05/24/2013 01:55 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2013

Create National Park Memories This Summer and Beyond

Many of us will head out for the long weekend to commemorate Memorial Day and the unofficial start of the summer travel and tourism season. Some of you might be planning to enjoy the great outdoors, gather with family and friends for a BBQ or travel to a destination of your choice. But whether your travel plans keep you near or far from home, I hope you might find one of our 401 spectacular national parks as one of your destinations along the way.

Here at the National Parks Conservation Association, we've been working to protect and preserve our national parks for nearly 100 years. From the shores of Cape Cod to the Liberty Bell at Independence Hall, the scenic views at the Grand Canyon or the giant falls of Yosemite, our national parks connect us to America's greatest stories for people young and old.

Yet, many of the threats facing our parks 40 or 80 years ago are the same ones facing our parks today. From chronic federal funding shortfalls, to water and air pollution, energy development and the added threat of climate change, our parks face many challenges.

As we prepare for the Park Service's centennial in 2016, we must ensure that we are doing everything we can to preserve these treasured places for the future. From restoration work in the Everglades to maintaining strong educational ranger programs to protecting sensitive park wildlife and landscapes from the impacts of climate change, we have a unique opportunity to show that we value our national parks by giving them the resources they need to be healthy and thriving. We must also work to protect parks from air pollution, ensure parks are well-funded and maintained, broaden the base of national park supporters to include more diverse audiences, and support legislation that would create new parks and protect park ecosystems.

President Obama has recently added three new national monuments to the park system, including a site honoring Underground Railroad hero Harriet Tubman that we have spent years advocating for -- a great victory and a signal that our federal government values preserving our history. And even with the recent funding cuts, NPCA and our supporters worked very hard with leaders in Congress to gain $400 million in national park restoration funding after Hurricane Sandy. We can convince lawmakers to do the right thing when the chips are down and we have people's voices on our side. Fortunately, enthusiasts around the country understand what is at stake, and our 750,000 members and supporters regularly speak out on a host of issues, from clean air and water to preventing incompatible development.

National parks are the soul of America, telling our diverse stories and teaching valuable lessons about our shared heritage. They draw international tourists from around the world and support the livelihood of businesses and communities nationwide. As we look to the future, we must ask ourselves what is the legacy we will leave behind for our children and grandchildren? I want to make sure my children and grandchildren get to see the best of America and enjoy these incredible, iconic places just as much as I do.

Excerpts of this story are cross-posted with the Park Advocate, the National Parks Conservation Association's blog, at