Posts Tagged ‘4th of July’

Kirstin Smith, Ryan Craven and Laura and Justin Sievert last weekend at Cuivre River State Park in Troy, Missouri.

America the Beautiful. It’s a standard folk song that we all know by heart. Lyrics speak of purple mountains majesty above the fruited Plains, and unite us all under a banner from sea to shining sea. For a country with so many great landmarks, the ones that most capture our imaginations are the mountains, rivers, canyons, waterfalls, geysers and other areas of expansive wilderness.

Laura Sievert stops to pose by a sign on a portion of the Appalachian Trail inside Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

The recognition of the value of these vast areas of natural beauty came early in our democracy. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln signed a federal land grant to the state of California that set aside large tracts of land for preservation of the natural beauty of the wilderness. This was the first land ever in the world to be set aside by a federal government for the common enjoyment of its citizens. While many of the natural riches of Europe were privately held by wealthy aristocrats, Lincoln and other early leaders saw these assets as too grand to be owned, and too glorious not to share with the citizenry of the United States.

The first official National Park was created in 1872, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed in to law protections for the 2.2 million acre the area known as Yellowstone. The land that Lincoln first set aside was later incorporated with the surrounding area, and Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks were formed in 1890. Later, President Theodore Roosevelt became one of the staunchest proponents of the National Parks. He created five new parks while he was in office, and also secured additional land in Yellowstone specifically for the preservation of the migration routes of the American Buffalo.

There are now 58 National Parks in the United States, along with a mind-boggling 6,624 State Parks, and countless other protected recreation areas or nature reserves.  There are around 1 billion visits to these parks in the United States annually, and even so, I think we sometimes take these areas for granted.  I hope this Independence Day, you get the chance to visit one of these great areas. The parks of this country are something we all own a little piece of, or perhaps more accurately, they own a little piece of us. They are a uniquely American idea, and they embody the limitless sense of adventure so fundamental to the spirit of this great nation.

The hike up Mt. Rainier's Nisqually Glacier begins at a set of stairs bearing a quote from the famous conservationist John Muir. Mt. Rainer National Park is the 5th oldest in the nation and was established in 1899.

For me, the parks have become a refuge from the bustle of life, a place I go to restore my soul, to challenge my body, and to quiet my mind.  I never feel more whole than when twigs are crunching under my boots out in the wild places of the United States. Every vista I’ve seen, each trail I’ve traversed, and each river I’ve navigated add immeasurably to my sense of my place on the earth as it rolls round the sun. And the parks, certainly, make me proud to be an American.

“The parks do not belong to one state or to one section. … The Yosemite, the Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon are national properties in which every citizen has a vested interest; they belong as much to the man of Massachusetts, of Michigan, of Florida, as they do to the people of California, of Wyoming, and of Arizona … Who will gainsay that the parks contain the highest potentialities of national pride, national contentment, and national health? A visit inspires love of country; begets contentment; engenders pride of possession; contains the antidote for national restlessness. … He is a better citizen with a keener appreciation of the privilege of living here who has toured the national parks.” — Stephen T. Mather, National Park Service Director, 1917-1929

Post Originally from July, 2011

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