The author Wallace Stegner called America’s national parks “the best idea we ever had.” We assume that because these diverse places are so beautiful, so important, and so special, they will always be there for future generations to enjoy—but this is hardly true. Preserving “America’s best idea” is a constant battle—one that has become even more urgent in the years since the National Park System turned 100 in 2016.
Woods took a year-long sabbatical from his job as a columnist at The Florida Times-Union and spent a year in America’s national parks, trying to figure out what the future holds for them. He visited 12 parks, one a month, each symbolizing a different issue for the future, and realized the depth of his connection—indeed, many Americans’ connections—to these places. One of his epiphanies during the year was that the biggest issue for the future isn’t whether we’re loving our parks to death. It’s whether we’re loving them enough to keep them alive.
Mark Woods has been a columnist for The Florida Times-Union since 2001. In 2011, he won the Eugene C. Pulliam Fellowship, an award given to one writer in America each year. The fellowship allowed him to take a sabbatical and spend one year working on a project about the future of the national parks. During that year, Mark’s mother died, turning the project and a subsequent book into something much more personal. Lassoing the Sun: A Year in America’s National Parks was published by Thomas Dunne Books in June 2016, a month before the centennial of the National Park Service, and it won the Florida Book Awards gold medal for nonfiction.