Best Idea: See for Yourself What's Worth Saving

11/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The story of our National Parks has been co-opted by cable news fueled brouhaha's involving guns, drugs and drilling for oil. It is time to take back our parks.

It is sometimes hard to stay optimistic about the future of America's Best Idea. But this optimist is ready and willing to jump on the bandwagon that is about to start rolling as a result of the National Parks Second Century Commission Report released today, and the new Ken Burns documentary, The National Parks: America's Best Idea.

We have an opportunity today that may not repeat itself. Global recognition of climate change is finally a reality. We have an increasingly engaged citizenry and wide acceptance of our country's crisis in science education. To top it off, we have political will at the national level that we have not seen in a very long time.

This opportunity exists because of renewed commitments to our parks and our youth at all levels -- from the new office of Youth in Natural Resources at the Department of the Interior headed by Bob Stanton, to the Second Century Commission's Education Committee, whose recommendations state, "education must become a priority and partnerships must be facilitated so that the National Parks will be embraced as part of our common pursuit of satisfying lives and a sustainable environment."

Yes, it must!

The missing piece is us -- all of us are in a position to influence the debate and influence the life of a child. This confluence of events makes now the time for each and every one of us to act to ensure the future of our parks and the future of our planet.

It is not too late to inspire the next generation through our actions and ensure that they are prepared to be good stewards -- better than our generation was.

Instilling in our children a strong personal connection to our National Parks can help us change our trajectory. It can be a catalyst for life-long conservation and stewardship, responsible and reduced consumption, and stemming the impact of climate change.

But we must act now. We cannot expect the next generation to care for a National Park system they have no connection to. Many of today's children have never touched a redwood tree, felt the rush of a mountain stream, experienced the power of an ocean tide, or even walked through a National Park. How will they protect these precious resources if they aren't inspired to appreciate the scientific principles that govern our natural world?

So turn off the TV. Put away the video games. And take your kids to a National Park.

Get out! This Saturday, September 26, is National Public Lands Day. Entrance to all 391 National Parks is free! Go! Take your kids. See for yourself what's worth saving.

Volunteer. Saturday is also a National Day of Service. Celebrate our National Parks by doing your part to help preserve them for future generations.

Join me. Go visit a National Park this year. Take your kids. See for yourself what's worth saving.

Not only can we make sure that the next generation doesn't look back at us with disdain, we have the power to inspire them to look forward with joy and optimism about their future and the future of the planet. I see this all the time. I hear it in the stories of Yosemite Park Ranger, Shelton Johnson. I find it in the personal stories of people like field science educator Betsy Rivera when she talks about the importance of diversity in our National Parks, and the young women who participated in the Joie Armstrong Scholars Expedition this summer.

It is not too late for us to live up to the promise of the Wilderness Act, signed in to law 45 years ago by President Lyndon Johnson with the words, "If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracle of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we go through with it."

These words ring as true today as they did 45 years ago.

Join me. Let's change the conversation. Let's set a new course. Let's take our parks back.