chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
May 31, 2023

Chair's Column

Appreciating and supporting the amazing beauty, vastness, and variety of our National Parks

By Kathy Poppitt, King & Spalding LLP, Austin, TX

Click here for the audio version of this article

I was so thrilled to recently take part in the ABA Health Law Section (HLS) Spring Council meeting in Jackson Hole, WY, which is the gateway to Tetons National Park (Tetons) and just down the road from Yellowstone National Park. Some of us stayed an extra night and took an evening wildlife tour in the Tetons. It was a wonderful evening full of bighorn sheep, moose, elk, and other animals. Some stayed yet another night and spent the next day in Yellowstone. Visiting Yellowstone is like being transported to another world.

As I have written in a previous column, we as attorneys tend to deal with mental health issues, stress, and burnout. While it is intuitive, there are also studies that show that spending time outside can improve our mental health.

We are so fortunate to have 424 national park sites in the United States. They span across more than 84 million acres, with parks and other sites in each state and extending into the territories, including Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam. Within the park system, there are 63 sites that include “National Park” as part of their proper name, such as Acadia, Everglades, and Grand Canyon. However, there is far more to the parks system. The system comprises 20 national park types that fall under the protection of the National Park Service (NPS) to preserve, unimpaired, for this and future generations, including national battlefields, historical parks, sites (such as Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site), lakeshores, memorials (such as Flight 93 National Memorial), monuments, parkways and even an international site on Saint Croix Island. Fun fact: Miami, FL, is the only city in the country with two National Parks.

Some of the parks can get very crowded at peak times so it is important to plan your visit accordingly. Just two sites accounted for around 10% of all visits to all sites. The top 10 for 2022 were (numbers are rounded):

  1. Blue Ridge Parkway, 15.71 million visits
  2. Golden Gate National Recreation Area, 15.64 million
  3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 12.94 million
  4. Gateway National Recreation Area, 8.73 million
  5. Lincoln Memorial, 7.83 million
  6. George Washington Memorial Parkway, 7.4 million
  7. Natchez Trace Parkway, 6.54 million
  8. Gulf Islands National Seashore, 5.69 million
  9. Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 5.58 million
  10. Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 4.89 million

While the country's least-visited parks can take a bit more planning to reach, they offer, obviously, fewer crowds and some incredible experiences to all those who make the trek. You can watch synchronous fireflies, hike among the world's oldest trees, take in views of the Northern Lights, or enjoy wildflower blooms.

Notwithstanding any controversy about the best use of public lands, I encourage each of us to love, enjoy, protect, and support our national parks. The first step to encourage stewardship of our parks is to learn for ourselves and teach kids, whether your own or others, why our parks are important. Spend time and encourage kids to spend time outside in a natural setting. Go for hikes, go swimming, camp, and play games in local, state, and national parks. Ask questions and make observations about the natural world around us.

Next, Leave No Trace: This is a set of ethics for interacting with the outdoors in a thoughtful, sustainable manner. Some of the basics include planning ahead to minimize waste, taking care not to disturb plants and animals, and hiking and camping in appropriate areas. For more about the Leave No Trace movement, visit the link above. Consider how you would like these parks and sites to be enjoyed by future generations.

The first two suggestions require no more than cost than that of the park entry. My final suggestion for supporting the NPS is to donate to the National Parks Foundation. I make a small, tax deductible, contribution each month.

I would love to hear your stories about the National Parks that you have visited. Let’s look out for our mental and physician health by enjoying and supporting our NPS. Let me know if you have thoughts or ideas for this.

Please know that the HLS leadership is here to facilitate your involvement in the Section and that you can call on us at any time. I look forward to working with and talking to each of you over the next bar year and look forward to any feedback or suggestions you have.

The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.