A National Failure…

Olympic National Park - CLOSED
Olympic National Park – CLOSED

For America, I have endured much–I have been shot at, threatened, lived through -40°C/F winters, bombed, drank endless cups of tea, and more.  I did it because I believed not in a party or ideology, but in a larger good that America could one day embody.  Our failures in the past are legion, but the beauty of our nature is we keep going, we keep fighting.  We have considered human beings property, denied civil rights to all kinds of minorities and majorities, failed to act, sneaked, dodged, prevaricated, hypocrisized, assassinated, and done all manner of things that do not embody that for which we are striving.  But we are also the great experiment to see what a society can become, whether some day we can live up to those vaulted ideas of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  I believe we can.  And I believe that the very fact that we as Americans have set aside areas of intense natural beauty says that we do seek something outside ourselves, we do think about the future.  Salvation is found in the wilderness–out there, you touch something older and more powerful than our petty grievances and disputes.  I have been out in the wild with Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, maybe even the odd anarchist or fundamentalist, but at the end of the day, everyone is hallowed quiet watching the honey glow afternoon drip off El Capitan.  You can’t tell me that there are some issues we can’t all agree on.

Great Basin National Park - CLOSED
Great Basin National Park – CLOSED

And the best part of all, this is free.  Maybe not entirely so, as user fees at Yosemite definitely indicate, but the cost of ensuring that developers and timber barons and the like don’t simply destroy our collective resources would be prohibitively high without all Americans helping to ensure the parks stay open.  There is obviously a much larger structural argument about who gets the use our parks, due to other costs such as gas and time away from work and more, but the key point is that those parks exist.  As more hardcore outdoors folk know, yes, national forests and wilderness areas and the like offer better “real” outdoors, but for the majority of Americans the National Parks are their collective exposure to the wilderness.  This is important because the majority typically decides on what is important for us to collectively spend money.  As well, our National Parks are our iconic wilderness symbols.  Yosemite, for most, is the Valley–if you say Toulumne, expect blank stares.  Glacier, Yellowstone, the Olympics.  These stick in the minds of the majority, and we need them to do so.  Because the protection they offer also defends the Dungeness, Humboldt, Wild Sky.

Desolation Wilderness - CLOSED
Desolation Wilderness – CLOSED

If you’ll permit me an interesting anecdote:  Hana’s brother is a traffic engineer.  He says that the most important piece of the public transit puzzle is ensuring that public transportation arrive on time.  Why?  Because public transit will serve those without cars no matter what, but those who have the option to self-drive are the key to decreasing congestion, pollution, aggravation, etc.  If they find that the journey to work on public transit is the same amount of time, or faster, and likely cheaper, then they will switch.  Why is this important?  Because, much like the commuter, it’s not the hardcore outdoorsman/woman who needs to be convinced these parks are worth saving, it’s the once-a-year camping trip to Glacier.  That group needs to fall in love with the wilderness, and in turn support its protection.

So, now you are asking, why did you even write this, Travis?  Because I am saddened by our government–we’ve taken our eye off the prize.  America is not supposed to be about financial wrangling and pettiness, it’s about building a better world.  And the national parks are part of that.  No one who goes to a park leaves the same person–wounds are healed, love is enhanced, the world is made better.  And we are shutting that down.  Those visitors who were planning to catch the fall colors at RMNP, nope.  That father-son canoe trip in the Everglades?  That’s off.  Finally less humid in DC, yet Shenandoah remains closed.

Mesa Verde National Park - CLOSED
Mesa Verde National Park – CLOSED

When our leaders decide to play chicken with an indelible piece of our national psyche, we lose.  The fundamental ability of any American (or visitor to America to come see what we have done, and perhaps take a piece of that greatness home with them) to light out for the Territories is what makes us who we are.  National Parks are our collective dreams, what we can do when we work together, and the “Closed” signs across their entrances are a collective black-eye of failure.  I am ashamed of the government for which I worked, for it has sacrificed what I hold dear.  It is a man laughing at a funeral.  It disgusts me.

But…

This is still America, and we have the power to change our government.  We can petition.  We can gather, and organize, and scream.  And most importantly, we can vote.

Olympic National Park - CLOSED
Olympic National Park – CLOSED

5 thoughts on “A National Failure…

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  1. We can vote, I do in every election (not just the big ones that draw media attention) but this was caused by people in other districts, and my vote is meaningless as far as they’re concerned. I’d go on, but it’s largely beside the point, which is that I’m cynical of government, more so the farther it gets from the local levels.

    I have a permit to climb Mount Saint Helens on Saturday, I got it in February (the day they went on sale, all the summer weekend days were gone within minutes) and I’ve been looking forward to using it ever since. But it looks like I won’t be able to. 😦

    We keep wringing our hands about the obesity epidemic, and we’ve now closed off an alternative to sitting in front of a computer … a highly attractive one that catches peoples’ imagination. It doesn’t actually cost money to allow people to hike on trails, and we’re spending money having people gate these wonderful parks off. Parks which belong to all of us.

    North Cascades, Mount Rainier, and Olympic National Parks are my birthright, and as it stands I’ll be trespassing if I set foot in any of them.

  2. Forrest,
    You are exactly correct–it’s true, gerrymandered districts and extremism are difficult to affect from the outside. And absolutely agree on the cynicism of fed government. Most people interact on a daily basis with their local governments, yet don’t spend any time researching what those folks support or stand for, even though it’s much closer to home.
    I’m sorry for that permit–I can imagine how let down you feel…I saw $180 billion per year wasted in Afghanistan–now that’s a let-down.
    The parks, and everything they stand for, are our birthrights. If they are the “pursuit of happiness” then is it right that a percentage of the population gets to deny that to the rest? I hold parks and open wilderness to be patriotic…why is my stance not heard?
    But what do we do? How can we create change? Congress can get more and more extreme…I worry about groupthink, not just in Congress, but in the districts that they represent (both liberal and conservative)…How do we stop that? By causing Americans to interact with other different Americans, rather then simply stewing in their own partisan differences. When we can accomplish that, then maybe we’ll have found the right path again.

  3. Thanks for writing this. Someone once very wisely advised me that in order to experience the true beauty of the US, you should explore its national parks. So being the nature lovers that we are, my husband and I, for the last three years , make sure that we visit one national park every year. As immigrants, this has not only deepened the respect and pride we have for our adopted country that so cherishes its natural treasures but also bound us with thousands of our fellow countrymen and people from around the world, all of whom share nothing but a profound sense of wonder and reverence for the nature. Yes, “national parks are our collective dreams, what we can do when we work together…”

    1. Absolutely, Mahveen. There is nothing more uniting than nature…maybe zombie apocalypse? The other day I was atop Granite Mountain in the Cascades, and just chilling with some retiree from Issaquah–no need to talk politics, anything like that, we were both just enjoying the solace and splendor of a beautiful Cascades afternoon view.

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