I heard a lot of talk this year about the concept and initiative called “Every Kid in a Park.” It sounded great to me, I pictured all these fourth-graders being excited to go with their families to the most well-known of National Parks, and teaching them facts about the place in the long car ride there. This summer, as an intern for In My Backyard, I spent time in the Seattle Unit of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. I’d been to the old site before it moved to its current location at the old Cadillac Hotel, as a fourth grader when we covered Washington State History in my class. When I visited the park as a fourth grader, with my lunchable in my backpack and my glasses the size of my face on, I learned about the history of this event that shaped the city. At the time I hadn’t been living in Seattle for very long and I’ve always like history and I enjoyed the visit but I didn’t connect the place with the term park. At the time I connected the term park to places like Mount Rainier or Yellowstone, or more local outdoor areas with swings.
Fifteen years and a summer volunteering for the National Park Service later, I finally can appreciate the importance of preservation-not just of amazingly beautiful natural places, but of historic and culturally significant places as well. Watching people of all ages from all places explore the Klondike Gold Rush Historical Park and the Wing Luke Museum, and talking to people at events helped show me how inspiring it is to have a venue for people to tell their stories, both from the past and in the present. We worked to create a mobile park this summer, something that could move around from event to event, venue to venue, that would reflect the National Park Service and all that it has to offer. Thinking about our park-in-a-box type of creation really expanded my personal definition of what a park is, and what a park can be. During a brainstorm on one of my first days this summer, our team was sitting at the nearby Occidental Park and I noticed that while the park was mostly made up of concrete, tables, chairs, and games, that there also was a dozen or so large trees surrounding the perimeter. I said to the group, look at how even this very urban park has trees, that definitely distinguishes it as park to me. One thing I learned about National Parks this summer and parks in general is that it turns out, they don’t have to have trees. It only took me fifteen years after being a fourth grader for the ideas and concepts to finally sink in–seems like a reasonable time line! A National Park can be anything worth preserving. Peoples stories are definitely worth preserving, and it doesn’t necessary require a long car trip to get there and to see something worth seeing.
–Anna, IMBY Summer 2016 Intern