“The primary duty of the National Park Service is to protect the national parks and national monuments under its jurisdiction and keep them as nearly in their natural state as this can be done in view of the fact that access to them must be provided in order that they may be used and enjoyed.”
-Stephen Mather (1925)
When Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, said these words in 1925, a few hundred visitors were making their way to new Zion National Park each year. That year, the park would see the opening of Zion Lodge, the first lodging option other than a campground to welcome guests. From there, visitor numbers would begin to climb. But at the time, much of the park remained pristine. The same could not be said in other national parks.
A History of Preservation in Our National Parks
During the summer of 1914, Mather visited Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, and found them to be in poor condition. He took it upon himself to begin to champion for preservation and development of the parks.
While Mather wanted to improve conditions in the parks, he also desperately wanted to share with others just how special the national parks were. He joined forces with the automobile industry, aiming to make it easier for everyday citizens and especially the middle class to visit and enjoy the parks.
Not only did he want others to enjoy the same therapeutic benefits he himself found in spending time in nature, but he also recognized the importance of spreading awareness and developing a passion for the parks that would inspire others to protect them as well.
Preserving Our Parks Today
Mather’s was far from the first person to work hard and dedicate his life to our national parks, and he certainly wasn’t the last.
The National Park Service has a wide range of programs that help unify preservation efforts in the parks. From cutting back on light pollution to increasing recycling to maintaining trails, keeping the natural resources of our national parks safe is a never-ending battle. While the very purpose of the national parks is for visitors to get to enjoy and experience our natural resources, those same visitors have a heavy impact on the parks.
Doing Your Part to Protect Our National Parks
Today, thousands of members of the National Park Service, including rangers, conservations, and other staff, work tirelessly to protect and preserve our national parks. But even that is not enough. It’s up to each individual visitor to do their part to ensure that our natural lands, monuments, and other resources are protected so that future generations can experience them.
Whether you’re planning a visit to Zion or a national park or monument in your own area, you can do your part by practicing the 7 principles of Leave No Trace.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Doing your part to protect our national parks starts before you ever step foot through a gate.
Do your research at home to make sure that you understand the conditions that you may be facing. If you plan to do any hiking or other high-adventure, train in advance and always bring the right gear. Emergency rescues are not only costly, but can affect the operation of the park and lead to the destruction of natural resources.
When you’re packing for your visit, think about the items you’re bringing and the trash or waste that they might produce. If possible, utilize reusable containers, or plan ahead to pack out any trash.
You can minimize your impact on the parks even further by considering planning your visit during times when there are fewer visitors, or heading to less-traveled trails and areas in the park. Splitting large groups into smaller ones makes it easier to fit on a trail and eliminate back-ups as much as possible.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
If you’re going to camp in a national park, only do so in designated areas. When you’re backcountry camping, stay at least 200 feet away from lakes and streams, and choose durable surfaces of rock, gravel, sand, or dry grass. Never cut down trees or shrubs to set up camp.
Staying on durable surfaces applies to hiking as well. Avoid straying from marked trails for any reason.
Dispose of Waste Properly
Any time you bring trash into the park, pack it out with you or dispose of it in dedicated trash cans.
Try to use toilets and pit toilets as much as possible. If you do have to go when you’re on a trail and restrooms aren’t available, dig a cathole that’s at least 6 inches deep and located away from trails, campsites, or waterways. Bury it when you’re finished.
Leave What You Find
Never pick, move, or take rocks, plants, or any other natural objects you find in the park. This also includes moving them from one place to another within the park.
If you’re camping or visiting the park for a cookout, never bring in firewood from other locations, as you could accidentally spread non-native insects.
Minimize Campfire Impact
Besides only using local wood, you can also minimize the impact of your campfire by keeping fires small, only setting them in designated rings or containers, following all fire permits, and burning any wood and ash to coals before putting them out completely.
Spotting wildlife in their natural habits is one of the coolest things you can experience in any national park. But while observing them and taking photos from a distance is okay, never approach or disturb wildlife of any kind. Secure your food to make sure that they can’t get to it, and never, ever feed the wildlife.
In national parks and areas where pets are allowed, keep them on leashes and do not allow them to disturb any native animals.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Everyone deserves to experience the national parks in all of their tranquil beauty. Besides doing your part to preserve each park’s natural resources, you also have a responsibility to avoid affecting other visitors’ enjoyment of the park.
Keep noise levels to a minimum, and always be courteous of other hikers while on trails.
From being considerate of other visitors to minimizing your impact, we can all help do our part to protect and preserve our national parks for generations to come!
Looking for other ways to stay safe while also protecting Zion National Park? Check out these winter driving tips to keep yourself safe on the park’s slick, snowy roadways.