Here in Missouri, we are fortunate to be surrounded by natural beauty. While we were just reminded we're still in the season of going from spring to snow and back to 70-degree days in a week, we will soon be able to take full advantage of spring here in our state. This is National Park Week and the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service, making it a great time to plan your next outing to explore our state's national and state parks.
Over the last year, many of us spent more time at home than ever before. This posed the obvious challenges like working from home, students being forced to distance learn, and not being able to go out and support our favorite local businesses like we normally would. But a positive of the pandemic was that by many of us slowing down our day to day activities, we were able to appreciate the simple beauty of Missouri's outdoors. "Stop and smell the roses" took on a whole new meaning. There was more opportunity to go for a walk to get some fresh air and, later in the year, to visit our favorite outdoor spots in Missouri while travel elsewhere was still uncertain.
With six national parks and 91 state parks and historical sites, there is no shortage of things to see in Missouri. The Katy Trail — the longest "rail trail" in America — here in the 3rd District is a great place to take in some of our state's history about the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad and the places it once ran through. And with 240 miles of trail, the Katy Trail is a wonderful choice for getting out in the fresh air and taking in Missouri's beauty while getting a bit of exercise. The Ozark National Scenic Riverways is the first national park in our country that was created to protect a river system and is another ideal destination for the outdoor enthusiast. With more than 80,000 acres along the Current and Jacks Forks rivers, this destination would be a perfect place to take the family for a weekend of camping, fishing, canoeing, hiking or horseback riding to take in Missouri's natural beauty.
If you're headed southwest, the George Washington Carver National Monument just south of Joplin is a great place to learn more about the extraordinary life of one of the world's most prominent agricultural scientists and inventors. Growing up in a time when he couldn't even attend school in his hometown, he overcame those hurdles to develop more than 300 different products from peanuts like flour, wood stains, soap, and farming innovation that is still used on farms across the country. And of course, a landmark that is quintessentially Missourian is the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which includes the Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse. The Gateway Arch is one of the most iconic monuments in our country, and as the "Gateway to the West," it will forever be a reminder to the American people of how far we've come as a nation, literally and figuratively. Once travelers from the east get to and beyond the Arch, they quickly see why so many have made the trip before them.
Before being elected to Congress, I was fortunate enough to be the Missouri director of tourism, and you can tell I still like promoting our state's many attractions. This job, like that one, gives me the opportunity to travel our district to meet people, visit businesses and take in all Missouri has to offer. Our people have always been our greatest resource, but one afternoon at our parks, a boat ride on the lake or a trip up the Arch is a great reminder we have plenty more to offer as well.
U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., shares his perspective each week on national issues, including ones that affect Missouri. He represents the state's 3rd District, which includes Jefferson City. His local office can be reached at 573-635-7232.