Over the past year, I’ve journeyed back and forth across the U.S., exploring big cities, small towns and some really obscure destinations, but primarily using America’s national parks as the anchor points for my travels. As this year’s election has approached, it’s become more and more apparent to me how relevant our parks are to many of the issues currently at stake, and after absorbing several dozens of parks’ worth of information on our country’s people and history, I felt much more equipped to vote with confidence and conviction today.
America’s national parks don’t just provide brilliant backdrops for our vacation photos; they tell the story of our nation and its place in the world, and they provide insight on how we became the country we are now. I’m not just talking about the big parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, although those do have a lot to teach us. I’m talking about lesser-known but still monumentally significant parks like Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site in Arkansas, which reveals personal stories of the fight for integrated schools, and Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Tennessee, New Mexico and Washington, which dives into the difficult decisions and actions behind the development of the nuclear weapons that ended World War II, and Boston National Historical Park in Massachusetts, which gives insight on the reasons why America decided to separate from Britain and how much they were willing to sacrifice for freedom.
Our 413 national parks each share a different piece of our story, and they offer the benefit of hindsight on historical events and give us information so we can each determine how we might have acted under similar circumstances. They don’t tell us what to think; they tell us what to think about. And they give us context that can help us make better decisions for our world and its future.
In past elections, despite doing a ton of research and paying attention to the campaigns for months in advance, I’ve felt somewhat inadequate and underqualified to vote because the issues can be so complex and other people invariably know more than I do on many of the topics up for debate. If this strikes a chord with you, I encourage you to spend time in national parks and other places that tell America’s story in advance of future elections, and to do so with open eyes and an open mind. Our parks give context on modern issues ranging from economic growth to health to immigration to climate change to civil rights to jobs and beyond. You might find some new perspectives that change, or adjust, or solidify your views, but in any case, you’ll walk away with some context for many of the issues affecting us today and new insight that may give you some new points to consider.
My parks experiences have strongly shaped my vote for today’s election, although my takeaways will certainly differ from those of others who have traveled a different path in life. And that’s not just OK, it’s fantastic. The great thing about our country is that we’re each free to possess and express our views and vote based on what we think is right, and together, we really can be heard.
This year of travels across the country has also strengthened my belief that America is made up primarily of good people who want the best for our nation, even if we disagree on some of the best ways to do it. It’s hard to realize it in the middle of partisan arguments, but we truly do agree on most things, like providing the best opportunities for our children, ensuring the safety of our loved ones, supporting our military and making sure we can take care of our families. As we move forward tomorrow, let’s focus on our commonalities more than our differences and work together for our shared future.
Today, I voted for people I believe will serve the best interests of my family, my friends, my community, my nation and my world, and I’m proud to have played a role in what will undoubtedly be remembered as a historic election, regardless of its outcomes.