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Interior Secretary: Parks Need More Relevance
Zion National Park, Utah.

The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2016. Relevancy could be key to preserving the nation’s natural heritage.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell spoke to NPR's Here and Now about the future of the national parks. She said that national parks need to be made relevant to more people around the country so that the parks can have a broad coalition of support.

“People are very busy and parks aren’t necessarily on their radar. They don’t feel as relevant to all Americans,” Jewell said. “Making parks relevant to all Americans, not just those who might have had a history of growing up and going to these places, is going to be really important for the future of national parks and public lands so that they have advocates across the country and across the political spectrum. Until parks are relevant to all Americans, we won’t put the support in place needed.”

National parks received record numbers of visitors in 2015. Concerns have arisen about the impact so many people will have on these protected places. Increased traffic is not the only major challenge facing the park system, however. Jewell said that the parks are not immune to development in surrounding areas.

“When these parks were set aside, it was viewed as these are really special places to protect, but they were within a sea of undeveloped landscapes. I don’t think people realized at that time that we would be developing so much around them,” she said. “We now know through science that parks like Yellowstone can’t exist as an island unto themselves, they’re part of a connected ecosystem.”

Utah’s Zion National Park received over 3.6 million visitors last year.