I visited Mount Rushmore National Monument on a 2009 road trip across the country, where I met up with two friends from Vietnam and one from Lithuania who had come to the U.S. for the summer. Our decisions as American voters have impacts on the rest of the world, and I hope we make choices that benefit those within our borders as well as on foreign shores.
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. Continue reading
Categories: Adventure, National Parks road trip, Outdoor Recreation, Parks, Personal
Tags: history, National Park Service, National Park Service Centennial, national parks, national parks road trip, NPS, NPS Centennial, parks, road trip, solo travel, travel
Nice advertising :). The sky is HUGE here!
During my summer 2009 road trip across the country, I remember being absolutely in awe at the sheer amount of sky that existed in Bozeman, Montana. It’s the same amount as what exists back east, obviously, but everywhere I’ve ever lived has had trees at least on the sidelines, so they limit the amount of sky you can see. That’s not the case where I am now in southeastern South Dakota. Sure, there are definitely some trees around, particularly within the city of Sioux Falls, but when you drive outside the city and find yourself in the middle of cornfields that stretch farther than the eye can see, the wide expanse of sky really starts to fill your field of vision. On gorgeous days like yesterday, it can be really mind-boggling. Continue reading
On my last trip to South Dakota, I met up with my friend Van (far left), who came to the U.S. from Vietnam for a summer and got a job as a hotel housekeeper near Mount Rushmore. She and her roommates were pretty over the attraction of the monument by the time I arrived in late July, but I was absolutely thrilled to be there. “These are MY presidents!” I kept exclaiming. “This is MY mountain!”
A few months ago, I received a totally out-of-the-blue email from a PR person representing the secretary of tourism for South Dakota, and she said that he would be traveling to D.C. and wanted to meet with me. Since the other editors of Parks & Recreation Magazine departed last year, one change I’ve tried to make in the magazine is to give more even coverage of park and recreation departments across the nation. For example, we cover northern Virginia and New York City and California parks all the time, but I can’t remember a single article we’ve done on a park in Arkansas since I started. South Dakota has also been poorly covered, so I jumped at the chance to meet with this guy and talk about some possibilities. Continue reading
Originally posted on NRPA’s Open Space blog on June 19, 2014.
Mountain bikers and park agencies often butt heads over illegally built trail systems, but some have found ways to collaborate and create exciting networks available to all. Photo: International Mountain Bicycling Association.
When I began my research for the feature article on collaboratively built mountain biking trails for the June issue of Parks & Recreation Magazine, I started out by watching “Pedal-Driven,” a 2011 documentary that looks at both sides of the debate surrounding illegal mountain bike trail building in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests near Leavenworth, Washington. There, the U.S. Forest Service manages more than 4 million acres along the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range, and in recent years, the land has been inundated with problems due to illegal trail building by mountain bikers in the area.
It’s a dilemma that public land managers see every day, and it gets to the heart of the preservation vs. conservation debate. Is it better to preserve publicly-owned lands for the future and make them inaccessible to humans who might harm them, or should we open them up to the public, accept the reality of human impacts on the landscape but nurture the next generation of environmental stewards? Also, what should be the role of government in the protection of publicly-owned lands, and what right does the government have to ban citizens from enjoying lands that they collectively own? Continue reading
Originally posted on NRPA’s Open Space blog on January 22, 2014.
It’s uncomfortable to talk about, but homeless people often do cause a major problem for parks and the people who staff them. Although many cities focus on hiding or removing the homeless from public view, others have taken a more compassionate approach to help people in this situation instead of focusing primarily on the image of their city.
The January cover story about homelessness in parks, “Out of the Shadows,” is one I’ve wanted to write for a long time. At both the 2012 and 2013 NRPA Congresses, I attended education sessions on homelessness presented by Sara Lamnin, and in each, I hoped to gather some stories from other attendees of successful programs that park agencies have implemented to work with the homeless people living in their parks.
At the beginning of each session, the presenter asked attendees what they wanted to get out of their time, and many people talked in soft, politically correct terms about compassionate solutions and providing resources for assistance. One woman was more blunt. “I just want them out,” she said. “I want to know what legal backing I have for removing people who illegally set up camp in parks we spend a lot of time developing and maintaining.” By the general murmurs around the room, I gathered that many other people there felt the same but hadn’t been bold enough to speak as openly.
Tags: homeless, parks