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As they celebrate 100 years, I encourage everyone to take some time to enjoy the state parks in their backyards

Oregon's state park system began 100 years ago this week, and it truly is a testament to what makes Oregon so special.

The current Oregon state parks system has 254 parks, taking up over 100,000 acres. Parks range from protected swathes of Oregon's classic rocky beaches to historical sites and forest lands.

When I first came to Oregon in 2011, I was struck by its natural beauty, and the quality of every park was astounding. I was only about 15 at the time and visiting a friend in Southern Oregon.

It was not until I moved permanently to Oregon in 2016 that I began to see how special the state park system here truly is.

I grew up in Arkansas, a state that has some very special state parks, and is even called "The Natural State." I've also been to almost all the continental US, stopping at countless state and national parks along the way. Oregon's state parks are something special.

I often tell people, Oregon's got waterfalls, forests, lakes and rivers like every other state, but Oregon's got it all better.

I could go on to tell you about all the amazing sites to be seen, from Hecata Head lighthouse on the coast, (my favorite place in the world) to the magical views at Smith Rock. However, what truly makes Oregon's state parks special are the people that love them.

Oregon's park system started with a five-acre donation in 1922 by Sarah Helmick. That park, outside of Monmouth, led to the creation of what I consider to be the best state park system in the continental U.S.

The people of Oregon make the largest contribution to that. Oregonians have long been supporters of preserving and sharing the state's natural beauty. In 1967, the Oregon Beach Bill passed the Legislature, preserving 362 miles of beaches for public use. In 1998, the state parks system was short on funding, and when it went to the ballot, Oregonians stood by their parks, voting to designate Oregon Lottery dollars for their support.

Oregon's state parks are some of the cleanest and most well-maintained parks I've ever been to. It's clear when you visit a state park that Oregonians care about preserving their natural world.

The rangers that take care of these parks are also special. With more programming, events and education than I've seen anywhere else. Oregon's state parks system offers the public so many ways to get involved with the natural world around them.

In Central Oregon, we're lucky to have 13 state parks, viewpoints and natural areas right at our front doors. In Jefferson County, Cove Palisades state park offers some of the best boating and panoramic views available. Just south into Deschutes County, Smith Rock is one of Oregon's most visited state parks, and a new visitors center is expected in the near future. Crook County offers Prineville Reservoir state park, which is a designated international dark sky park, known for its amazing stargazing opportunities.

Oregon's state parks offer Oregonians and visitors alike so many opportunities to explore and enjoy the natural world. As they celebrate 100 years, I encourage everyone to take some time to enjoy the state parks in their backyards.

On its anniversary, June 4, 2022, the state parks system is waiving their day-use and camping fees at the parks, making them even more accessible. The rest of the year, Oregonians can get a parks pass for only $30 a year, giving them access to all the parks our great state has to offer.

Since I moved to Oregon six years ago, the state continues to show me how special it is. The Oregon state parks system truly is a crowning jewel for all Oregonians to enjoy.


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