitten by the national park bug. This is one welt I will be happy to scratch.

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