How I fell in love with our national parks and why I work to protect them
Updated: Nov 2, 2022
Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho
By Staci-lee Sherwood
Our national park system consists of 63 national parks and the system itself includes 423 areas covering more than 85 million acres in every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. These areas include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House. Of those 63 designated national parks I have been lucky enough to have visited 23 along with dozens of national monuments, recreation areas and scenic rivers. These are truly the jewel of the country and belong to all citizens of the United States.
The National Park Service was created by an act signed by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916. Yellowstone National Park was established by an act signed by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872, as the nation's first national park. I have been to Yellowstone several times during the summer months and one time during the winter. For visitors during the winter it can be almost excruciating cold but the spectacular views make the trip worth it. Seeing red foxes jump in the pristine white snow and the herds of bison gathering in the fields make for once in a lifetime experience.
On a very special trip I spent a week there observing the wolves who had finally been put back where they had always belonged. That was without a doubt the best park experience I ever had though seeing the big horn sheep and golden eagles were a big second. If you think the parks are just for die hard hikers and photographers you would be wrong. Millions of visitors from around the world come to see the natural beauty of the mountains, rivers, sunsets and wildlife that life in the city no longer offer.
Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Inspired by my first visit to Yellowstone I wrote this poem.
The majesty of the mountains have captured my heart
While the promise of love keeps me warm in the dark
The sparkling rivers and canyons so deep
Keep my happy and peaceful while I am asleep
The howl of the coyote and squeak of the squirrel
Have opened new doors to a whole different world
Forever lost in the lushness and beauty of nature
Blossoms new appreciation for every living creature
Awakened each day by a glorious sunrise
Its beauty shines through even to jaded eyes
Brilliant starry nights end each and every day
Now the journey’s over and rest I may
Only to rise and feel the coolness of the air
While the wind wraps around me and runs through my hair
The adventure will soon end and home I will go
Bringing with me new questions of all there is to know
In 2019 alone there were a total of 327,516,619 recreation visitors to the national parks. This also brings in millions to surrounding business like restaurants, food markets, car rentals and tour guides. Protecting our natural resources is more then just protecting their beauty we should also remember all the local businesses that depend on them as well.
Despite these magical places being called national parks, monuments and historic sites they are under constant pressure to develop in a variety of ways. Some pressure is to add more t-shirt and gift shops while the more insidious pressure comes from the oil, gas and fracking industries relentless thirst to exploit public land for pennies on the dollar while permanently destroying and polluting them. According to NPCA (national park conservation association) The breakneck pace of leasing is all happening while industry already has more than enough land to develop. According to the Bureau Land Management, of the 24 million acres of public land currently leased by the oil and gas industry almost 6.5 million of those acres currently lie idle and undeveloped. Acres continue to be put up for sale with little to no potential for resource development. Once drilling begins the land is forever contaminated and can never be cleaned up.
Crater Lake National Park in Colorado
Some of the world’s cleanest and clearest water can be found at this stunning park. Can you imagine if drilling and mining were allowed near it? Utah is one of the most beautiful states I ever visited and boasts a total of 5 national parks. I have seen all of them many times. Truly some of the most colorful parks are Arches and Bryce. Anyone going to Utah should make the trip to visit these parks you won’t forget it.
Arches National Park in Utah
More than 2,000 natural sandstone arches are located in the park, including the well-known Delicate Arch, as well as a variety of unique geological resources and formations. The park contains the highest density of natural arches in the world. Best time to visit for pictures is sunset when the rocks light up in an array of reds, oranges and yellows.
Bryce Canon National Park in Utah
Bryce Canyon national park is one of the most spectacular places to visit. Early morning sunrises offer unparalleled views of fairyland. Fairyland Loop offers spectacular views of the hoodoos as they loom overhead. This is my second favorite park to visit and photograph and one I look forward to visiting again. As you can see from the photo the park offers views you might recognize from the many books published about our parks.
Ending our brief photo tour of Utah with Zion National Park. Often nicknamed the ‘Christmas’ park because of the red rock, red clay roads and greenery that visually reminds visitors of the green and red colors of Christmas during the summer the park comes alive with the colors of wildflowers that are found throughout the area.
Zion National Park in Utah
Our final park is the famous Grand Canyon. This is probably the nation’s second most famous park which achieved national park status in 1919 after first being designated a national monument. Thanks to President Teddy Roosevelt who had the foresight to see the need to protect these treasures before industry had a chance to plunder them. The Grand Canyon is a mile-deep gorge in northern Arizona. Scientists estimate the canyon may have formed 5 to 6 million years ago when the Colorado River began to cut a channel through layers of rock. Humans have inhabited the area in and around the canyon since the last Ice Age.
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona
Now you know where some of this country's treasures are so when planning your next visit take some time to check them out. Remember though that nothing lasts forever and these parks need to maintain full protection or we will lose them in the future.
If you would like more information on threats facing our parks and what you can do to help please check out npca,org
Also published in Emagazine August 26, 2021
Also published on The good men project on September 14, 2021