America Needs Parks Now More Than Ever
Recently, my wife, Kathy, and I arrived in Sonora for our first Outdoor Writers Association of California (OWAC) conference. We were a little apprehensive, being new kids on the block, but by the end of the first day, we felt a kinship with everyone in the room. And what a room it was−filled with authors, columnists, radio hosts, photographers, newspaper reporters, adventure guides, and media experts from all over the Golden State. The common thread that wove this gracious group of professionals together was a reverence for California’s vast natural resources and a desire to tell the world about them.
The second day of the conference was Adventure Day. Conference organizers and the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau had arranged a variety of guided outdoor activities from which attendees could choose. Kathy and I jumped at the opportunity to visit world-renowned Yosemite Valley for the first time, along with six of our cohorts. Our guides for the day were John DeGrazio and Al Golub of YExplore Yosemite Adventures. John regaled us with fascinating stories of Native American tribes that had lived in Yosemite Valley for generations, only to be displaced and run out by settlers who mined the streams, overgrazed the meadows, and logged much of the surrounding forests. Al described the great fires that had ravaged sections of the park during recent years. I was thankful that men like John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt had recognized the fragile nature of this sacred place and had wisely taken action to save it.
As the day progressed, we continued to learn about Yosemite’s colorful history while oohing and aahing at one spectacular scene after another: Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome, and the golden waters of the Merced, flowing through Yosemite’s grass-covered meadows.
While admiring the breathtaking beauty of Yosemite Valley, I couldn’t help thinking about recent efforts in Congress to gut the 1906 Antiquities Act. This landmark legislation, signed into law by Teddy Roosevelt, allows presidents to create national monuments, thereby saving special places from harmful exploitation until such time as they can become state or national parks. What Americans may not realize is forty-nine of the national monuments created by past presidents have later become national parks. Two that immediately come to mind are Grand Canyon National Park and Lassen Volcanic National Park. The Grand Canyon is considered by many as the number one natural wonder of the world, ahead of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Lassen National Park just happens to be forty-five minutes from my doorstep. Both parks owe their very existence to the foresight of President Theodore Roosevelt.
Some members of the current U.S. House of Representatives have effectively clamped a lid on legislation to save wilderness or establish new parks, in spite of clear evidence that parks are good for the economy. Four million people visited Yosemite during 2011, spending over $379 million in surrounding communities. On the national level, 282 million visits were made to America’s national parks in 2012, contributing $14.7 billion to local communities, and nearly $27 billion to the U.S. economy.
At a time when Americans crave nature, wildlands, and open space like never before, our elected officials have a moral obligation to save what’s left of our most precious natural resources in parks, refuges, preserves, and national monuments for future generations−just as Theodore Roosevelt did for those of us living today.
Photos of Yosemite National Park by Steven T. Callan and Kathleen Callan.
This piece originally appeared in my May 11, 2014 “On Patrol” column at MyOutdoorBuddy.com.