Let’s make our national parks system a permanent example of what has been called “America’s best idea.”

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Seventy-six years ago, I took my first hiking trip from Camp Parsons on Hood Canal. We climbed Mount Deception in Olympic National Park, and as I stood on top I could see scores of future hiking trips to the lakes and mountains surrounding us. I was hooked!”

— Daniel J. Evans

“Sixty years ago, I joined Boy Scout Troop 502 in Bremerton and began taking hikes along Hood Canal. My favorite hike is Staircase at the end of Lake Cushman in the Olympic National Park.”

— Norm Dicks

THIS is the centennial year of the founding of our National Park Service. We should celebrate — not merely commemorate — this unparalleled legacy, which we must preserve for future generations of Americans. The National Park Service is, and always should remain, above political partisanship. Every state is represented in our national parks system, and all members of Congress should enthusiastically support the preservation of this remarkable part of our national being.

Many Americans enjoy the wilderness, scenic destinations and historical memories that are preserved by our national parks system. One-hundred-forty-four years ago, Congress created Yellowstone Park. Several additional parks were added, but there was no central administration, no rangers and little money from Congress. The parks were an overlooked and neglected part of our national priorities.

Poachers, miners and commercial interests overwhelmed the laws protecting the parks. The Buffalo Soldiers, a famous African-American unit of the U.S. Army, occupied some parks for years to stop wildlife poaching and exploitation of unique resources in those parks.

Finally in 1916, Congress created the National Park Service to manage and protect our extraordinary natural heritage. During the Great Depression, workers of our Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built shelters, created trails and protected our national parks. Today, more than 400 national parks, monuments and memorials are managed by the National Park Service. The enthusiasm of park advocates for additions to the system exceeds the funding provided by Congress to maintain and develop our national parks.

Ten thousand miles of road bring access to our parks. Trails, campgrounds and structures need regular maintenance to serve millions of park visitors. Without adequate financial support, we may love our parks to death.

Here in Washington, we are blessed with three remarkable national parks: Mount Rainier, the Olympics and the North Cascades. In addition, numerous smaller historical parks remind us of our fascinating history. John Muir, the famous naturalist, on a visit to Mount Rainier more than a century ago was inspired to rededicate his life to the preservation of nature in a system of national parks.

At our national parks’ centennial, we celebrate a century of remarkable preservation, but must also focus on the future. Do we really want to preserve our heritage? Of course we do. But our parks need maintenance, protection and enhancement.

During the Great Depression, we invested generously in our national parks. In our electronic world today, we must reinvest in our parks to give our grandchildren a window into our history to help guide their futures. We all need to let Congress know that it is vital to address the huge backlog of deferred park maintenance. Failure to do so would slowly destroy the precious parks we strive to protect.

The second century of our parks system needs the enthusiasm and dedication of all our citizens. The centennial should confirm our century-long legacy and the plan for our future. Let’s make our national parks system a permanent example of what has been called “America’s best idea.”