The Newest National Park Is Made of Plastic

The perfect gift for the love child of Ranger Rick and Bob the Builder is a set of National Park–themed Legos

What better way to celebrate the National Park Service's 100th birthday than with nature-themed Lego sets? (Lego)

The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2016, and all it wants is a set of Legos. Cool national park–themed Legos—complete with tiny rangers.  

In March, Gavin Gardner, a longtime National Park Service employee who works at Springfield Armory National Historic Site, uploaded the proposed vignettes to Lego Ideas, a site where builders can pitch proposals for new sets to the toy company. 

Once someone uploads an idea, it has a year to generate 10,000 votes of support to be considered by the company for production. Even if it gets those 10,000 votes within that timeframe, Lego has the final say whether the project moves forward. That means the park vignettes still have a long way to go before they appear in stores—if they ever do. But early support is promising: The set had more than 1,700 votes just three days after Gardner posted his idea on the site. 


Gardner’s set has scenes from Everglades National Park in Florida, Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska, and Saguaro National Park in Arizona. Even though Lego Ideas projects have to be made with existing pieces, the three parks are still instantly recognizable.


More difficult was finding an appropriately sized avian to represent one of the Everglade’s many wading birds. “We couldn’t find anything that was quite right, and if we built it ourselves [from blocks], it ended up being bigger than the people.” In the end, Gardner and his wife settled on a parrot, which aren’t endemic to the Everglades, but aren’t unheard of either. Two types of parakeet—both the result of pets escaping from homes—have established residency in the park. 

Gardner is also working to find a better figure to represent the park visitors. “They’re kind of smirking, and no one smirks when they go to a national park. I want more of an ‘Ooh! Ah!’ face.” 

One thing he did get absolutely right? The rangers are pointing at something in every single vignette, a stance so ubiquitous in the Park Service that there’s an entire Tumblr devoted to it

The National Park Service has no official role in this idea, but an emailed statement from April Slayton, chief spokesperson for NPS, made it clear the agency is excited about it. “The National Park Lego proposal is a fun opportunity to connect two things people enjoy—national parks and Legos,” wrote Slayton. 

The set—if it goes into production—could come out at a fortuitious time. On March 19, CNN aired a special report on the National Park Service’s “youth problem.” According to the report, the number of young visitors to parks—particularly those under age 15—has fallen by half in the past decade. While getting kids to play with park-themed Legos isn’t as good as actually getting them into parks, it’s certainly a good place to start. 

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