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Celebrate National Park Week April 21-29

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This week, every American has something to celebrate. In fact, we have 397 things to celebrate -- our national parks. It is National Park Week -- a time when each of us can appreciate what we all have inherited as Americans and what many consider to be our best idea.

With nearly 400 national parks across the country, they offer plenty to see and do. Each park tells a unique story -- a story that is just one piece of the intricate mosaic that comprises the legacy of this great nation. From America's tallest peaks to our grandest canyon; from the places that celebrate our highest ideals to those that remind us of our deepest sacrifices; from the places the honor our finest achievements to those that mark our gravest mistakes -- each of these sacred places teaches a lesson, offers an experience, and connects us to our rich past for the betterment of our future.

This week we celebrate our national parks and the great stories they tell. But the question is -- are the right people listening?

Throughout the chronicles of human history, societies, cultures and even religions have survived because of one group -- and that is our youth. They take on the stories we have told and the lessons we have learned and carry them forward, so the next generation may do the same -- but only if given the opportunity. What will happen to our American story if our young people don't experience and learn from our greatest storytellers -- our national parks?

It is this critical issue that guides the National Park Foundation and our dedication to provide our young people, from all races, ethnicities and backgrounds, the opportunity to experience America's treasured places. We believe our young people need to see, hear and feel our history firsthand. That is why the National Park Foundation is committed to bringing more than 30,000 students to national parks just this year alone through our "Ticket to Ride" program. It is why we are working with teachers in all 50 states to embrace national parks as classrooms and centers for active learning. It is why we have provided more than 3.5 million dollars to national parks through educational grants and programs in the last three years.

We're not alone. We applaud the good work being done by our partners at the National Park Service and at the White House through the Let's Move program to get our young people invested in the outdoors and experiencing our nation's history firsthand. We recognize the work being done by private organizations like Disney, L.L. Bean and Nickelodeon for their efforts to get our young people to experience our national parks. We hail the work taking place at the local level with national park friends groups and other community charities. I also want to acknowledge our partners at the National Parks Conservation Association and their President Tom Kiernan for their steadfast commitment to this important issue, and encourage you to read their blog post.

Our young people are our future. It is up to them to preserve and protect the story of our nation and with that, the legacy of our national parks. But it is up to us to invite them to these majestic places. If I can encourage you to do one thing this National Park Week, it is to visit a park and bring a young person with you. Introduce them to a world that will fascinate them for a lifetime. Do that, and you have given the most enduring gift possible and guaranteed that our national parks don't only exist as America's best idea, but rather America at its best.

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