"Like the universal markers of time BC and AD, I count my life in terms of BP and AP - Before Parks and After Parks. That's how important national parks are to me," begins my article in the Summer/Fall issue of Orion Magazine, part of a collection edited by Dr. Carolyn Finney.
"I love the national parks like I love my life," begins my OpEd in Outside Magazine Online this month titled "Don't advertise in parks - invest in them."
I credit my obsession with our peerless National Park System for my unending optimism in the triumph of good and the enduring values of our country. Measured against the solid bulk of "The Great One," the ice-clad behemoth of Mount Denali in Alaska or the 5,000-year old swamps of the Everglades in Florida, today's posturing of flawed mortals is almost laughable.
"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts....," opined Shakespeare.
Conversely, our parks are timeless, showing the elemental forms of the universe working inexorably as they have since the beginning of time. Being in a "dark skies" national park and seeing the Milky Way clearly outlined reminds me that humans occupy a tiny speck in a far corner of one galaxy, oblivious to the larger processes and falsely believing we are in control.
So as discourse swirls around the future of our National Park System among a very small, exclusive set of players, I feel a great sense of responsibility to speak up for the American public to be more engaged in this vital discussion. The national parks and public lands, after all, are the birthright of every American citizen and every member of our diverse public. They are intended to be the most egalitarian, in effect "the public square" in which Americans come to see that we have much more in common than we have differences.
The principal argument surrounds the lack of adequate funding provided by Congress to the National Park Service which manages the System, over the past decade. The Park Service reports a backlog of approximately $11.5 billion, leading to increasing calls for a significant shift in their management and funding.
HOW might these proposed changes affect the quality of the experience we have in our parks? And how many Americans know that these conversations about our collective resources are taking place? How many are involved in the decisions about their future?
The Organic Act establishing the Park Service in 1916 directed the Service "....to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."
If we propose to change the rules 100 years later in a period of increasing corporate influence in public life, shouldn't the public have a voice in the decision? If money is the deciding factor between whether our parks are increasingly managed like a corporation, maybe millions of Americans would happily pony up $10 or more each to ensure that they are managed as a public good. I know I would! But we haven't been asked and many are completely unaware of the issues.
While I am all for streamlining the processes of the Park Service and achieving greater efficiencies, we should never settle for Congress abdicating its responsibility to care for our heritage. Nor should we ever allow the management of our parks to be surrendered to private interests.
Thankfully, there are a few immediate ways for the public to get more involved with the future of our parks. This Thursday, October 27, the Secretary of the Interior and the Director of the Park Service will be in Anniston, Alabama, to hear from residents who've been working to get the site of the heinous attack on the Freedom Riders protected as part of the National Park System.
Mr. Charles Person, (seated, center,) experienced the horror of being attacked by a racially motivated mob as a Freedom Rider, and has been at the forefront of the effort to have the site recognized as a national monument. He's pictured with members of the Next100 Coalition. JoyTrip photo
As part of the Next100 Coalition Frank and I had the opportunity earlier this year to hear Mr. Charles Person's firsthand account of the terror he experienced on that fateful bus ride on Mothers' Day, 1961. (Please click here for more on that important story.) We completely support the appeal to President Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to make the site a national monument protected in the park system, and are writing our comments to Secy. Jewell and Director Jarvis (Jon_Jarvis@nps.gov) to say so.
The Park Service is also taking public comments until Nov. 18 on Director's Order 100, which "provides policies that form a new framework for stewardship decision making within the NPS." We'll share our comments with you well before that date.
These are small but important opportunities to get involved with OUR National Park System. There is a great chasm between the two major presidential candidates' positions on the future of our parks which you can determine with a little research.
Point is, our national parks are an invaluable asset in my life. As you know them better, I hope they will become a treasured part of your life as well, because the Nature they conserve is what's real and enduring. And what future generations inherit depends upon how we safeguard them today.