08/27/2010 04:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

America's Parks: The Original Social Network

It's really difficult to imagine our lives today without the benefit of online social networks. Each day, likely multiple times a day, we check in with our family, friends and colleagues. We share news and perspective on what we think is important. We discover new things to "like" and dislike and reminisce about special times from the past captured in photos and videos. These online networks allow us to stay close to the people, places and things we value.

You'll often see the question posed, what is the future of these online social networks? How long will they last? Ironically, that is the same question plaguing the 150-year-old original social network--America's State Parks.

You are already "signed up" for the network of more than 6,500 parks across our 50 states--a network of some of the world's most beautiful landscapes from Niagara Falls to Big Sur--and that was by design. For decades, citizens and government have worked hand-in-hand to ensure that every community has a welcoming outdoor space close to home to gather, play and share. Hundreds of thousands of citizens from all walks of life have contributed to America's park legacy and rewarded us with the incredible national system that we enjoy today.

Each year America's State Parks host three-quarters of a billion visits, and that number is on the rise. That means that our state parks are America's number one destination for outdoor recreation. With limitless opportunities to hike, bike, ride horses, swim, fish, kayak and canoe, rock climb and camp, state parks provide solutions in our quest to live healthier, more active lives.

Our parks are a top vacation destination among families, not just in our current economy when their low-cost and high entertainment value is appealing, but going back generations. I'm sure if you remember your first meaningful experience with nature, chances are you were in a State Park. And, they are good investments. As taxpayers we invest less than $2 billion annually in the operation of state parks, yet those same parks stimulate a 10-fold ($20 billion in annual economic impact) return on investment through outdoor recreation and tourism spending alone.

With their proud history and unquestionable importance to living positively in America today, isn't it almost unfathomable to consider that America's State Park system has been identified as one of our most endangered national treasures? The tragic truth is that within the past year, shrinking state budgets have put our parks on the defensive nationwide, requiring them to face painful budget cuts and closure.

Each time our parks have been threatened in the past it has been the determination and support of citizens, foundations and corporations championing the cause that has kept our parks in tact. And today, many parks narrowly and temporarily escaped from peril with the help of private sector partners. The National Association of State Park Directors is currently working collaboratively with partners and individuals to define a sustainable path forward.

The Coca-Cola Company is among the first to step up by contributing $500,000 in new community grants to state and national parks this summer to restore or rebuild places for people of all ages to play and be active. Also, and maybe more importantly, under the banner of "America is Your Park," Coca-Cola set online social networks ablaze by asking America a simple question: "What's your favorite park?"

A fierce round-the-clock competition was sparked as communities from coast to coast tapped their online social networks and cast millions of votes to claim the title of America's Favorite Park and a $100,000 recreation grant for their park. This overwhelming show of support is a good litmus test for reigniting a national movement, uniting the country in support of their favorite parks and all parks.

Famed conservationist John Muir said, "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." The vitality of America's vast natural, cultural and recreational treasures is directly related to the strength of our economy, our collective health and the well-being of our nation. It's time to join together to guarantee the future of our parks once and for all.

For more information about America's State Parks, visit: