06/29/2012 11:15 am ET Updated Aug 29, 2012

National Parks Are Feeling the Pinch

If you're like me, some of your fondest family memories are outdoors in a park. Now that it's summertime, millions of people will head outdoors to the park to hike, bike, horseback ride, picnic, paddle, swim and the list goes on. I will also be taking advantage of our nation's parks with my family this summer, but with a bit of trepidation.

Like most of us, I've assumed these national treasures would always be around. For me, parks have served as the backdrop to so many great memories. So it goes without saying that parks are essential because they provide places for people to be active and enjoy the outdoors together. But unfortunately, for the first time in more than a century, parks are not a guaranteed part of our landscape.

From coast to coast, parks -- national, state and local alike -- are feeling the economic pinch. Budget cuts have caused staff reductions, postponed maintenance projects, shortened hours and even forced closings in some areas. For instance, in California there is a plan to close nearly 200 parks unless some receive private or community funding to help them stay afloat. I scratch my head wondering how California -- or any state -- can close parks that actually stimulate the economy and provide places to promote healthy living. If you're stumped for ways that you can help your favorite park, short of visiting and volunteering, there's one more thing you can do.


There's a fierce election happening online right now, and the winner will be named "America's Favorite Park." This summer, Coca Cola brings back the America Is Your Park campaign for a third year to draw attention to the great impact parks have on individuals and entire communities. Visit Coca Cola's website by July 15 to vote for your favorite park to win up to $100,000 for improvements. You can even "check in" from the park to get more votes.

Making a difference is as easy as a walk in the park. In past years, communities have come together to show their support for parks on the verge of closing, in disrepair or those destroyed by natural disasters. And this year is no different. Parks still need our help. And contests like this give us a starting place for saving our beloved parks -- one at a time.

Starting today, visit and campaign for your favorite park, rally your community and vote. Your efforts will not only show your passion for parks, but could also send a message to lawmakers who are saddled with choosing the fate of our parks. Giving your support will show them that parks are important to the health, well-being and economy of communities across the country.

As the old political expression goes, "Vote early and often." I'll be casting my vote for Mason Neck State Park, a natural treasure on the historic Potomac River in my home state of Virginia. What park will get your vote this summer?