Thursday, August 11, 2016

America the Beautiful: Our National Parks, Our Crowning Glory

Awesome Bryce Canyon National Park, one of five
National parks in Utah, visited with my brother
 Loren and friend Bill several years ago. 
The smallest agencies of our national government are, in my mind, some of the very best agencies of all. These include the United States Peace Corps, the National Endowment for the Humanities and, yes, the National Park Service.  Just think how much we could do for our country and our planet if these agencies received the funding they deserved!
Yosemite, one of naturalist John Muir's stunning legacies.
California has 9 National Parks, the most of any state.
This month we celebrate the 100th year of the creation of the National Park Service (NPS) in the Department of the Interior in 1916.  While World War I raged in Europe, the US Congress passed the act creating the NPS, and President Woodrow Wilson signed it into law.  Today, with politics, gun violence, and terrorism as the ongoing backdrop, along with dangerous changes to our global environment, we celebrate America's greatest natural resources.

Our National Parks encompass the glorious natural beauty of our country, from sea to shining sea. They have been called by pioneer naturalists like John Muir "our national cathedrals," counterpoints to the built environment and monuments of old Europe, open and accessible to one and all.
Zion National Park, which I'm so glad I visited with
my brother Loren. Incredible beauty.
I have visited several parks but hardly all of them. They are high on my travel list. They awe and inspire. They open our eyes to the incredible beauty of America and of our planet. They preserve nature's diversity, native fauna and flora, ecological processes, free-flowing waters, geology in its raw eloquence. They are exemplars of Earth's complexity, as well as scenic wonderlands.  (National Geographic, "The Power of Parks, January 2016).
At the Grand Canyon, cold but awestruck
by its vastness, ancient geology, layered beauty.
Love this North Carolina Park.
The National Park Service preserves and maintains 59 National Parks.  It also oversees hundreds of natural history sites such as battefields like Gettysburg, forts, seashores, scenic rivers, historic grave sites and other significant places that are recognized as national historic landmarks.

Jon Jarvis, the current director of the NPS, says that his agency's purpose is to tell America's story as well as protect our natural environment and natural historic places. "If not us, who else? It's our job."

Maybe our next president will jump on the National Parks bandwagon and advocate for huge budget increases, and a new Congress will approve it. This would be the best birthday gift of all! NPS could continue to update and upgrade the parks, support deferred maintenance, including damage being done by climate change, and improve the amenities that draw us into the parks. The lodges themselves are magnificent historic structures, built over the years on some of the most beautiful land in the world. And National Park Service rangers, and we need many more, are among the best teachers and quardians of these natural resources on earth.

Yes, our federal government's smallest agencies give us the biggest bang for the buck.  What's more important than preserving our natural environment (NPS), promoting civic discourse (NEH), and fostering peaceful relations in the world (Peace Corps)?  Let's put our money where our deepest values lie. Let's celebrate our National Parks in a big way!

Sources: for Ken Burn's documentary on our National Parks.

National Geographic, "The Power of Parks," January 2016.

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