The great American family road trip may not be what it once was – long days in station wagons without air-conditioning, tussling with your siblings over space, makeshift camping in the woods, meals in “mom and pop” greasy spoons – but the lure of travel still remains strong.

Incidentally, many of us enjoy memories of those “wonder years” in the back of the family wagon. We love trips with our own children these days, but there is a sweetness surrounding a seemingly carefree childhood when mom and dad were in charge.

Representatives from “America250” – a nonpartisan initiative established to prepare the country for its 250th birthday celebration in 2026 – are banking on a mixture of nostalgia and enthusiasm to help highlight the nation’s top landmarks as close in on our semiquincentennial.

It was the United States Congress that established the commission back in 2016. The Leadership team is comprised of four members of the United States Senate, four from the House of Representatives, twelve former government officials. and sixteen private citizens.

One way they’re hoping to drive attention is via a nationwide contest. They’re calling it “America’s Field Trip” – and winners from elementary schools, middle schools and high schools will have a chance to visit various historic sites, including such iconic locations as:

The Statue of Liberty, Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Park, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the USS Constitution – and numerous other places.

Twenty-five winners from each grade level will receive free travel and lodging for a 3-day, 2-night trip to the destination of their choice. Second place winners will receive a cash reward.

Full contest guidelines can be accessed here, but the question they’ll be answering is: “What does America mean to you?”

“Our nation’s 250th is about the past, present and future — and no one represents that future better than America’s incredible students,” said Rosie Rios, chair of America250.

Whether or not your children or grandchildren participate or win a prize, the question being posed is a good one worthy of family discussion.

Years ago, the late radio commentator Paul Harvey told of an elderly man who kept a rustic home up in the mountains of Virginia. Although a bit of an eccentric, he was deeply religious and known for his simple wisdom and sage advice.

Some cynical boys from a neighboring village were determined to make him look foolish and expose him as a fraud.

“I know how we can get him,” said one of the boys. “I’ll take a bird in my hand and hold it so he can just barely see it through my fingers. I’ll then ask the old codger if the creature is dead or alive. If he guesses it’s dead, I’ll let it fly away. If he says it’s alive, I’ll crush it.”

One of the boys captured a bird and approached the bearded mountain man, posing that very same question to him. Was it dead or alive? Looking intently toward the boy’s nearly closed clasped hand, the hermit at last answered.

“It is as you will, my son,” the man gently replied.

In so many ways, America is that metaphorical bird. As we celebrate our 244th birthday this weekend, amidst tensions threatening to topple our great and enduring traditions, it’s an open question whether the nation will fly free or be crushed by the weight of antagonists from within.

Thankfully, it’s up to us.

“It is as we will.”

Truth be told, our fate as a nation has long been in our own hands. Yes, God has richly blessed America and we believe He ultimately determines our fate. But our decisions, both personally and collectively, have consequences.

The French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville famously observed after visiting the United States in the 1830s: “Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

We believe America is great, though not perfect. No nation is without its sins because every country is comprised of sinful people.

America is in desperate need of people doing the right thing despite the consequences.

We’re the only nation on Earth that millions of people risk their lives to join – because they know anything is possible here. If you’re willing to help others reach for their dreams, they will help you grasp yours.

Our republic is strong but fragile. The choice is ours.

“It is as we will.”


Image credit: American250