Did you know this is National Parks’ Week – April 20 – April 28? The weird thing is I had already decided to write about the National Parks before I was aware of that fact. I went to the website to investigate a couple of things and realized it is National Parks Week.

According to the National Parks website, America’s National Parks’ include more than:
•84 million acres of spectacular scenery, historic landmarks and cultural treasures
•17,000 miles of trails
•43,000 miles of shoreline
•27,000 historic and prehistoric structures
•100 million museum items
•12,000 campsites

In the summer of 1996, my husband, my two daughters, our dog and I did what we called “our National Park’s Tour”. We were away from June 23 – July 27. We traveled 6,264 miles. Bruce actually drove all those miles because the truck was not automatic and we were pulling a pop-up trailer. We drove through 15 states. Saw license plates from 49 states, 7 Canadian provinces, the District of Columbia and even a diplomatic plate. The only state license plate we never saw was Vermont.

There are many stories to tell but since it is National Park Week I will mention two things about the National Parks that you may not be aware of. Our National Park Service offers a Junior Ranger Program for kids. And an organization called A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP) offers Sunday church services from Memorial Day to Labor Day in 25 different National Parks.

The Junior Ranger Program involves a booklet that suggests and includes activities that are designed to help children learn and enjoy the park. There are stickers, maps, wildlife facts, and fun ideas. When your child completes the booklet, they present it in the visitor center and receive their Junior Ranger badge or certificate from the park ranger. When my girls finished the program at Mount Rushmore, the park ranger asked them where they lived and had they ever been to the National Park in their own backyard. Thankfully they had been and they knew it was the Statue of Liberty. At Yellowstone National Park, the park ranger called the entire visitor center to attention so she could award the Junior Park Ranger badge to my daughters. Emily was cringing and Meghan was beaming and Mom was in trouble with Emily.

I don’t remember how we discovered there was a church service at Mount Rushmore but I am so glad we did. My family and about 30 other people sat in the same amphitheater that would later hold hundreds of people at the evening lighting of Mount Rushmore. Both the morning service and the evening lighting were amazing and worthwhile experiences. ACMNP states: “Our volunteers come from over 100 college campuses and 30 seminaries, in 35 states, representing more than 30 Christian denominations.” The young people did a great job leading the music. The young man who spoke made me smile because someone must have told him to make sure you look at “all the people” when you speak. The amphitheater at Mount Rushmore is huge so in his attempt to look in all directions he kept his feet still and kind of pivoted around in a half circle and pivoted back the other way. He reminded me of a sprinkler. We also attended service at a campground at southern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. That service was on log benches along the Snake River. It was absolutely beautiful. Since it was outside our dog attended. After the service, we joked that we had supplied future sermon material. Some day that young preacher would tell the story of preaching at a campground and a dog howling/singing during “Amazing Grace” – too funny.

Our National Parks are a treasure. Let’s support and visit them. www.nps.gov

Afterthought: While on the trip, Bruce and I were sure that people thought we were drug dealers – New York license plates on a pick up truck with a cap, trailing a pop-up and a Rottie – those people must be trouble 🙂