by AMNH on
If the last few weeks of summer vacation season find you on a trip to one of the more than 400 parks, monuments, and other sites in America’s national parks, you’re in good company: the National Park Service, which celebrates its centennial today, hosted 307.2 million visitors last year. That's an all-time record, at sites ranging from San Francisco’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Of these, about 40 million tourists trekked to the most popular national parks—the Great Smoky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountain National Park topped the list.
Even if you’re not national park-bound this summer, you can celebrate the centennial of these national treasures from the air-conditioned comfort of the Museum’s Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals and Hall of North American Forests, where dioramas re-create some of the most picturesque vistas from national parks and monuments.
Several feature lands that were protected by President Theodore Roosevelt, whose passion for conservation was stoked by naturalist John Muir and Museum ornithologist Frank Chapman. Chapman, who had pioneered the use of “habitat groups” or dioramas to educate the public about threats to wildlife, helped persuade Roosevelt to establish the first Federal Bird Reserve on Florida’s Pelican Island in 1903. That same year, a camping trip with John Muir convinced Roosevelt that Yosemite Valley, depicted in the Museum’s coyote diorama, deserved federal protection as part of Yosemite National Park.
“When visited, national parks inspire an immense sense of gratitude for the bequests given to all of us by our forebears,” says Theodore Roosevelt IV, the president’s great-grandson and a Trustee of the Museum. “They make us realize that we have to act as responsible stewards to be able to pass on these lands to our children’s children unimpaired.”
His great-grandfather’s now-legendary trip is re-enacted in the giant-screen film National Parks Adventure, which is playing in 2D and 3D in the Museum’s LeFrak Theater, playing through September 1.
In person, on the big screen, or through the glass of a diorama, wilderness has never looked more inviting—or more worthy of every effort to preserve it.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of the Member magazine Rotunda.