The initial sight takes your breath away … literally! It doesn’t appear to be real; more like a master artist’s painting – with multiple layers of colors bombarding your senses. Move a few hundred feet to either side and you see a completely new revelation and many people simply stand there in jaw-dropping awe. Anyone unmoved by the eternal beauty of such a view will never generate reciprocal feelings for anything.
It is how one often reacts when seeing the Grand Canyon for the very first time - I felt that way this past summer. While this particular corner of the country is the crown jewel of the U.S. National Parks System, and the most symbolic natural formation, not every national park site is the Grand Canyon – some tell a different story and preserves a different lesson from our history. But each location is important to the American experience – from Civil War battlefields to the remnants of past occupants before anyone called this land a “nation.”
National Parks cut across the spectrum – they aren’t all mountains, valleys, caves, volcanic formations or forests. Some are made-made spectacles (the Statue of Liberty, Golden Gate Bridge, St. Louis Arch); some honor literary giants (Edgar Allen Poe, Eugene O’Neill, Carl Sandburg), American heroes (Clara Barton, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr.) or heroes who helped keep our independence (Jean LaFitte). Some sites spotlight historical events (Little Rock Central High School, Brown v. Board of Education, the Wright Brothers) and some tell of the darker episodes in America (Manzanar, Little Big Horn, Oklahoma City and Flight 93 memorials).
Some parcels are dedicated to family pleasure and fun (national recreation areas), including two in Texas (Lake Amistad near Del Rio and Lake Meredith north of Amarillo) and one in Oklahoma (Chickasaw), just 2 ½ hours from the DFW area.
Texas, for its part, has 15 connections to the national system, and could easily include others. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s birth place, in Denison, should join the six other birth sites to presidents protected by the NPS. And with Texas literally starving its own parks for funding, it might be wise to allow Palo Duro Canyon (the country’s second largest canyon) to be transferred under the NPS umbrella.
I’ve also believed The Alamo, one of the five most recognized American symbols of freedom, should join the other San Antonio missions as a national park site; coming under the peoples’ province and away from the highly secretive control of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. It should belong to ALL of America – not just a select few.
These treasures need our consideration, attention and support, including adequate funding for park expansion, facilities upgrade and maintenance and acquisition. Every individual and family can be several things to help preserve our national parks.
First, you should visit as many as possible – to educate yourselves and your children. Start in Texas with the awe-inspiring Big Bend National Park, within the Chisos Mountain region of west Texas. People say a picture of is worth a thousand words, but one glance at the area known as “The Window on the World,” will inspire a thousand pictures – especially at dawn and dusk.
You can join support groups, such as the National Parks Conservation Association (www.npca.org), dedicated to the preservation of the national parks and increasing public awareness of the need for NPS protection.
Come this Sunday, Sept. 27, you can learn more about our national parks on PBS when acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns premiers his new documentary, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” Burns, as he has so expertly done in the past on the Civil War, baseball and America during World War II, will examine the current state of the NPS, as well as tell the story of the people (such as John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt) whose visions led to the eventual preservation of these special sites.
Finally, you can pen a note to your congressman and U.S. Senator, stressing the need to maintain proper funding for the national parks system – because it IS important to pass along these symbols of our heritage and history to our children, grandchildren and future generations.
They deserve the chance to have their jaws drop at the Grand Canyon, too.