100 years ago, when the towering redwoods were fresh sprouts, and the Colorado River poured down through the Grand Canyon, the wilderness began to change. Logging companies plowed through New England, and urban development sprawled over fields and habitats. Rivers were dried, limiting recreation, and historically significant sites were built over. Fortunately for America, a few great minds felt a calling to conserve the land so their grandchildren could wonder at petrified forests and old geysers. The National Park Service was formed so one day we could visit and admire the diversity of ecosystems that define America.
The environmental philosopher John Muir, the progressive president Teddy Roosevelt, and national park superintendent Captain Charles Young all fought for conservation. Our current leader, President Barack Obama, is responsible for the preservation of more land and water than any president in history. Because of influential individuals such as these, there are now 58 national parks from the southern California coast to the northern tip of Maine.
On the centennial anniversary of the National Parks Service President Obama conserved over 87,000 acres of Maine’s Northern Woods: Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. When the monument was initially proposed, it faced opposition from Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, and the logging industry who projected fears of weakening the economy. Maine locals, Sierra Club members, and logging representatives could not compromise, and Congress rejected the park proposal.
Obama used the 1906 Antiquities Act to overrule Congress’s decision; banning logging throughout the park. What’s more, the fears that governor LePage articulated in opposing National Park status haven’t materialized. In fact, since the park’s creation, there has been a multiplier effect of new jobs for local businesses such as excursion stores and a generation of extra tax revenues for bigger industries such as hotels, which go directly back to the state. Since the early 2000’s rural areas of Maine have struggled with high unemployment rates as logging companies who dominated the region around Katahdin, such as Great Northern Paper Inc. filed for bankruptcy. The land designated for the park was all private property donated by Roxanne Quimby, the founder of Burt’s Bees.
Our national parks have allowed generations to discover history, nature, and wildlife in irreplaceable ways. From the highest peaks of Denali to the lowest dips of the Grand Canyon, families around our country enjoy the splendor of the outdoors. – President Obama Declaring National Park Week, 2016
Why Conservation Matters
Persevering Maine’s forests, and forests around the country and globe, is important because trees function as a converter of carbon emissions into breathable oxygen. Forests are one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, only bested by the ocean. Conserving woodland areas is key to slowing the impacts of rising carbon emission on climate disruption.
National Parks also function as research centers for biodiversity. After taking an endangered species course at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I learned about ongoing conservation and recovery efforts for the endemic species of the Channel Island Fox in this extremely biodiverse island chain. This is a success story, partially because the researchers learned enough about the island ecosystem to plan a predator removal of the non-native golden eagle. Because of this area’s status as a national park, there was general public support for this unique recovery plan.
But there’s more to conservation than conservation for nature’s sake. Whether you work 5 days a week, organize carpools for soccer season, spend your evenings in the library to get a college degree, or are cultivating a new skill, it can be challenging to set aside peaceful time for one’s self. National parks offer us this opportunity – an opportunity to cleanse. The truth is, nothing is more replenishing than being overwhelmed with awe. Studies have pointed to the health and personal benefits of spending time in nature. Dr. Brick, who received his PhD from the University of California, Santa Barbara explains how quality time in nature becomes a habit which can lead to long-term fulfillment.
Feeling small beside the giant rock formations of Arches National Park, or young on top of the oldest mountains in the United States at Shenandoah National Park, you will be impacted by the profound impression that we belong to something intrinsically valuable beyond what we do on a daily basis.
What Can You Do?
Remember the great leaders who persisted so you and I can visit a wild version of America. Each park conserves a healthy ecosystem of habitats, biodiversity, and research. National parks are amazing recreation facilities and hotspots for breaking from working hard so your mind can reflect and reaffirm a connection to the natural world.
If you live near Santa Barbara, the first step is to hike along the low mountains of the Channel Islands. Breathe in the salty air and lose track of your thoughts in the horizon. Maybe this will inspire you to road trip through the American Southwest, and perhaps that will take you to another coast, such as the shady woodlands of Maine. It is important to break from a routine workweek every once in awhile to immerse yourself in the awe of America. The National Parks provide an opportunity to become a leader for conservation guided by passion and understanding of why a diversity of ecosystems matter.
National Park Locations: http://www.national-park-posters.com/product/americas-national-park-map/
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument: http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/making-the-national-monument-a-natural-fit-for-maine/
Fall Foliage, Maine: http://downeast.com/the-ultimate-maine-fall-foliage-tour/
Channel Island Fox Baby: http://conservefewell.org/the-island-fox-makes-a-successful-recovery/