It’s finally happened. After years of imagining yourself at your favorite national park, you’re there in person. While walking on a nature trail, you notice pinecones all around your feet, and you wonder: “Can I take a pinecone from a national park—just one?”
Many national parks either forbid or frown upon taking anything from the premises, even a pinecone. By taking something from a national park, you risk being banned from the park or facing criminal charges. If you’re not sure about a park’s rules, you should take nothing but pictures.
National parks want to present nature in its undisturbed form. If you’re not sure whether you can take anything from a national park, be sure to review its rules on the National Park Service’s website.
Can I Take Pinecones from a National Park?
Whether you can take pinecones from a national park depends on the park you visit. Each national park has its own rules.
For instance, Homestead National Historical Park in Nebraska prohibits campers from building fires using on-site firewood. It also says that each family can only fill one pail of edible plants a day. Everglades National Park, on the other hand, does not impose these rules.
Rules usually apply to things like:
- Whether you can bring dogs
- Whether you can boat or fish in certain areas
- Whether you can camp near certain sites
- Where you can dispose of garbage
- What permits you need for certain activities, like hunting or using a chainsaw
Some rules apply all year round. Others are seasonal. If you’re curious about the do’s and don’ts of a park you’re visiting, feel free to chat with a park ranger. They can answer all of your questions.
Why Can’t I Take a Pinecone from Most National Parks?
To the untrained eye, a pinecone is nothing more than a potential keepsake. However, an experienced naturalist will see a very different story. Each pinecone is a seed, usually belonging to pines or conifers. Pinecones that don’t sprout into trees eventually break down and enrich the soil. Some animals even use them to build their homes.
The National Park Service wants every park to remain untouched by humans. Pinecones, feathers, shells, and leaves all play a vital role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem––even if they seem useless.
What Can I Take from a National Park?
There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer for what you can take from a national park. That’s because, as mentioned, each park has its own rules.
For instance, if you’re visiting Biscayne National Park, you cannot partake in “live shelling.” That means if you find a live sand dollar, snail, or starfish, you have to put it back. However, if you find an empty Florida conch shell, they’re generally safe to take.
As a good rule of thumb, if you find something rare, you should leave it. Remember: State and federal governments do not take these acts lightly. Some laws even classify taking certain animal remains as a form of poaching.
Consider this scenario. You’re visiting a national park in Texas, and you find a whooping crane feather. Whooping cranes are protected by the Migratory Bird Treatment Act (MBTA)––and they’ve been critically endangered for years. If you take a migratory bird feather from a park, you risk serious penalties.
What Happens if I Take Something Illegal from a National Park?
We’re not kidding when we say that you could face serious penalties if you take something from a state park. Let’s go back to the Biscayne National Park example. Suppose that while you’re SCUBA diving, you take a small piece of brain coral.
If discovered, you could face:
- A civil fine of $25,000
- A criminal fine of up to $50,000
- Up to a year in jail
Needless to say, you would also face a lifetime ban from the national park itself.
Alternative Keepsakes from National Parks
For many people, visiting a national park is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s reasonable to want to bring a piece of the park back home with you. This is where visiting the park’s souvenir shop comes in handy. Here, you can purchase t-shirts, bone replicas, plushies, and mugs.
Some souvenir shops even have furs, feathers, and shells that you can purchase legally. The best part is that all proceeds go to funding the national park, not multi-million-dollar companies. By buying something from the souvenir shop, it’s a win-win situation. You get a keepsake, and you fund the park’s mission.
You can also get your passport stamped. Getting your passport stamped isn’t just after you go through customs at the airport; you can also get it stamped when you visit a national park. There are even some programs that give rewards based on how many stamps you collect.
A Final Word
You cannot take pinecones from many national parks. However, to be sure, check your park’s rules before your visit. Here, you can also learn more about camping, visiting hours, and on-site activities.