yellowstone national park service birthday united states wilderness protection preservation

Yellowstone, the first national park in the U.S., was created about 44 years before the National Park Service was founded.     Photo: Bertl123/Thinkstock

Happy Birthday, National Park Service!

Visit any national park for free today

Today the National Park Service celebrates its 98th birthday by generously offering visitors free access to the parks it protects.

Historian Wallace Stegner might have put it best when he said that "national parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst." From the time Congress created the National Park Service (NPS) in 1916 until today, the organization has grown to oversee 401 parks across the United States.

Every Founders' Day, park visitors get a birthday gift: waived fees to all 401 of those beautiful and wild places (although the good old NPS points out that only 133 of those parks usually charge an entrance fee to begin with). NPS also offers a handy map to help you locate the parks closest to you or that offer certain activities, from fishing to horseback riding. 

We can't wait to see how NPS tops this gesture on its 100th birthday in 2016. Until then, we're booking it to the nearest park for some celebratory explorations (and referencing this to possibly avoid the birthday crowds).


Michael Phelps London Olympics news from the field outside outside magazine outside online pan pacific championships 2014 katie ledecky women's freestyle men's 100 meter butterfly

Michael Phelps, center, during a time trial in 2012. Phelps won his first post-retirement gold medal this past weekend at the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia.     Photo: Aringo/Wikimedia Commons

Phelps, Ledecky Make Waves at Pan Pacific Championship

Help U.S. earn 14 golds, lead medal count

American swimmers dominated this weekend's Pan Pacific Championships, leading the medal count with 40 of 62 possible medals, including 14 golds. Two of those golds made the Gold Coast, Australia, meet even sweeter: two-time All-Met Swimmer of the Year Katie Ledecky landed her third world record in 15 days, and once-retired Michael Phelps earned his first gold since the 2012 London Olympics.

Ledecky, two-time All-Met Swimmer of the Year, had already set the bar for the women's 400-meter freestyle this month at the U.S. national championships, but bested her own time by nearly a half-second with a time of 3 minutes 58.37 seconds. The 17-year-old went on to crush her own record for the 1,500-meter freestyle, with a time of 15:28.36, and rake in five gold medals. Ledecky also held the world freestyle record for the 800-meter going into the meet.

"She's a stud," Phelps said of Ledecky during an interview with the Washington Post. "Watching her swim, it's remarkable."

Phelps is feeling pretty remarkable himself. Four months after ending his retirement, the world champion flew past teammate Ryan Lochte to win the men's 100-meter butterfly in 51.29 seconds and secure a place on next summer's world championships team.

"It definitely feels good to have that sort of confidence back," Phelps said of going for gold. "I know there's a lot that can happen in a year with training, and that's what I'm looking forward to. … This is a building year for me."

This was the fourth straight Pan Pacific win for the United States, but not its most impressive. The team's 2010 showing led to 47 medals, 25 of which were gold.

"That's equally as illustrative of the improved depth of Japan, and an Australian team that is heading toward a peak, plus an American team that was heavily reliant on rookies and other relative newcomers," Swim Swam reporter Braden Keith points out.


No man is an island—but a man can live on an island.     Photo: Alex Bellini/Facebook

Italian Adventurer to Live on Iceberg

For a year, or until it melts

Italian adventurer Alex Bellini has run across the United States, trekked the undergrounds of Paris, and earned the record for longest row across the Atlantic. Now he has his sights set on a new feat: to live on a drifting iceberg off the northwest coast of Greenland for a year—or until the iceberg melts.

Bellini plans to survive the trip, which he's titled Adrift 2015, in a Kevlar-reinforced survival pod small enough to accommodate the shrinking landscape of the iceberg. The survival pod holds 661 pounds of dried food provisions and can float safely to shore if Bellini is forced to abandon the iceberg.

He hopes that Adrift 2015 will encourage discussion and awareness of climate change and the environment. "With my next adventure I don't want to do anything but let people talk about climate and sustainability," says the explorer on his Facebook page. "I have my own ideas you can have yours and the more I do research on this matter the less I see the whole thing clear. I'm not a scientist [but] just someone, as many others, who cares about the planet."

Bellini begins life on the iceberg next spring.