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Bighorn Canyon gearing up for 2016 NPS centennial

A 2012 aerial photo captures a glimpse of the rugged beauty of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016. A 2012 aerial photo captures a glimpse of the rugged beauty of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016. Tribune file photo by Gib Mathers

The national park in Powell’s backyard is gearing up for the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary in 2016 by asking for community volunteers.

“The success of this will depend on all of us doing our part,” said Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service in a film aired at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area’s Lovell Visitor Center on April 21.

The campaign begins in 2015. The theme is “Find Your Park,” said Christy Fleming, chief interpretive ranger at Bighorn Canyon.

Finding your park also includes National Historic Landmarks like the Medicine Wheel in the Big Horn Mountains and the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center at the base of Heart Mountain. There are 401 national park sites in the United States. In 2016, tentative plans are to showcase a park each week at the Lovell center, she said.

“You all are here because we believe that the ‘Find Your Park’ campaign gives us all an opportunity to work together to help all of our neighboring communities to become destinations and gateway communities,” Fleming said prior to the Jarvis film.

“Volunteers are definitely needed,” Fleming added.

Communities around the Big Horn Basin can help promote Bighorn Canyon and the other attractions nearby. More local involvement means more tourism dollars spent in towns near Bighorn Canyon, Fleming said.

Those attractions include Bighorn Canyon, Big Horn Mountains and Cloud Peak Wilderness Area, Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite near Greybull, Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site near Hyattville and more, Fleming said. 

Bighorn Canyon celebrates 50 years and Fort Smith on the northern end of the park is celebrating 150 years in 2016, Fleming said.

National parks add value such as nostalgia. People recall past experiences in their favorite park so they return with their their children or grandchildren.

“We see three-generation families coming into the national parks,” Fleming said.

National parks provide an escape as the world gets busier and busier. “It is a place to gather your thoughts and re-energize yourself,” Fleming said.

National parks augment on-site insight that can’t be gleaned from history books. For example, when visiting Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument people, can ponder Lt. Col. George Custer’s failure to recognize his imminent downfall. That can teach people to not repeat failures, Fleming said.

Americans see how national parks add value to their lives, Jarvis said. For example, the Statue of Liberty National Monument is a source of pride.

One man interviewed for the film in New York City’s Central Park said national parks prompted a new found love of camping and the outdoors. “My park is wherever my kids smile,” said a mother.

Bighorn Recreation Area will offer programs this summer and volunteers are appreciated, Fleming said.

There will be a kayak program thanks to a grant from the National Park Foundation. Volunteers are needed to assist rangers on canyon kayak tours. The tours are six miles round-trip with rangers discussing the canyon’s geology, wildlife and life before the dam was built in 1966, Fleming said.

The Park Service is also seeking a volunteer to serve as the Horseshoe Bend Campground host, Fleming said. A landscaping project is in the works at the Lovell center and volunteers are needed, Fleming said.

Visit the Lovell center and check out the ranch display there. The exhibit was designed to encourage people to visit the four ranch sites at Bighorn Canyon. Those are the Mason-Lovell, Ewing Snell, Hillsboro and Lockhart ranches.

Folks wishing to form partnerships should contact Fleming. To volunteer, contact Ranger Shawn Williams, both at 307-548-5406.

Planning meetings for centennial events will probably begin this fall, Fleming said.

Bighorn Canyon and other locations around the Big Horn Basin provide locals with plenty of destinations to choose from, she said.

“We’re lucky to live here,” Fleming said.

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