Ranger-led hikes, like this one at Craters of the Moon National Monument, are one of the high points of a visit to a national park, monument or historical area. The rangers are well versed in the scenery, wildlife, natural wonders and history of the areas.
What do Yellowstone National Park, Gettysburg National Military Park and the California Trail all have in common? Simple. All are managed by the United States National Park Service. While places like Great Smoky and Yosemite National Parks and Dinosaur National Monument often steal the limelight, the National Park Service also manages national recreation areas, national lake and seashores, historic parks and sites, national trails, historic battlefields, national preserves and parkways. They have a presence in every single state and U.S. territory in a system that spans 84 million acres and 401 units. Only 137 of these are the big name parks and monuments.
The economic impact of the properties managed by the National Park Service for the American public is huge. The Park Service employs about 16,000 full time personnel and adds another 4,000 seasonal workers each year. Their 3 billion dollar budget generated 30.1 billion dollars and created an additional 252,000 jobs in 2011. Two hundred and twenty one thousand volunteers also contribute 6.4 million hours annually.
All this is relevant because the National Park Service is celebrating a significant birthday in 2016. On August 25, the National Park Service will turn 100 years old. Considering that only 0.0173 percent of citizens in this country reach the century milestone, 2016 is an important year for the Park Service and they have plans for a yearlong celebration.
First is the get in Parks Free Pass. Your pass is a 4th grader. The Park Service has determined that 4th grade is the perfect time for kids to be able to appreciate national parks of all kinds. ALL 4th graders and their families will be admitted FREE into ALL national parks during 2016.
I happen to have a grandson who is a 4th grader but I already buy the America the Beautiful Pass for $80. I consider it the best deal around. It covers my entrance fee for all nationally designated fee areas within the Park Service system and also is the golden key to National Wildlife Refuges as well.
Even if you don’t have the America the Beautiful pass or a handy 4th grader, there are still going to be 16 entrance-fee free days in 2016 as a celebration. January 18, April 16 through 24 (National Park Week), August 25 through 28, September 24 and November 11 will all be free.
Of course, the Park Service will have tons of celebrations on August 25th, but they also promise to hold special events in many locations throughout the year to celebrate the beginning of the next 100 years of service. You may have the opportunity to see what it is like to volunteer on a project, get in on a behind-the-scenes tour or participate in an extra special Ranger-led experience so be sure to check before you visit.
In appreciation of the National Park Service and the system it manages so well, I plan to visit as many parks, historic sites, monuments, recreation areas and trails as I can possibly fit in during 2016. I will start with a January trip to Bryce Canyon National Park. I hope to see you along the way, but if our paths don’t cross, you can follow my travels on my blog at http://www.nature-track.com/nature_blog.html
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho
Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!
On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.
Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf.
If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.