The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th birthday on Thursday with events across the U.S. including the creation of a giant, living version of its emblem in Washington, D.C., a naturalization ceremony on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and an outdoor concert at Yellowstone National Park.
The centennial comes as the agency that manages national parks as well as historic places welcomes a new national monument and nature forces some changes in the party in the West.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says all Americans deserve the chance to experience the national parks.
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Speaking below the Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, Montana on Thursday night, Jewell said Americans from all walks of life should see themselves in the country’s public lands.
It was a full night of speeches and singing as about 6,000 people gathered to celebrate the 100th birthday of the National Park Service.
The Billings Gazette reports two-time Grammy winner John Prine sang “Paradise” in honor of his father, who used to take him to state and national parks. Next, Emmylou Harris and a stage filled with musicians sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” as the crowd sang along.
Love was also in the air.
Joe Eicher said he had been carrying an engagement ring in his pocket for a month and proposed to Theresa Holloway during a hike to a cliff overlooking Mammoth Hot Springs.
The Livonia, Michigan couple drove 26 hours to Yellowstone National Park, which Holloway described as breathtaking and surreal.
More than 1,000 kids and adults used brown, green and white umbrellas to create a living version of the park service emblem on the National Mall, which the agency photographed from a helicopter above. The emblem contains elements symbolizing the major facets of the national park system. A Sequoia tree and bison represent vegetation and wildlife, mountains and water represent scenery and recreation and the arrowhead shape represents history and archaeology. The first 1,000 participants were allowed to keep their umbrellas and got T-shirts commemorating the event.
The park service’s newest national monument, Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine, was being readied to welcome its first visitors since President Barack Obama used his executive authority to create it on Wednesday.
Donated by Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby, the expanse features views of Mount Katahdin, the tallest mountain in Maine.
Visitors are already allowed into the woods, which was open to the public before the designation. There currently is no fee.
The brochures for the monument are printed and signs are going up, and the National Park Passport Stamp beloved by park visitors is now available.
The monument’s creation was opposed by state lawmakers and critics who fear that it will hinder efforts to rebuild a forest-based economy in the region. Quimby’s son said many parks in the service’s system have been criticized upon creation but “when we look to the future, we see huge amounts of success.”
For a time, both fire and ice hindered travel into Yellowstone National Park on the park service’s centennial anniversary.
Authorities closed a portion of the popular Beartooth Highway to the park’s northeast entrance Wednesday night because of snow and ice from a summer snowstorm, but the road reopened Thursday morning.
At the other end of the park, a portion of the road leading to Yellowstone’s South Entrance remained closed because of a wildfire. Visitors heading to Thursday’s celebration and concert with Emmylou Harris and John Prine at the Roosevelt Arch from the south face an hour-long detour into Idaho.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell hiked to see the stunning view from the Hidden Lake Overlook in Montana’s Glacier National Park and met with scientists to learn more about how climate change could cause the glaciers to disappear there as soon as 2030. Jewell told The Associated Press that climate change is a concern for the future of other national parks from Alaska to the Florida Everglades. She’ll also attend the celebration in Yellowstone.
The park service is offering free admission to all its sites through Sunday. They’re among 16 free days scheduled throughout the centennial year. Some parks are serving birthday cake and offering ranger talks for the occasion. The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Maryland is offering free mule-drawn boat rides on Thursday.