By Cynthia MacLeod

Hip Hip Huzzah!

One hundred years ago, on Aug. 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that created the National Park Service "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for future generations."

For 100 years, the NPS has been entrusted with the care of our national parks. With support from volunteers and partners, the Park Service safeguards 412 special places and shares their stories with more than 275 million visitors every year.

Independence National Historical Park is one of these special places. In 2015, 4.3 million visited the park that includes the Liberty Bell, an international symbol of freedom, and Independence Hall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were debated, adopted, and signed. Spanning 50 acres, Independence Park has more than 20 historic buildings open to the public supported by an annual operating budget of $24 million. An NPS report showed that in 2015 visitors spent $247 million in communities near the park, which supported 3,900 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative local benefit of $365.3 million.

In addition to parks, the Park Service has dozens of technical assistance and grant programs in urban areas to benefit historic buildings, improve playgrounds, and conserve rivers. Philadelphia is one of 10 model cities exploring new collaborations with local agencies, schools, and nonprofit organizations to enhance community character, education, and recreation.

The NPS centennial is the perfect time and opportunity to engage new audiences, expand our outreach, and encourage the next generation to become active stewards. The centennial #FindYourPark campaign invites visitors to discover and share a personal connection to a place or a story.

Several partners in Philadelphia have been helping this year. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society celebrated with us with the Flower Show themed for the Park Service - a wonderful experience that brought so many important messages home for nine days in March. We work with Historic Philadelphia Inc. on story-telling benches and historian-actors throughout the park for visitors' enjoyment. The Independence Visitor Center Corporation. works with us every day at our Independence Visitor Center to provide excellent services for people from around the world.

The National Constitution Center anchors the north end of the park with opportunities for in-depth understanding of the Constitution. Staff of Independence Park have taken great pride in making park buildings and grounds beautiful and in making special efforts to welcome visitors in this centennial year.

In addition, we have added to our trading card and stamp giveaway collection. We reopened the Second Bank Portrait Gallery with Visit Philly's help. We added a Pollinator Garden with the Student Conservation Association (SCA) and Fish and Wildlife Service help. We added a "Mather Plaque" - named for NPS's first director, Stephen Mather - as found in many other national parks, thanks to a donation from the National Park Travelers Club. We added big and bold interpretive decals to the modern exterior of the Declaration House at Seventh and Market Streets, thanks to a donation by the Friends of Independence.

The "Every Kid in a Park" program brings more focus to the centennial goal by encouraging all fourth-graders and their families to visit parks free this year. We received a grant to fund bus transportation for Philadelphia and Camden students to Independence Park.

We are developing future stewards who appreciate the places and stories of Independence Park. Through our partnership with the SCA and the Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA, we have taught teens leadership skills by sharing stories about leaders connected to the Park's stories. As part of their project, the YMCA students presented their own action plans to address an issue they were passionate about. In another NPS-SCA program, teens created historical medicinal and vegetable gardens, and learned about partnerships, teamwork, and other special places in nature. This program helped them to appreciate the historical aspects of Philadelphia while encouraging them to be "citizen gardeners" in their own communities.

We hope that raising awareness about the Park Service will help everyone understand the importance of our national treasures and what we all must do to ensure they are around for the next 100 years and beyond. Thank you to all our visitors, our dedicated volunteers, and our many partners who help us meet our mission goals.

You can get involved by volunteering at the park and becoming a member of the Friends of Independence - citizens from around the world who are dedicated to preserving and protecting Independence National Historical Park for future generations.

Cynthia MacLeod is superintendent of Independence National Historical Park. cynthia_macleod@nps.gov