Friday’s Food for Thought: National Parks Centennial

Mapping the nation’s natural treasures


August 25 marked 100 years since the first U.S. national park opened to the public. The National Park Service (NPS) celebrated its centennial by offering free admission to national parks for the day, and is continuing its birthday celebration with special events for the remainder of the year.

If you’re interested in planning a national parks road trip, check out this interactive map. Dr. Randal Olson, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, created a map of the shortest route for visiting all 47 national parks in the continental U.S. Try the whole trip at once or travel it in sections. According to a Washington Post article, the entire trip is just under 14,500 miles and spans from Acadia National Park in Maine to the Redwood National and State Parks in California. The map does not include national monuments or parks in Alaska and Hawaii.

Unable to visit a national park in person? Google created virtual tours with 360-degree views of select national parks. The platform includes videos, panoramic photos, and narration from park experts. Some of the national parks highlighted include the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah.

If you’re a map enthusiast, the Earth Sciences and Map Library at the University of Colorado Boulder added a new exhibit in honor of the centennial. According to the university website, a variety of maps will be on display, including those created by famous surveyors, sketches pre-dating the first national parks, early 20th century boundary maps, and recent official visitor maps. The exhibit will be open until December 16. Additionally, users can view and download all national park maps on the NPS website.

If you plan to travel to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, be sure to check out its Species Mapper application. The park teamed with computer scientists from the University of Tennessee to create a web application to help park managers and visitors discover the locations of more than 1,800 species in the park, reports WVLT-TV Knoxville. Scientists pinpointed the location of each species to help predict where it is most likely to be found. The application relies on supercomputers managed by the University of Tennessee and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Joint Institute for Computational Sciences. According to the article, the application will better connect students, teachers, and managers to nature as well as help ensure preservation throughout the park.

Photo courtesy of NPS

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