The Grand Canyon, Arizona. The Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. The Everglades, Florida. Yosemite, California. Muir Woods, San Francisco.
These are all monuments and parks which form part of the US National Parks System, which was set up by President Teddy Roosevelt and his administration. You’ve probably heard of at least one of these places in the United States, and perhaps you’ve visited.
The national park idea has been nurtured by each succeeding generation of Americans. Today, across our land, the National Park System represents America at its best. Each park contributes to a deeper understanding of the history of the United States and our way of life; of the natural processes which have given form to our land, and to the enrichment of the environment in which we live.
George B. Hartzog, Jr., NPS Director, 1964-1972
Three days ago, President Trump announced his plans to shrink two National Monuments in Utah, after ordering a review of 24 sites across the country via an executive order. As someone who adores the National Parks system, and visited seven monuments and parks this summer alone, I was extremely upset to read this story, especially as a result of the fact that one of the monuments, Bear Ears, is the first National Monument created to honor Native American history, the existence of which has contributed immeasurably to America’s rich tapestry.
But, you may ask, why are you so upset? And what gives you the right to care so much about a country that isn’t yours?
The National Parks System, and the monuments and parks which are encompassed by it, are key contributors to the American landscape. Would you go to Washington D.C. and not visit the Lincoln Memorial? Would you visit New York and not visit Central Park? These particular examples are culturally popular, yes, but the point remains the same: these historical and geographical sites have unprecedented importance. Each area represents a small part of America, a small part of the world’s beauty. As to what gives me the right to care about a country which I do call my home-away-from-home – I care so much because this decision affects me too. I love the States, and in recent years I’ve made sure that I visit at least one public land whilst I’m out there. Being in the open, smoky (at the time) air of Yosemite this summer, hiking very slowly on a fractured foot, was one of the most eye opening experiences of my life. I woke up every morning, without a spec of data, and looked out onto the wilderness. I sat in the lifting smoke from the wild fires and watched Half Dome rock emerge in the early afternoon as a I ate my lunch, a squirrel sitting at my feet enjoying the same view. I listened to Homeward Bound as we drove those twisting, seemingly unending roads up to Glacier Point, round the valley, into the twilight. Those are experiences I will never forget, ones I hope to revisit as soon as I can, and ones human beings should have for eons to come.
This decision to shrink some national monuments is likely to be challenged by the federal courts, but if you’re as heartbroken as I am and have the privilege of being an American citizen, do something. Call your representatives! Call your senators! You can do that here.
The Constitution stipulates that “We the People” have the power. Use it.