2016 is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, which oversees lots of outdoor space in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. All year, there will be special events throughout our region to celebrate.

The Korean War Memorial. All images from the NPS.

The NPS is celebrating its milestone birthday with events and fee-free days all across the country. During National Park Week, which is April 16th-24th, admission to all NPS sites will be free.

In May, an exhibit celebrating biodiversity in the US will come to the DC, with an accompanying festival on the National Mall. There are battlefield and garden tours scheduled in Virginia throughout the spring, and a few chances to learn about Maryland’s roads and trails are coming up soon.

Since its establishment in 1916, 44 years after Congress designated Yellowstone National Park as the country’s first national park, the NPS has come to oversee 400 unique places, ranging from national parks and monuments to battlefields and parkways.

The DC region has a unique relationship with the NPS. In the city alone, NPS manages 23 places, notably Rock Creek Park, National Mall, and its surrounding monuments. These parks represent a significant portion of our green space, generating more than $600 million in economic activity, supporting physical and mental health, and providing cultural resources.

The National Mall and its monuments are among the most popular places in the NPS system.

Of course, the NPS’ involvement in local land use decisions does have its downsides. NPS controls the open space within DC’s L’Enfant City, subjecting urban parks to the same planning and permitting process as Yosemite National Park. In 2014, its representative to the DC Zoning Commission successfully led the push to keep the 1910 Height Act intact.

Maryland and Virginia have an additional 37 sites combined, including the George Washington Parkway, Mt. Vernon Trail, or Great Falls Park.

Great Falls Park on the Potomac River in both Maryland and Virginia

NPS sites generate nearly $250 million and $1 billion in economic activity in Maryland and Virginia, respectively.

Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, a Civil War battlefield.

What are your favorite NPS parks in the region, and why? Tell us in the comments!

Elizabeth Whitton is a transit and health planner, whose passion for infrastructure began during her time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco. After several years as a Capitol Hill resident, she now lives in Florida.