National Parks: More Than You Think!

I didn’t know much about the National Park Service until this blog, a crazy thought since in the last few months they’ve become so central to my life. My “pursuit” of the “open air” and the stories places tells are truly best seen in so many National Park sites, and I wish I had known about them sooner.

The #FYPx Expedition gave me an incredible chance to dig deeper into what the parks have to offer and the opportunity to share them with you. The team and I got to visit wonderful places in the San Francisco area that combined travel with history and the outdoors, but also find our own personal connections and ideas.

What surprised me the most, however, were the ways some themes and issues are relevant to the world today.

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We began our journey at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of the largest urban National Parks in the USA. From there, it was onwards and upwards!

Alcatraz

Dangerous felons, shark infested waters, escape from the impossible. Alcatraz Island has a reputation that’s been almost made into myth, but the stories you may not hear are also enough to pick your jaw up off the ground. After closing, the island was occupied for two years by Native American activists protesting the USA’s tribal assimilation policies and their destruction of reservations and cultural heritage.

This peaceful protest started change and how the government approached First Nations, but also made the world aware of the injustices and the work that still needed to be done. With the activism being done today with the North Dakota Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline, it’s crucial to understand the past and dig into history that’s not common knowledge…and that injustices against Native Americans are nothing new.

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We got to tour closed off sections of the park and get an intimate story of both prison life and of the Native American occupation.

(Read more here and here)

San Francisco Maritime

Ships, boats, and maritime stories! I didn’t expect to be too interested in this spot since it seemed to just be a bunch of boats, but when Park Rangers framed our visit around what life was like as a sailor? Gave it a whole new spin!

Instead of solely focusing on shippy stuff, the FYPx Crew and I learned about this indentured servitude system sailors were subjected by (say that 10x fast) and the all too topical ideas of WHO was doing the work and how much LESS certain groups of people could be paid…or taken advantage of. While our ship bobbed along in the bay we sat in the dark depths of the hull and it wasn’t hard to feel sympathetic for a sailor’s plight. We were walking on the same planks…only we got to disembark when we wanted.

Rosie the Riveter World War II Historic Homefront

I can gush on and on about this place because it’s an era that paved the way for women in the workplace and what we are able to accomplish as a result. The women involved in war industries were known as “Rosie the Riveter” or “Wendy Welder” (after a popular song), and shattered the idea that doing a “man’s job” wasn’t possible. They took the steps to break barriers out of necessity, not even realizing the impact they would have in the future.

It’s also where I had one of the most impactful moments of my life. You see, original Rosies and other links to the past are still around…and you can meet them here.

At 90, Marian Wynn shares her story every week of her time working at the shipyard. 95 year old Betty Reid-Soskin holds the honor of being the oldest Park Ranger in the NPS, and offers a different perspective of segregation during the war. She was also a well known songwriter for the Civil Rights Movement and recently celebrated her birthday at the opening of the National Museum of African American History.

Two women who were part of the very story they share with others today, and I got to shake their hand in thanks. It left an impact that I never could have imagined and is my motivation to continue fighting for equality and visibility, and also made the challenges ahead all too real.

John Muir and Yosemite

Before we set off in our Subarus for Yosemite National Park, we first stopped at the home of one individual who was instrumental in its preservation and the future of the National Park Service. An advocate of open spaces, John Muir is notable for showing President Theodore Roosevelt around Yosemite and alerting him to the necessity of preserving it.

We sat in a former orchard  behind Muir’s home in Martinez, CA, and among remaining fruit bearing trees we uncovered the tale of his life and passion. As we walked up to enter his home I picked a fig off a tree that was definitely alive when he was, and thought that action wasn’t too far off from one he probably did. This thought crossed my mind a few more times on as I trekked the same paths he walked, and the trails along Yosemite made the man more than just a name.


We hiked down from Glacier Point, a fitting moment for reflection, and the occasional stop under a gnarled tree had the most impressive vistas to spark thought. I understood the importance and significance of conservation, and also lamented the loss of the places that haven’t been as fortunate. What will my role be in the present day, an era of new perspectives and a responsibility for the future?

These places go beyond expectation and the most powerful element is that anyone can find a story or connection. To reduce them simply to a historic site or place to hike is problematic because there’s SO much more going on, and understanding the past is important to navigate the future. It’s up to you and there’s no “right” way of doing it, but it does mean you’ve gotta get out there and see it for yourself!

Special thanks to the sponsors who made this all possible!
Aramark
Columbia Sportswear
The National Park Foundation
REI
Subaru

 

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