Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (center) with Derrick Crandall (left) at National RV Trade Show on Nov. 29 in Louisville, Ky.

Visit http://www.2016parksummit.org/ to learn more about last week’s summit.

Recognizing a growing need to unite the advocates, partners and supporters of national parks in advance of the upcoming 2016 National Park Service (NPS) centennial and beyond, the most diverse group of national park leaders ever convened gathered last week in Washington, D.C., to attend America’s Summit on National Parks, according to a news release.

The summit was a first of its kind event established in coordination with the NPS through a partnership of the National Park Foundation (NPF), the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and the National Park Hospitality Association (NPHA).

The two-day summit, which took place Jan. 24-26, was inspired by NPS’ recent Call to Action report and was designed to create unifying, clear objectives that will ensure the protection, enhancement, and support America’s iconic landmarks for centuries to come. The summit inspired thought-provoking dialogue on some of the greatest challenges and opportunities facing national parks currently. The summit produced a working document outlining the participants’ shared “Statement of Principles” and “Action Items” to ensure that the seeds of progress begun from the passionate and inspired conversations will take root, leading to growth, change, increased accessibility and ultimate strengthening of the national park system and national park programs. The summit drew prominent members of Congress, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, major political advisers and top conservation, tourism and communication leaders.

In a joint statement regarding the summit, Tom Kiernan, president of NPCA; Neil Mulholland, president of NPF; and Derrick Crandall, counselor of NPHA, said:

“Our parks need to evolve with us. The passionate leaders and advocates who attended this summit are committed to a united vision for the national parks to thrive in the next century. We understand that appropriate funding, diverse outreach, natural resource protection and conservation, updated facilities, and adequate staff are necessary to make sure our national parks remain attractive, healthy places for people to visit and enjoy. And, though there are many challenges, we are confident that this newly unified focus, support and dedication by the park community will make these goals obtainable.”

Among the most notable directives coming out of the summit were to increase outreach to youth and other diverse populations; to make units within the NPS system more representative of the diverse makeup of the nation; to use technology, such as social media, smart phone applications, video games and other electronic technologies to attract visitors and improve park experiences; to highlight healthy food and opportunities for safe, active fun during park visits; to increase public awareness of the 2016 centennial; to create an endowment to provide the NPS with secure funding for the future; to encourage supporters and lovers of national parks to become more engaged with their members of Congress and other decision makers, and to grow the base of support for national parks, particularly among the health, education and tourism communities.

Leading up to the 2016 centennial, the current stewards of our national parks will take up the gauntlet thrown by this summit. Through their work, these original goals will be enhanced and the shared vision will become action.