MESA VERDE – The National Park Service has marked its first 100 years of service, but for Mesa Verde Superintendent Cliff Spencer, the work is far from over.
At a ceremony celebrating the Park Service Centennial on Thursday morning, Spencer encouraged spectators to continue sharing the parks with others.
“We must introduce the parks to people who have never visited them,” Spencer said.
Established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, the National Park Service manages 413 units across the country.
Thursday’s celebration had a slate of speakers including Spencer, retired U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Theodore Roosevelt impersonator Will Gray.
Park entrance fees will be waived nationwide through Sunday for the centennial celebration, and special activities at Mesa Verde include curation tours, Native American dances, a historic walking tour and a special evening program at Morefield Campground.
President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated Mesa Verde as a national monument under the Antiquities Act in 1906, so the park is older than the Park Service itself.
This weekend’s celebration is especially significant because President Barack Obama dedicated the Park Service’s 413th unit Wednesday, using his authority under the Antiquities Act. The 87,000-acre Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument protects lakes and forests in central Maine.
Spencer said the centennial celebrates not only the Park Service’s birthday, but also the agency’s gift to the people.
“National Parks are a gift to us all,” he said. “The agency stands as an example of what people can achieve.”
Eight crew members from the USS Mesa Verde were on hand to commemorate the occasion. Capt. Randall Peck said it’s important for his crew members to be familiar with the namesake park and know the resilience of the ancestral Puebloan people who lived there. The ancient Mesa Verde settlers share some of the same values as the U.S. Navy, Peck said.
“I can’t think of any more important place to be,” he said.
The crew members are living in the park for several days, working on a trail project.
Crew member Sherman Windley, an aviation specialist, said the crew got the opportunity to see the cliff dwellings, including Balcony House.
“We represent the park, and it represents us,” Windley said.
The trip is the first time in the West for operations specialist Madolyn Azzardi, an Ohio native. Learning about the ancestral Puebloans and how hard they worked in their daily lives puts perspective on present-day life, she said.
“Seeing the life and how they had to work for it makes you realize that we have it easy,” Azzardi said. “We have to work a little harder.”
Campbell, a retired senator from Ignacio, spoke about his time in office serving on the U.S. Senate’s National Parks and Public Lands subcommittee.
“Mesa Verde was always a special place for me,” he said.
Some special places in Mesa Verde are being excavated and remain off limits to the public because the National Park Service doesn’t have adequate funding to maintain them.
The ceremony ended with the crowd of about 50 people singing “Happy Birthday” to the National Park Service. Spencer thanked the park partners and staff members and encouraged spectators to continue exploring Mesa Verde and the rest of the national parks.
“Share the magic,” he said.
The celebration at Mesa Verde was sponsored by Mesa Verde partner Osprey Packs.