By Rep. Kristi Noem
Our family is what I like to call an “outside family.” We just don’t do well being cooped up in a house, so inevitably we end up needing to take things outside. To me, there’s almost nothing more beautiful than walking out our front door and seeing the wide open prairie (and, let’s be honest, prime pheasant hunting territory). But from the time our kids were little, we took pride in the fact that we could also jump in the car, drive a few hours west, and find many of America’s greatest natural wonders.
Our state is home to the rugged beauty of the Badlands, some of the world’s largest and most complex caves, and four historic faces etched in stone just as their legacies have been etched into the history books. Each of these sites, along with a handful of others, has been set aside as part of our country’s natural, recreational and political history – the preservation of which has been designated as the National Park Service’s mission.
This year – and more specifically, August 25 – marks the agency’s centennial birthday. The sites and narratives preserved throughout the last 100 years tell the story of America. From the depths of Wind Cave and Jewel Cave to the heights of the buttes in the Badlands, ages-old natural wonders are on display. Along the Lewis and Clark Trail and the Missouri River, we see the influence of tribal culture and the country’s westward expansion. At the Minuteman Missile site where 1,000 nuclear missiles were kept during the Cold War, we are shown the fine line between war and peace. And at the base of Mount Rushmore, which turns 75 this year, we come face to face with the principles our nation was founded on, expanded with, united by, and fought to preserve.
The educational opportunities are expansive, but so are the economic. The six national parks within South Dakota’s borders welcome 4.4 million visitors and generate $292.3 million in economic benefits every year, according to the National Park Service. It’s essential to our thriving tourism industry and an opportunity to introduce millions of people to all that makes our state so incredible.
Our “outside family” has been fortunate enough to hike many of the trails that navigate through South Dakota’s parks. Each step has given us a new perspective. We’ve found connections with the past and gained an understanding of its influence on our world today. Perhaps most notably with each visit, we renew our commitment to preserving these sites so future generations can also access America’s great backyard and the lessons within it.
Thank you to all those who have helped preserve these areas of our country, volunteered to ensure these places can be enjoyed by future generations, and taken the time to visit our national parks and take part in our living history.