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America the beautiful. Look at the winning photos in the National Park Foundation’s recent contest and that’s what comes to mind. The photos are stunning.

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 our 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. You can view the full collection of winning photos and read photographer comments on the National Park Foundation’s blog post.

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“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.

Take a peek at the winning photos below and get inspired to submit your own photos for the National Park Foundation’s 2021 Share the Experience photo contest, with co-sponsor Booz Allen Hamilton, the contractor and partner for the Recreation.gov platform. 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.

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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.

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.

This photograph by Rudi Jensen took second place.
This photograph by Rudi Jensen took second place. Rudi Jensen

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 this photo.
Third place went to Kathy Ritter for this photo. Kathy Ritter

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.

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John Vermette's photo was taken at the Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah.
John Vermette's photo was taken at the Natural Bridges National Monument in southeast Utah. John Vermette

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.

David Caldwell's photo of the Golden Gate Bridge.
David Caldwell's photo of the Golden Gate Bridge.David Caldwell

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.

Madi Lynch won the Friends, Family & Fun category for this picture taken in the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in southern Colorado.
Madi Lynch won the Friends, Family & Fun category for this picture taken in the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in southern Colorado.Madi Lynch

“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.

Jennifer Rasmussen won the Historical & Cultural category with this photo of the historic Stones River National Battlefield in Tennessee.
Jennifer Rasmussen won the Historical & Cultural category with this photo of the historic Stones River National Battlefield in Tennessee.Madi Lynch

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.”

Tom Fenske was the winner in the Wildlife category for this photo.
Tom Fenske was the winner in the Wildlife category for this photo. Tom Fenske

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.

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“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.



Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com