By Abby Ponder, senior at Western Kentucky University and marketing intern at Eastern National
I honestly don’t remember the first time I went to Mammoth Cave National Park.
Growing up in South Central Kentucky, the park—which is home to the world’s longest cave—hosted several class field trips. On more than one occasion, I remember exploring winding tunnels lined with history and sediment and listening to park rangers share stories of people who once called the park’s boundaries home.
In many ways, however, those field trips were where my relationship with Mammoth Cave began and concluded. While I had an appreciation for the park, it wasn’t a place I would routinely visit in the subsequent years.
It was simply Mammoth Cave: sturdy, despite the sinkholes, and omnipresent.
It wasn’t until my first year of college that I became reacquainted with the park. That summer, I started working as a seasonal sales associate in Mammoth Cave’s Eastern National park store, backed by a group of extraordinary individuals.
Visitors from around the world come together to see the maze beneath the surface, and I, too, wanted to better understand this infinitely complex system. As such, I toured the winding caverns and poured through pages of beautiful images interspersed with rich text that conveyed a vision unlike any other.
Over the course of that summer and the subsequent seasons, I learned more about the wondrous place that exists in my own backyard.
Ultimately, though, the thing that seems most significant about this journey through Mammoth Cave over the last three years has been seeing how this park—and the entire National Park System—touches the lives of countless individuals.
This giant of a park has the ability to bring people of all backgrounds together regardless of race, religion, language, or socioeconomic status. In this beautiful and uplifting place, people can see the caverns and the surrounding area through a natural or historical lens in more ways than one. History can sometimes feel abstract and intangible, but visiting the national parks allows people to learn in a real-life setting, following the footsteps of those who came before them.
This park, which I first took advantage of as a child, provides history and solace to a host of people waiting just outside its metaphorical doors. I wish I had realized its beauty before I did but, in the end, I am grateful that I found Mammoth Cave and Eastern National at my own pace. My appreciation for them is that much greater as a result.
This year marks the Centennial Anniversary for the National Park Service, as well as a host of other anniversaries for Mammoth Cave: 200 years of guided tours, 75 years as a National Park, 35 years as a World Heritage Site, and 26 years as a part of the Biosphere Reserves.
Now, more than ever, is the perfect time to get out there and explore the national parks. Whether your park is in your own backyard or waiting for you across state lines, a visit to a National Park is an experience unlike any other. Speaking from my own experiences, I can promise you one thing: you’ll be glad you did.
In the meantime, you can begin planning your own adventures by perusing the options on the National Park Service’s webpage. From there, it’s up to you. You can obtain a Passport To Your National Parks® book and when you visit parks around the country, get your Passport stamped! Also, be sure to follow the Passport to Your National Parks on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to get even more ideas about what to do once you’ve landed—or, in my case, trekked into the backyard.
So, take a deep breath. Are you ready?