Florida ob­serv­ing Na­tional Park Ser­vice cen­ten­nial, started with Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son in 1916

RSWLiving - - Features - BY DAYNA HARP­STER

Florida ob­serv­ing Na­tional Park Ser­vice cen­ten­nial, started with Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son in 1916

South­west Florid­i­ans have a birth­day to cel­e­brate. And the rest of the coun­try does too, be­cause all Amer­i­cans share in the 100 years of his­tory, con­ser­va­tion and recreation that the Na­tional Park Ser­vice rep­re­sents. The cen­ten­nial marks Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son’s sign­ing of the fed­eral act (Aug. 25, 1916) that cre­ated the agency un­der the Depart­ment of the In­te­rior and placed 14 na­tional parks, 21 na­tional mon­u­ments and the Hot Springs (Arkansas) and Casa Grande Ru­ins (Ari­zona) reser­va­tions un­der its ju­ris­dic­tion. The Na­tional Park Ser­vice now in­cludes 410 sites on more than 84 mil­lion acres in ev­ery state as well as U.S. ter­ri­to­ries.

The cen­ten­nial cel­e­bra­tion in­cludes films of na­tional parks, ham-ra­dio con­tests, mu­sic ju­bilees and the­ater pro­duc­tions, for in­stance. South­west Florid­i­ans are for­tu­nate with parks such as Big Cy­press Pre­serve, Ever­glades Na­tional Park, Bis­cayne Na­tional Park and the Dry Tor­tu­gas Na­tional Park.

Fresh­men from Can­ter­bury School in Fort My­ers spent five days on an Out­ward Bound ex­cur­sion in the Ever­glades in Fe­bru­ary. The ninth graders ca­noed seven or eight hours a day and slept on ca­noe plat­forms. Among them was Katie Don­lan, ex­hausted but elated at the end of the trip. It wasn’t her first visit to the Ever­glades, but spend­ing it on the wa­ter for sev­eral days height­ened her ap­pre­ci­a­tion. “I saw sun­rises and sunsets,” she says. “I saw beau­ti­ful wildlife. I feel so lucky to have had this ex­pe­ri­ence. I will never think of the Ever­glades the same way again.”

Florid­i­ans so in­spired might try an even longer ex­pe­ri­ence in the wilds. They even have a home-field―rather, a home-wa­ter­way― ad­van­tage. All 11 Florida na­tional parks have joined forces for the 100-Mile Pad­dle Chal­lenge, a con­test urg­ing par­tic­i­pants to pad­dle in at least three Florida na­tional parks a to­tal of 100 miles be­fore the year is out. Be­sides brag­ging rights, suc­cess­ful ca­noeists, kayak­ers and pad­dle-board­ers who com­plete the chal­lenge and turn in their logs and show a selfie from each of three parks get oohs, ahhs, pats on the back and a patch de­signed for the oc­ca­sion. Proof can be shown at any Florida na­tional park.

The con­test kicked off in late Jan­uary with a cel­e­bra­tion at Bis­cayne Na­tional Park south of Mi­ami. “Our idea was that we want peo­ple to rec­og­nize that there is some­thing spe­cial about these places be­cause they are all con­nected to each other [in the Na­tional Park Ser­vice],” says Gary Bre­men, a ranger at Bis­cayne. “An ob­vi­ous con­nec­tion was re­gional, with 11 parks in Florida, some very well known be­cause they have ‘na­tional

park’ at­tached to their names, but oth­ers not well known” with “mon­u­ment” or “pre­serve” in their names, he says. “But we [parks] are all equals. We wanted a way to con­nect the parks in our state and also do it in a way that pro­motes some healthy out­door ac­tiv­ity,” Bre­men adds.

The first per­son to sport a cen­ten­nial patch was Deb­o­rah Wal­ters of Troy, Maine. Wal­ters fin­ished the chal­lenge Jan. 30, but her mis­sion lasted un­til Feb. 10. Her web­site, kayak­for­safepas­sagekids.org,

ex­plains: “I am a grand­mother pad­dling alone over 2,500 miles from Maine to Gu­atemala. Along the way I will be ... telling the story of the chil­dren who live in the Gu­atemala City garbage dump com­mu­nity ... and rais­ing money for their school."

Wal­ters may have done it all at once, but that’s not nec­es­sary. If a sim­ple park visit is more your style, check the list be­low. And if you’d rather cel­e­brate from your own liv­ing room, film­maker Ken Burns' six-part se­ries The Na­tional Parks: Amer­ica’s Best Idea can be seen at pbs.org/na­tion­al­parks. The DVD is avail­able for pur­chase, and sev­eral video stream­ing ser­vices of­fer the se­ries.

Ever­glades Na­tional Park

Bis­cayne Na­tional Park

Big Cy­press Pre­serve

Dry Tor­tu­gas Na­tional Park

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