SAN ANTONIO — In celebration of National Park Week and Earth Day, National Park Service Director Chuck Sams visited San Antonio Missions National Historical Park today where he announced a new national designation for Mission San José, welcomed new American citizens at a naturalization ceremony, issued free park passes to Gold Star families and members of the military, and visited a Great American Outdoors Act historic preservation and infrastructure investment in the park. 


"What a pleasure it was to visit San Antonio Missions and meet with park staff, partners, and community members," Director Sams said. "I saw and heard firsthand how San Antonio’s rich culture is still present today and how the park preserves the living resources that tell the community story." 


"It was an honor to host Director Sams at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park during National Park Week," San Antonio Missions National Historical Park Superintendent Christine Jacobs said. "The experiences that were shared with the director provided a good perspective of the park and how we work in partnership with the community to steward precious cultural and natural resources." 


To kick-off his visit, Sams joined community partners to announce that Mission San José along with 18 other sites in 10 states are being added to the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom today.  


Created by Congress in 1998 and administered by the National Park Service, the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom recognizes places and programs with verifiable connections to the Underground Railroad and the resistance to enslavement through escape and flight. Recent scholarship conducted by the NPS in collaboration with local partners, including the San Antonio African American Archive and Museum, shed new light on the stories of freedom seekers who fled south through Texas to Mexico. 


On a tour of Mission San Juan and its farm fields, Director Sams saw first-hand how a recent Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) Maintenance Action Team (MAT) project has helped restore the function of one of the park’s internationally significant, historic acequias. Youth crew members from the Texas Conservation Corps, who helped implement the preservation maintenance project, joined Director Sams in a demonstration of how the sluice gate irrigates the historic fields. This irrigation, or acequia, system continues flowing today after almost 300 years and was the lifeblood of the mission communities. The miles of acequias deliver the oldest water right in Texas, allowing the San Antonio Food Bank to operate the Spanish Colonial farmland that still feeds the community today.  


Great American Outdoors Act projects like this one are making a difference in hundreds of national parks. These projects address deferred maintenance and repair needs and help to improve facilities and the visitor experience and preserve precious cultural resources. GAOA and MATs present an opportunity to reach out to the next generation of park stewards by working with youth employment programs to recruit and train diverse young adults who are interested in NPS careers. 


As part of a long-standing partnership between the National Park Service and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and USCIS co-hosted a naturalization ceremony at Mission San José. The naturalization ceremony is one of several happening across the country this National Park Week. During the ceremony, Sams welcomed 60 new American citizens congratulating them and their families and celebrating how our diverse cultures make the nation stronger. Since 2006, USCIS and the NPS have welcomed thousands of new citizens at parks, monuments and historic sites, connecting the next generation of American immigrants to the nation’s most historic and precious places.  


The National Park Service invited Gold Star families and military members from Joint Base San Antonio to the park, and after the naturalization ceremony, Sams, a U.S. Navy veteran, distributed the America the Beautiful Federal Recreational Lands pass to these members. This pass provides access to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including all national parks, and is free for military members, veterans, and Gold Star families in gratitude for their service and dedication. 


About the National Park Service: More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 429 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more at