The National Park Foundation announced the winners of its 2020 “Best of the Decade” Share the Experience photo contest, which invited amateur photographers to submit their favorite shots from a decade of adventures in national parks and federal recreational lands. More than 13,400 photos were submitted, all showcasing the spectacular beauty of the nation's protected and preserved lands.
“There are some parks that received more entries than others, well-known parks like Yosemite and Grand Teton,” says National Park Foundation president and CEO Will Shafroth. “But we also saw lots of entries from lesser-known sites. For example, this year, winning images included Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Natural Bridges National Monument, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, and Stones River National Battlefield.”
The contest awarded three grand-prize winners, winners in five categories, and two fan favorites, selected by members of the public, who voted through the foundation’s website. View the full collection of winning photos and read photographer comments on the National Park Foundation’s blog post.
“All of the photos are beautiful. But my favorite aspect of the contest is the interviews we do with the winners, hearing about the special moment they captured and why it was meaningful to them,” says Shafroth.
The grand-prize-winning photo for 2020, taken by Mark Gruenhaupt, captures the Milky Way above a camping area in the San Juan National Forest in the southwestern corner of Colorado, taken in July 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. “With so many negative things associated with that year, I felt like it was appropriate to share something that was beautiful and positive from this time,” Gruenhaupt said.
A photograph by Rudi Jensen took second place. It shows his brother walking to the edge of the shoreline at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, with more than 40 miles of Lake Superior shoreline in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Third place went to Kathy Ritter for her photo of a multi-hued sky reflected in the water at Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. The Apache-Sitgreaves covers more than 2 million acres in east-central Arizona, with some 30 lakes and reservoirs, and more than 1,000 miles of rivers and streams.
The winner in the Scenic, Seasons & Landscape category was John Vermette, showing a star-filled sky at the Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah. Natural Bridges was the first International Dark Sky Park certified by the International Dark-Sky Association.
The Urban Playgrounds category winner was David Caldwell, for his photo of the Golden Gate Bridge taken in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco.
“This picture is just fun and happy and kind of silly,” says Madi Lynch of her winning Friends, Family & Fun category photo. It reminded her “of the little moments in life that can get you through anything.” The photo, showing someone sledding down the dunes, was taken in the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in southern Colorado.
Historical & Cultural category winner Jennifer Rasmussen says her photo of the historic Stones River National Battlefield in Tennessee sparked a sense of hope in uncertain times. “This photo reminds us of two things,” she says. “The Civil War supply wagon reminds us of what our country has endured throughout its history. We always have a way of persevering though, learning, changing, and becoming stronger because of it. Secondly, the sunset. Sunsets, in all of their beauty, are a time to reflect on the happenings of the day, while also being a reminder that there is a new day coming with a story yet to be written.”
Capturing this photo of a mother bear and her three cubs at the Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska was a special moment for Tom Fenske, the winner in the Wildlife category. “It was a very hard process to select a photo for this contest as most of my best images were taken in the last decade and on public lands. This photo is from 2019 during my first trip to Katmai National Park and Preserve. It was an unforgettable experience and definitely a highlight of the decade,” Fenske said.
Inspired by these stunning photos? Check out these historic hotels located in or nearby national parks and federal recreational lands. Snap some photos while visiting and submit them for the National Park Foundation’s 2021 Share the Experience photo contest! The grand prize for the winning image is $10,000, followed by $5,000 for second place and $3,000 for third. Winners also receive outdoor gear provided by Celestron, Hydro Flask, and Osprey Packs, hotel packages courtesy of Historic Hotels of America, and an annual National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. Prizes will be awarded to three top winners, two fan favorites, and winners in five categories. The categories are Adventure & Recreation, Outdoors for All, Historical & Cultural, Scenic, Seasons & Landscapes, and Wildlife. Visit sharetheexperience.org to learn more about the contest, including how to submit an image, the full list of prizes, and the rules. You can also follow @NationalParkFoundation on Instagram for photo inspiration.
Read the Boston Globe's full feature here.
About the National Parks Foundation
The National Park Foundation, the official charitable partner of the National Park Service, enriches America’s national parks and programs through the support of private citizens, park lovers, stewards of nature, history enthusiasts, and wilderness adventurers. Chartered by Congress in 1967, the Foundation grew out of a legacy of park protection that began over a century ago, when ordinary citizens took action to establish and protect our national parks. Today, the National Park Foundation carries on the tradition of early park advocates, big thinkers, doers, and dreamers. Learn more about the National Park Foundation’s history here.
About Historic Hotels of America®
Historic Hotels of America is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for recognizing, celebrating, and promoting the finest historic hotels. Each fascinating place has been inducted into this distinguished program based upon noteworthy standards, including quality of accommodations, historic significance, record of preserving authenticity, sense of place and architectural integrity.