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Day Trip Activities

Invasive Species

One of the problems national parks and nearly all parks face is the predominance of invasive plants. Plants such as English ivy (Hedera helix), purple loosestrife (Lythrum solicaria) and tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima) can dominate an environment, choking out native plants and limiting food and habitat for animals. Some large tree stands of pine and fir have been so ravaged by plants like English ivy that they turn into desert forests. Removing invasive plants allows for the establishment of native plants and a more diverse ecosystem.

Students can contact a national park or nearby state park and find out about the problem of invasive plants in your area and learn if there are any volunteer programs where they can help remove the invasive plants. Then they can organize a presentation for your class or an after-school activity to present the problem to fellow students. Encourage students to invite a guest speaker from the parks department to assist them. For students who want to get more involved, the Student Conservation Association (SCA) is a great resource. The SCA provides college and high school-aged members with hands-on conservation service opportunities in virtually every field imaginable. Visit thesca.org for more information.

Building Human Happiness

During President Obama's campaign and his inaugural address, he recalled a time when thousands of America's youth set out to the woods to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Like Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, President Obama saw great value in getting young people actively involved in building the country. This idea became law with the passing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in March 2009. Both the president and first lady Michelle Obama have made promoting service work one of their major efforts.

Have students research the New Deal programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps. Discuss with students some of the highlights: FDR's affinity with the outdoors and the national parks, the economic problems of the 1930s, the need to employ as many able-bodied citizens as possible, how those dire economic times compare with economic conditions in 2008-09. Then focus the discussion on the Civilian Conservation Corps and how it compares with the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.

Next have students investigate the details of the national service programs promoted by the Obama administration at the Corporation for National & Community Service at www.nationalservice.gov. They can review the different programs offered and opportunities to become involved in serving their country. Then have them go to USA Freedom Corps Volunteer Network at www.serve.gov to find a service opportunity in their community. Have students form small groups and brainstorm different community service projects they might want to perform. The Web site at serve.gov asks students to submit their ideas and their Zip code. The Web site will find several different potential service projects in their area with description and contact information.

The Spirit of John Muir

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike. This natural beauty-hunger is made manifest... in our magnificent National Parks – Nature's sublime wonderlands, the admiration and joy of the world.

—John Muir

John Muir was introduced to what would become Yosemite National Park in 1869. During a 40-year career, Muir extolled the virtues of America's scenic wonderlands and the need to protect such treasures in a national park system. Writing for leading national magazines, he traveled throughout the American West from Alaska to New Mexico and told in vivid spiritual terms the wonders of nature and man's connection with it.

Have students think about a natural place they've experienced in their lives. This might be a park or wilderness area. Have them write an article about what the area means to them. They can write an introspective piece on the virtue of the place and its spiritual nature or they can write a persuasive article calling on citizens to take action to conserve the area. In their article they should describe the place, plant and animal life, the importance of its conservation and the importance of its existence to all people who visit.

Build a Park

Read students the National Park Service (NPS) mission statement: "The NPS preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations." Lead a discussion about why wilderness areas exist, the balance between humans and nature, and all the factors that must be taken into consideration in managing and maintaining a national park.

Divide students into groups of three and give each group a set of words:

  • Group 1: Enjoyment, Education, Inspiration
  • Group 2: Preserve, Unimpaired
  • Group 3: Enjoyment, Education, Inspiration, Preserve, Unimpaired

Now have each group design a park that upholds the words they have been given and make five rules to ensure that their visitors are adhering to their park's mission. Then do a park tour and have each group present their park and its rules. (Activity courtesy of NatureBridge. Learn more at www.naturebridge.org.)

Animals of Yellowstone National Park

Parks naturalist George Melendez Wright argued that up until the 1930s, the National Park Service was fulfilling only part of its responsibility, which was at the very heart of the national parks: preserving the wildlife in its natural state. Wright's scientific report of wildlife conditions in the parks proposed a radical new policy: Unless threatened with extinction within a park, each native species of animal – including predators – should be allowed to carry out its struggle for existence unaided. The National Park Service has to be constantly monitoring conditions and adopting policies to try to keep the needs of animals and interests of humans in balance.

Divide your class into 12 small groups. Have each group investigate one the animals of Yellowstone National Park at the Yellowstone Net Web site http://www.yellowstone.net/wildlife/. They should research the territory, food source, water availability and shelter for their assigned animal. They can list this information on a table or chart. Have each group share their findings with the class and discuss how each animal might compete with others for the resources they need.

Then have students create a list of potential conflicts that might arise as these animals and humans encroach on each other's territory and think of potential solutions to these conflicts.

Ask a Ranger

When I was a child in Detroit, national parks really didn't exist. There were no family trips to national parks. So it really didn't exist for me, and for my friends. We didn't sit around talking about, boy, can't wait to get to the Grand Canyon, you know... But always there was this desire to see Yellowstone. There was a desire to see the Grand Canyon, to see Yosemite. There was a desire to fully invest my physical self and my spiritual self in America.

—Park Ranger Shelton Johnson

In The National Parks: America's Best Idea, Shelton Johnson tells his story of getting off a bus at Yellowstone National Park and never looking back. Many park rangers have amazing stories to tell about what led them to the national parks and why they chose the career they did. Have students contact an area national park and arrange to interview a ranger, interpreter or other staff member about their personal park experiences. Students can create video presentations for the class or type up their interview as a feature for the school newspaper or Web site.

