Fall 2018 Essay Contest

Our annual fall essay contest invites nonfiction submissions of up to 1,500 words in the form of autobiographical essay, reportage, profile, memoir, or narrative nonfiction. We seek essays that express a moment of significance — personal transformation, awakening, adventure, exploration, reward, accomplishment, revelation — that is inspired by or set within a park space or public land. Essays need not be about a U.S. national park—national forests, municipal and state parks, BLM lands, beaches, lakeshores, campgrounds, designated woodlands—and more—are great subjects.

Moving Landscapes: Jim Jones' American West

We are thrilled to share Jim Jones' uplifting photo essay exploring the light, shadows, angles, corridors, and horizons that comprise the landscape of the American West. This series was created over a two week period in Badlands, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in July and August.

Please click the image to proceed to the full photo essay, or click here.

Every Kid in a Park Annual Pass Offer for Grade 4 Students

And so, another school year begins.  

There is a wonderful opportunity that we want to be sure it on your radar, if there is a fourth grade student in your family! As of September 1st, all students entering fourth grade have access to their own Every Kid in a Park pass at The “Every Kid in a Park” promotion is offered by the Department of the Interior and the White House, and brings with it tremendous value, providing free access to fee based federal lands for the student as well as the family.

Free entry is not only to all National Parks Service units, but other fee-based federal lands like national forests, national wildlife refuges, and land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, for example Red Rock Canyon outside of Las Vegas or Chincoteague Island in Virginia. The pass is good for a full year, from the date of issue to Aug 31, 2017.  

This pass is nearly identical in benefits to the America the Beautiful pass (which is $80/year) and exists to encourage the entire family to tour our varied publics lands. These passes eliminate the cost of NPS sites like Yellowstone, Zion and Grand Canyon, where entry is between $25 and $30/car. If you visit a site that charges entrance fees per person, the pass admits all children under 16 and up to three adults for free. If your group visits a site that charges vehicle entrance fees, the pass admits all children under 16 and all adults in one passenger vehicle.

At, children take a short fun quiz, and the pass is available for printout. The paper pass can later be exchanged at NPS fee sites for a plastic version, based on availability.

We are thrilled that the Department of Interior is nurturing the next generation’s enthusiasm for our protected lands, and as always appreciative of the great value of the annual passes; we bought our America the Beautiful pass in February of this year, and by April it had paid for itself park fees. As of August, six month later, it had essentially tripled its value! And we have more parks on our list for this year…how about you?

Valley Forge, Beauty and History in Equal Measure

We explored Valley Forge National Historical Park, where George Washington and the Continental Army decamped during Revolutionary War from 1777-1778, on a summer day where the weather was "polar opposite" to that historically frigid winter. Our day was an enchanting foray into the rural Pennsylvania countryside, which is expansive and idyllic. The park is not only a repository of vital history, but also home to 19.5 miles of hiking trails, 21 miles of cycling trails, and 17 miles of horseback trails. Bicycle rentals are available, as are ranger led walks and storytelling activities for younger visitors. Wildlife is plentiful, in river, forest, meadow, and wetland habitats.  As per the NPS, the park is home to more than 225 species of birds and 730 species of plants.  

Valley Forge is roughly forty minutes northwest of Philadelphia, in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, and its northern trails access other historic sites in both the county and the city. The lush, pastoral landscape is enveloping. Many of the park's primary historic sites can be explored via the 6.6 mile Joseph Plumb Martin Trail on the southern side, or the the ten-mile Encampment Tour, which can be completed as a self guided driving tour (a cell phone guide is available for download) or via a 90-minute trolley tour that departs from the Visitors Center. Key sites include Washington's Headquarters, where he held critical meetings with Lafayette, Knox, and Alexander Hamilton, replicas of cabins shared by militia men, the Pennsylvania columns, a monument to soldiers from the region, and the 1917 National Memorial Arch, restored by the Freemasons in 1997.  Our slideshow seeks to capture the beauty of the park, and to share a few of the key sites that commemorate this critical moment in early American history. 

