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Jonathan Stull | 04.03.2017

State parks are often hidden in the shadow of national parks and all of their spectacular glory, but they can be a quiet refuge for the outdoor adventurer who seeks a weekend away from the bustle of city life. Though humble, many of them claim their own unique natural beauty and offer the opportunity for outdoor activities that are unavailable in bigger parks with more visitors, more restrictive rules, and sprawling infrastructure.

For this week’s iteration of the #52WeekAdventureChallenge, we encourage you to seek out and explore some of the fantastic state parks in your area.

State parks, in fact, are the model by which the national system was created. Few know that Yosemite National Park actually began its long and storied legacy as a California State Park. On June 30, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law ceding the federal land around Yosemite Valley to the State of California to hold in trust for the preservation of the park’s beauty and enjoyment of the state’s citizens. This is the first instance in which land was designated for preservation by the government, and it is considered by historians to be the birth of the national park system. Yosemite officially became a national park in 1890, building on its legacy as a popular recreation destination, even in the 19th century. 

Interestingly, the systems of state parks throughout the country evolved with the automobile and the development of infrastructure supporting their use. For all practical purposes, remote areas in the United States were off limits before the development and mass production of the car. Once Americans had access to a means of transport as individual and efficient as the car, new horizons were opened to many, and many responded by crossing them. For instance, the Oregon State Park system, which has become an park system exemplar, was born out of the state’s efforts to create a highway system in the early 20th century; the intent wasn't to protect Oregon’s natural spaces. Sam Boardman, its first superintendent, acquired and protected more than 50,000 acres of Oregon’s wilderness for the purpose of scenic byways—not preservation or conservation for recreational use. Similarly, by 1921 Washington State had just eight parks in its state park system. The number took off in the 1920s, in step with the explosion of car ownership. The state quickly added 12 parks to its roster of protected lands. By 1953 and the introduction of the Cadillac Eldorado, the state had added more than 60.

New forms of transportation to come in the future are sure to ease our passage to the lands that we love—hopefully, in ways that are more in keeping with the spirit of preservation. No matter how you go, state parks are a beautiful and serene reminder of the inheritance we are all responsible for preserving and passing on. Take an opportunity this weekend to visit one of these parks and ensure that they remain, as ever, an important part of our outdoor legacy.







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