I love National Parks, State Parks, and City Parks because, without them, most of us would not have easy and inexpensive access some of the greatest natural wonders in America. After spending a few days in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina – the most visited National Park in America – it appears I am not alone in my love for them.

The main reason I love them is because they give me a chance to go outside. I not only enjoy going outside, it turns out, I need to go outside. Everyone benefits by getting close to nature and, for those who don’t, they are subject to Nature Deficit Disorder – the idea that people, children especially, need to spend time in the outdoors. Richard Louv, author of the book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, interviewed a child who told him that he liked playing indoors more than outdoors, “’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

Thanks to John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt, we have an incredible National Park System that provides access for the public to some of the most pristine and protected places on earth. While many of us in America take that for granted, the history of European feudalism, aristocracy, and land ownership, only the wealthy had access to the most beautiful places.

However, the beauty of democracy is that anyone can enjoy nature at its most glorious display.

What the National Parks don’t provide access too, the State Park System does. In Kansas, where I live, 98% of the land is privately owned and is often posted with “No Trespassing” signs. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks provides public access to some of the most beautiful areas in Kansas. Although a state agency, they are not funded with taxpayer dollars. Instead, they operate entirely on revenue generated from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, camping permits and other usage fees. In addition, thanks to the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1934 which sits aside the 11% excise tax on firearms and ammunition to be used for conservation programs, training programs and infrastructure such as state-of-the-art gun ranges. In fact, the resurgence and conservation of wildlife like whitetail deer, turkey and other game animals is funded almost entirely by hunters.

But you don’t have to go to a national or state park to enjoy the physical and mental health befits of nature. There has been a surge in the last few years, driven by both health and economic benefits, for public access to trails. In Kansas, the Kansas Trails Council has received considerable support by numerous community foundations to build trails in cities, most of which can be found on this map. While traveling, I frequently use the app, All Tails, to find a trail near me. This is a great way to break up long road trips!

Here are good reasons why I enjoy The Great Outdoors:

1. Being in nature cleanses my soul like pure mountain water cascading through my veins.
2. Hiking in the mountains and breathing pure mountain air clarifies my purpose and sharpens my “why.”
3. God whispers to me more in nature than anywhere else.
4. Nature inspires significantly more awe-struck moments when my heart bows in wonder at the world God’s hands has made.
5. There are trout waiting in crystal streams to torment me while I fly fish.

Here are a few images I captured. The one with the mountains on fire is looking out our cabin as the setting sun threw her glow over the valley.

“The mountains are calling, and I must go.” John Muir