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Travel Stories

People Protecting the Parks

Every summer, hundreds of thousands of people road-trip to see Zion’s amazing canyon walls, Yosemite’s breathtaking granite domes and the snow-capped peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park. But our nation’s stunning parks don’t stay wild and healthy on their own. There are people who work really hard behind the scenes to preserve the history, culture and natural environment.

Here are some fascinating stories about people who live in and near six parks.

Yosemite National Park, Calif.

Yosemite Ranger Shelton Johnson
Yosemite Ranger Shelton Johnson Photo: Grant Ordelheide

Find out how Yosemite ranger Shelton Johnson brings to life the little-known history of Yosemite’s first Black rangers and how he convinced Oprah to visit the park.

Grand Canyon West, Ariz.Luka Montana rafting on the Colorado River at Grand Canyon West

Luka Montana rafting on the Colorado River at Grand Canyon West

Strong enough to hold seventy-one 747 airplanes, Grand Canyon West’s Skywalk opened in 2007 on a sacred but rarely visited dry corner of the Hualapai reservation. For Luka Montana, it led him back to some of his tribe’s deeply rooted cultural traditions.

Olympic National Park, Wash.

Valerie Segrest of the Muckelshoot Indian Tribe near Seattle
Valerie Segrest of the Muckelshoot Indian Tribe near Seattle Photo: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

The Coast Salish people have been working to return salmon to their historic spawning grounds across the Pacific Northwest, including Olympic National Park. Valerie Segrest explains how the return of the salmon is a key step in tribes acquiring food sovereignty.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo.

Darla Siddles, Rocky Mountain National Park superintendent
Darla Siddles, Rocky Mountain National Park superintendent Photo: National Park Service

In a mere 18 months, Rocky Mountain National Park has experienced record levels of visitors, a global pandemic and two of Colorado’s largest ever fires that burned 10 percent of the park. Its first female superintendent Darla Sidles may be one of its boldest leaders yet.

Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Talia Boyd
Talia Boyd Photo: by Raymond Chee

Growing up, Talia Boyd lived on the Navajo Nation near a former uranium mill. She remembers the kids she’d ride the bus with playing on top of the unfenced piles of tailings. Today, she’s working to stop the expansion of uranium mining three miles from the boundary of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

Glacier National Park, Mont.

Jessy Stevenson and her dog Naki in the Badger Two-Medicine Area
Jessy Stevenson and her dog Naki in the Badger Two-Medicine Area Photo: by Scott Bosse

Jessy Stevenson has deep ties to the Badger-Two Medicine area bordering Glacier National Park from her family’s Blackfeet heritage as well as her ancestors who helped run the park. Today, the Blackfeet and conservationists are fighting to protect Badger-Two Medicine and restore the tribe’s rights to co-manage it.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tenn. and N. C.

Jesse Webster at Leconte Creek in Great Smoky.
Jesse Webster at Leconte Creek in Great Smoky. Photo: NPS/Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Without hemlock trees, known as the “redwood of the East,” Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s forests could be losing one of its most important tree species and the ecosystems that they support. Jesse Webster is helping to win the war against a pernicious army of tiny insects.