Expanding the Mission: Historical Parks

In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt put military battlefields, monuments, and historic sites under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Including historical parks in the national park system asserted that just as nature and wildlife are worth preserving, so, too, is American history.

Lead a discussion with students on what they envision when they think of national parks. Then have students locate and categorize the 42 national historical parks found at www.nps.gov. Students should identify the different types of events, activities, and people that the sites commemorate. Finally, have them identify a potential historic site in their own community, and present a persuasive argument about why that site should become a national historic park.

Exploring the National Parks

Divide students into pairs or small groups. Have each group pick a national park they'd like to explore and research information from any number of sources. They should locate the park's home state, create a map of the borders and size, and write brief descriptions of the park's climate, major landforms, vegetation and wildlife. Have students provide oral reports on their parks or create PowerPoint presentations. Ask the following questions:

  • What types of environments were among those presented? Where are they? What do they look like? How are they alike? How are they different?
  • In what ways do those environments compare or contrast with your earlier idea of a park?
  • Which of the parks you viewed would you like to visit and why?

Additional Resources

Climate Change – Do Your Part

Do Your Part! for Climate Friendly Parks is an interactive online program that provides tools to help users understand and reduce their carbon footprints. Students can explore climate-friendly parks and see each park's goal and their progress toward it displayed via a footprint tracker. Lead students in a discussion of climate change and then have them explore the "15 Greening Steps" on the site and create a chart listing each and how they can use the steps in their daily lives. Have students track their "greening" progress and report back to the class.

Take an Electronic Field Trip

Electronic Fieldtrips are interactive, live educational experiences produced in partnership with Ball State University and the National Park Foundation that enhance learning through a Web site, podcasts, classroom activities, a discussion forum and live broadcast from two of our National Parks each year. This program breaks down the geographic barrier between the student and our national treasures and creates a shared classroom experience with park rangers, fellow students and classrooms across the country. Field trips currently online include: Buffalo Soldiers: African Americans in the Frontier Army, Fort Davis National Historic Site; The Nine Who Made a Difference, Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site; Tails from the Tetons, Grand Teton National Park; and Into the Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park. For links, visit the National Park Foundation at www.nationalparks.org.

Explore More on nps.gov/learn

The National Park Service has a wealth of information for teachers available at www.nps.gov/learn. Find how to:

  • Bring a ranger to your classroom: The National Park Service is committed to providing opportunities for students to make meaningful connections to their national parks. The chance to meet and visit with a real park ranger can be a powerful experience.
  • Get curriculum: Dozens of national parks have curriculum-based experiences, aligned with local, state or national standards of learning, available directly on the site.
  • Plan a field trip: Many national parks offer field trips for school groups that are designed to fit directly into local, state or national curriculum standards. You can check park Web sites to find the best fit for your class or other group.

Students can also become WEB RANGERS online by visiting www.nps.gov/webrangers.

The Sierra Club: Inner City Outings

Sierra Club volunteer outings leaders recognize that many youth growing up in urban environments have little or no access to nature due to lack of income, awareness, and skills. In close to 50 cities in the United States, dedicated ICO volunteers take youth who would not otherwise have access to the outdoors on safe and fun wilderness excursions. Many of these youth have never been outside their immediate neighborhoods, let alone into wilderness places.

Yellowstone National Park: Junior Ranger Program

Yellowstone National Park has an official Junior Ranger Program open to children ages 5-12. The goal of the program is to introduce children to the natural wonders of Yellowstone and their role in preserving them for the future.

National Park Foundation: First Bloom

First Bloom is a simple idea. The National Park Foundation works with youth groups to bring children – particularly urban kids – to nearby national parks, where park rangers teach them about plants native to the area. http://www.nationalparks.org/who-we-help/youth-engagement/first-bloom/

Student Conservation Association

Interested in conservation? Looking for a chance to explore the outdoors where you live, make new friends, give back to your community? If you are a high school student and you live in one of these communities, SCA's local programs offer you the chance to do all that and more.

Nature Bridge

Serving over 40,000 participants annually, NatureBridge is the largest nonprofit residential environmental education partner of the National Park Service. Since 1971 the program has introduced almost one million students to national parks through field science education programs for schools and youth leadership programs.

National Park Service Institutes and Field Schools

National Park institutes and field schools share one key characteristic: they all provide in-depth education for small groups in natural and historic settings. Instructors draw upon their expertise as professional scientists, authors, historians, artists, and adventurers to unravel the intricacies of our national parks. Courses range from one-day field seminars to multi-day backcountry experiences.

Earth Ministry

Founded in 1992, Earth Ministry has a history of leading the way in caring for the environment from a religious perspective. Earth Ministry is pleased to announce the release of two free religious study guides and a DVD of clips to accompany THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA'S BEST IDEA.

A proud tourist points at her National Parks windshield stickers, 1922; David Brower in Glen Canyon, 1966; Dayton Duncan's son, Will, standing at edge of canyon. Bryce Canyon National Park, 1998

Share Your Story

Have you visited a national park recently? Did an experience in a national park leave a lasting impression? Share your unique park story with us.

View with fog in valley and peaks lighted by sunset, winter; Yosemite National Park

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National Park Service rangers

Visit America's Best Idea

You own 391 national parks. Come for a visit and take away the experience of a lifetime. Help the National Park Service make America's Best Idea even better!

Bank of America Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr Fund Corporation for Public Broadcasting The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Park Foundation

National Park Foundation The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation The Pew Charitable TrustsGM


Florentine Films and WETA


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