Morning on Assateague Island

Morning on Assateague Island

Morning on Assateague Island

The following is an edited excerpt from Wood's Journal, written by Martin James Wood. To read the original and full version, click here.
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Sky: Blue, with a very thin layer of stratocumulus clouds
Air: Still, warm and humid
Precipitation: None, but it rained night before
Ground: Dry, with some puddling
Sunshine: Bright
Temperature: 79 degrees
Time out: Mid-morning
Temperatures are moderate and pleasant. Bursts of storms with hard rainfall are short and intermittent.

With all of the harsh news of the world, there isn’t a place to find peace… Peace of mind. But step away, and look into nature. Look deep into it...

I head out to Assateague Island National Seashore to take in some of the primitive beauty of the day. A trail leads me out to the marsh, and also runs alongside the ocean. I notice the sulfuric smell from the marsh’s salty air. In the high grass I watch a young rabbit, looking for its mother, I assume. The young rabbit appears frantic as it regards my company; also, he’s not able to locate his mother. A little later on, I can see her further down the trail, fully indulged with grazing, and savoring the grass before her. She seems to be completely unaware of both my presence and the younger rabbit’s panicked state.

Off of the trail, there are quite a lot of fallen trees lying among the tall marsh grasses, which are growing up and around the limbs. I’m sure this makes perfect cover for these rabbits. Dark brackish water lies between these little islands of cover, with high grass and remnants of felled Loblolly. The silky long appearance of the grasses, plush and soft to the eye, is a perfect contrast to the coarse and jagged bark of both the standing and prostrate piney timber that is intertwined and interwoven throughout this sandy coastal forest.

Approaching the tiny and now frantic rabbit, I crouch down, and examine him a little more closely. I lay on my belly and hold the camera out. The little rabbit, which is no bigger than my fist, seems calmer and begins to eat at the grass around him. It isn’t long before mom becomes aware of the photoshoot. I can see her notice the little one’s moving about, and I watch her as she becomes concerned, and then moves quickly toward us.

I move further along the trail. A pair of cardinals touches down beside me, as if spontaneously deciding to stop in for an informal visit. But, as quickly as the spontaneous calling had come, the couple departs, perhaps remembering an engagement of theirs, so it appears… 

The marsh opens to a vast expanse of sea green grass stretching almost as far as I can see. How beautiful are the colors of the grasses and the water in between, reflecting the sky. Standing amidst these colors is a perfectly white Great Egret. With my camera in hand, I study the long necked egret as it saunters through the water, in between the tall stems of grass. Eventually she decides to take flight as well, and leaves me staring out at the marsh wanting more, more of this peace…Peace of mind.

Step away, and look into nature. Look deep into it...

Nature enthusiast Martin James Wood is an outdoor writer and blogger for The Wood's Edge. He has spent his life among the forests and woods, admiring nature with a camera and pen. His writing, artistry, and outdoor photography celebrate nature’s simplicity and beauty. A Pennsylvania native, Martin James is a loving father and husband, and a friend to our nation’s forests who believes in protecting and preserving our wild lands.

Morning on Assateague Island

Cover 1,000 Miles of Desert Landscape in a Week on our Tour of Northern Arizona

Blue Basin Sunset- Petrified Forest National Park, photo by Andrew Kerns CC / BY

Blue Basin Sunset- Petrified Forest National Park, photo by Andrew Kerns CC / BY

Cover 1,000 Miles of Desert Landscape in a Week on our Tour of Northern Arizona

The 1.25 million acre Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Canyon de Chelly National Monument — a network of canyons shared by the NPS and the Navajo Nation — Petrified Forest National Park, and of course Grand Canyon National Park, are all spectacular highlights of our recommended itinerary for touring NPS sites in northern Arizona. The region is best toured in the summer, now is the time to start planning!

Tour 9 National Parks Service Sites in NYC Without a Car

There are nine NPS sites within NYC, all accessible by subway or on foot. Check out our post here!