With the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service now a footmark in history, I’ve been reflecting on my experiences in our national parks and public lands. I feel fortunate to have spent close to a month in the past year in and around Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Between hiking, camping, and rafting, the time I spent in these parks and wild places was amazing. Additionally, I spent countless days recreating on lands that have been set aside for public use. I feel fortunate to live in a country where historically we have recognized the importance of setting aside wild places for our enjoyment and benefit. The public lands of the United States are unparalleled in our modern world. Our public lands and wild places make the United States unique. People travel from all corners of the globe to gaze in awe at our cornucopia of pristine, natural wonders.
At one time, these wild places were in danger of being placed in private hands and the resources plundered in the name of progress. Conservation visionaries such as Saxton Pope, Art Young, John Muir, and Theodore Roosevelt saw the potential for a brighter future and took steps to protect public lands. Much like today, they faced stiff opposition to the actions they took. In retrospect, it is a miracle that we have the public lands we have today. And now, we are once again at a similar crossroad as attacks are made against these wild places. This is not merely an attack on hunting and recreation, but rather it is an attack on the quality of life we live in this country.
Some may argue that the case for maintaining our public lands is impractical. They disregard that fact that without proactive conservation efforts, rivers will run sullied and polluted with the refuse and stain of man’s selfish actions. The majority of our water sources are sourced on these public lands that many casually dismiss but selfishly reap the benefits. Consider for a moment the quality of our atmosphere if the continent were to be covered with cities and manufacturing operations, releasing a steady stream of pollutants into the atmosphere. While I appreciate and enjoy the conveniences and niceties of our modern era, I also appreciate that fact that public lands are not only vital for our souls, but for our quality of life.
In a world void of wild places, man would no longer have the opportunity to experience the feeling of solitude that comes from the wilderness, the absolute silence and stillness that can be seen, heard, and felt. These moments of isolation strengthen and reveal one’s character, heal the soul, and provide perspective. I have come to realize that the outdoors is a classroom where humility, resilience, and patience can be fostered.
British architect Richard Rogers was once quoted as saying, “The only way forward, if we are going to improve the quality of the environment, is to get everybody involved.” Whether a person identifies as a passionate hunter or not, the future of our environment and public lands should be of great concern to us all. Water quality, air quality, mental health, and the economy all originate on and are deeply impacted by the quality of public lands. These lands will not survive through passive goodwill. We must place a flag in the soil of public lands, claiming them for us and future generations.The call to action has been made. Take a side, make a stand, plant your flag.