Celebrating National Park Week

March 12, 2021

moving photo of the forests of yellowstone national park. Headlined national park week, april 17 through 25 2021.


April 17 – 25, 2021 is National Park Week! Observe this annual week-long celebration by teaching your students about national parks and encouraging exploration of these culturally and historically significant areas.


National Park, Public land? What’s the difference?

A National Park may be what typically comes to mind when thinking about the topic of public lands – luscious areas of land and water that are designated and protected by the Government of the United States in an effort to preserve the natural and cultural resources “for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of [current] and future generations.” There are many different kinds of National Park System units, also called designations. And fun fact: national parks can only be designated and made official by Congress!

The National Park System is comprised of historical monuments, lakeshores, scenic rivers and battle areas, in addition to natural landscapes. There are more than 400 national park sites recognized in the United States, spanning more than 85 million acres in all 50 states and many territories like the Virgin Islands and Guam.

Public land refers to the many natural areas of land that are managed by the federal government and are open for public use. National parks are public lands, but there are many more examples of public lands, including National Forests, Monuments, Preserves, Wildlife Refuges, Recreation Areas, and more.  


The First National Park

With so many national parks in the United States, have you ever wondered which came first? If you guessed Yellowstone National Park, then you would be right! Composed of 2.22 million acres in Northwest Wyoming, it is the 8th largest national park in the United States. Being recognized as a national park meant that it was set aside as a public area for recreational use.

Yellowstone National Park received its official designation in 1872. It is also world-recognized as a UNESCO biosphere and World Heritage Site. The Park’s landscape includes geothermal structures, forests, lakes, rivers, and mountains — so it’s easy to see why Yellowstone National Park welcomes 4 million visitors annually. Another fun fact: the National Park Service was established under the Organic Act of 1916, a full 44 years after Yellowstone National Park was designated. 


two young women in national park service hats and jackets stand before snow covered mountainsNational Park Service and Green Jobs

As defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, green jobs include jobs that produce goods or services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources. In helping to care for the environment, green jobs are crucial for ensuring the sustainability of our planet and its resources into the future.

The National Park Service employs over 20,000 employees and 280,000 volunteers with a variety of green jobs, including maintenance workers, gardeners, engineers, biological technicians, and park planners. The core workforce for the National Park Service is comprised of park rangers.

Park rangers are environmental educators and conservationists who are knowledgeable about their park, who typically specialize in historical interpretation, natural interpretation, resource management or law enforcement. Park rangers typically work outdoors but may also need to spend some time in the office.

Interested in helping your students learn about more green job opportunities with the National Park Service, Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and more? Check out our Green Jobs and Careers in Conservation article exploring the many different types of green jobs available in both the public and private sectors and try out our online personality quiz! Educators can administer a youth version of this quiz to your students. By answering a few simple questions online, youth get recommendations for a few different green career paths that suit their personality.

Looking for more resources like this? The quiz is an adaptation of one of the activities within PLT’s Green Jobs: Exploring Forest Careers guide. 


resident wearing glasses studies a park planning map in oakdale california
Resident looks over a map during a parks and projects public meeting in Oakdale, California. Photo courtesy of the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Public Land and Park Planning

One of the important roles of the National Park Service is planning to ensure long-term use of our parks for future generations. This process includes establishing guidelines for how a park may be used by the public, making decisions about sustainable resource management, and the continued monitoring of management plans.

With a large number of stakeholders, park planning is no easy task, as collaborators include residents in nearby communities and existing and future park users. Collaboration is imperative to allow all voices to be heard when discussing approved use of land and water while ensuring the protection of the environment.


Celebrate National Park Week with Your Learners

PLT’s PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide and professional development workshops (in person or online) contain many activities to help your learners celebrate National Park Week, including:

  • Activity 55: Planning the Ideal Community

    Explore parallels of park and community planning using this activity, guiding students through assessing the area around them and planning a community that will meet the needs of all of its residents.

  • Activity 56: We Can Work It Out

    Many stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process when managing a national park. Have your students develop plans to address stakeholder land-use issues with this activity and exercise in collaboration.

  • Activity 96: Improve Your Place

    Part of park planning for national parks includes assessing natural resources and making management decisions to improve the sustainability of those resources. This activity is also an excellent way to engage your students in thinking about what changes they can make in their own community to improve the environment. 

brown arrowhead shaped national park service shield


More Ways to Celebrate

Here are some more ways students can explore national parks while learning about sustainable forest management, land use, and public planning:


Explore national parks in your area and beyond

With over 400 national park sites in the United States, there are plenty to explore during National Park Week. The National Park Service Website has developed a “Plan Your Visit” tool that you can use to locate local national parks nearby. A number of National Parks across the country have teamed up with Google Arts & Culture to create virtual tours that let you explore Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park, and Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park.

every kid outdoors logo 3 young children playing in grasses forests near water with birds flying overhead


Take part in the Every Kid Outdoors Program

The Every Kid Outdoors program gives fourth-grade students and their families free access to hundreds of National Parks, lands, and waters for an entire year.


Retrace the history of the National Park Service

With an active and established history spanning over 100 years, the National Park Service has an interesting story to tell. Explore the history of the National Park Service using the National Parks Service’s timeline.


two young boys in jackets examine a broken tree branchLearn About Forests in national parks and nearby

Teaching with i-Tree:
Many of the national parks in the United States include forested areas that provide many important ecosystem services. Have your students discover the many benefits that trees and forests provide using PLT’s Teaching with i-Tree unit. Suitable for middle and high school grade levels, students will use the i-Tree Design Software to calculate, for example, the monetary value of trees based on the benefits they provide.

Learn About Forests Family Activities:
PLT’s simplified Learn About Forests activities are the perfect tools to bring with you to national parks (or even a city park or playground nearby) to help youth learn about trees and forests. There are 12 free, hands-on activities to use with ages 10 to 16.


Stay connected, virtually!

Share your National Park Week experiences and memories on social media using the hashtags #NationalParkWeek, #FindYourPark or #EncuentraTuParque and tag PLT – we would love to see how you are celebrating!

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Christine Song supports both Project Learning Tree (PLT) US and Canada's program delivery and reporting, program research, and communications. Christine holds a Master of Environmental Science from the University of Toronto and and a combined degree with a Bachelor of Science in ecology and zoology and a Bachelor of Science in anthropology from the University of Calgary.