Escape to America’s best idea – National Parks

That's me at the Roosevelt Arch - the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park.My life is a series of different-sized screens. From a 3.5-inch smartphone, to a 55-inch flat screen TV – and all dimensions and devices in-between – I spend much of my day focused on a digital reality.

When I need to flee the screen’s electronic grip, I head outdoors. Often times, the simplest escapes involve a quick trip to the backyard of my suburban home in Wisconsin. It could also be a bike ride or a visit to my state’s plethora of parks.

But I’m most happy anywhere I can find the familiar tan and forest green logo of the National Park Service. Officially created by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, national parks – and their idea – have been around much longer. President Ulysses Grant established Yellowstone National Park in 1872 – the nation’s first national park.

National Parks are part of our country’s fabric – and were established by visionaries who believed in the power of nature and the importance of preserving it – forever.

Indeed, they’re our best idea.

However, growing up my friends had different summer dreams – of baseball stadiums, big cities and beaches – not national parks. My family’s compass almost always pointed to the West, where interstate highways led us to less glamorous places with names like Badlands, Little Bighorn or Bryce Canyon.

I was a child of the National Park Service, and I haven’t forgotten the lessons I learned in some of its 51.9 million acres.

Last summer, I gave my kids (10 and 12) a similar education, going on what they dubbed “The Great American Road Trip.” OK, that’s a bit cliché, but we did have a fantastic, 3,800-mile journey through South Dakota and Wyoming.

Here are my two awesome kids at the Yellowstone National Park entrance.Everywhere we went, so was the National Park Service. We saw (and smelled) mud pots, bison and geysers. We tent-camped in national forests and parks, paying a penance to sleep under billions of stars in lieu of cushy queen beds and free WiFi.

We ate and slept among nature – not protected from it in some stuffy, air-conditioned hotel room. Our dinners were on wooden picnic tables that thousands of other campers like us used before. We disconnected from reality for two weeks, and it was hard to come home – back to our screens. Back to reality.

But we returned recharged. And my kids learned the lessons of my youth - the ones only nature can teach: appreciation of life’s simpler gifts.

John Muir – a pioneer of national parks – said it best more than 100 years ago:

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease.”
― John Muir, Our National Parks

In his free time, Tom Buchheim blogs about the curious intersection of sports and social media at

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by Tom Buchheim on Thu, Aug 08 2013 7:27 am
Posted by Tom Buchheim on Thu, Aug 08 2013 7:27 am


Keith Katers said on Aug 09, 2013
Tom, what a great story and message. I’m with you. America’s parks are special and critical to the fabric of our nation. Resources the public owns and must preserve forever – and future generations. Your family will always remember the travels and the time spent in the parks with you. Camp on Buchheims! Keith
Bette knight said on Aug 17, 2013
Great read,Tom. I didn't get to national parks in my youth but made up for it after retirement. Hope we never lose the,.
Eric Wolf said on Aug 09, 2013
Great story, Tom! I really enjoy hearing how people get a chance to step off the grid once in a while to recharge their batteries.
Tom Buchheim said on Aug 09, 2013
Thanks Keith! I'm already planning my next National Parks getaway for next summer. Can't wait.
Debra Hermsmeier said on Aug 13, 2013
Tom, Thanks for the reminder to unplug and that our country has gifted us with an abundant parks system to share with our families. Sounds like a great trip and a wonderful childhood of adventures.
Jeff Riggleman said on Aug 23, 2013
With youth athletics claiming more and more of the summer from families of school-aged kids, it's nice to hear stories like this. Our visit this summer to Colorado and its National Parks was much more memorable to my kids than what the sports they missed could have ever offered.

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