Some Final Thoughts on the 2016 NPS Centennial

December 31, 2016 Posted by: George Jacobi
Man standing on the left looking out at Grand Canyon, which is seen in the distance on the right side of the photo

Summer is over. At this late date in the National Park Centennial year I have left the high desert behind, that half vertical world of Coffee colored ledges, French Vanilla faces, and Strawberry shoulders, and returned to the northeast. The past and the future of the Grand Canyon and the National Park Service were arrayed before me this season in the form of a large group of volunteers, most of them new to this world.

The United States is blessed to have these spectacular natural treasures to share with the world, ice cream metaphors aside. And as a country, we love and appreciate them - though perhaps not quite enough to hold at bay the shifts in our social and political climate.

Another kind of climate change is upon us, not just the global warming one. Funding for the National Park Service grows tighter all the time; just the maintenance shortfall is now more than 12 billion dollars. Currently a small part of the missing workload is made up by volunteers. At the Grand Canyon, by more than 1500 volunteers a year!

This season the Greening Youth Foundation enabled a batch of minority college students to intern here. As their website explains, they are here “reflecting the changing demographic of the conservation field”. This diverse group of young people was filled with enthusiasm and energy, glad to be included in the conservation of natural beauty, and equally as excited to realize that the opportunity to teach their own histories - as a career - is available to them in the NPS. My next door neighbor at the canyon, Asha Jones, a student at Spelman College: “After this summer, I honestly can’t see my life without the National Park Service. This summer, the Grand Canyon National Park became more than a site for my internship. It was my own personal avenue to becoming part of a change that I did not even know needed to happen.”

America is engaged in a little recognized frontier, one which we explore ahead of much of the rest of humanity. Though it’s still a work in progress, we use the National Parks and Monuments to show our warts and scars, our imperfections and failures, and how we conquered them. We celebrate, demonstrate, and preserve the FIXING of human rights issues from our past.

This mirrors the traditional Park Service mission to preserve and share the scenic wonders we all know, in that while doing so we made all the ecological mistakes one can make, and are only now correcting them. We messed up fire management. We messed up prey/predator management. Our understanding of ‘wise use’ continually changes as we learn that the natural world functions best WITHOUT our hands on the wheel.

Gifford Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt, and Aldo Leopold, some of the ‘saints’ of the conservation movement, made errors and changed directions during their lives. And we respect them more because of it. I may enlist John Muir and Ed Abbey for inspiration and solace. Some invoke Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez. Others revere the ancient pueblos and petroglyphs from their own history. There is room for all in the National Park Service.

From Manzanar National Historic Site, where Japanese-American citizens were interned – imprisoned - during World War Two, to Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, NY, the home of Elizabeth Stanton Cody, we enshrine progress. From Cane River Creole National Historic Park, (two plantations that were the home of slaves), to Los Alamos’ Bradbury Museum of Science where the Manhattan Project came together, bringing World War Two to an abrupt atomic ending, we encourage thoughtfulness about our own checkered history.

From the Juanita Craft House in Dallas, home of a woman who started 182 NAACP chapters herself, to Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, finally to the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, where the strength of the LGBT civil rights movement came together in 1969, we mark the forward progress of civilization.

It’s clear from this panoply of courageous people that individuals can make a profound difference in history. The myth of the lone American hero is not a myth - he or she just had a different face than the ones you saw in all those old movies.

If these historic places across the American landscape don’t seem like a big deal to you, remember the video of ISIS destroying 3000 year old monumental statues in Syria. Watch the news as the Chinese suffocate Tibet with all things Chinese in a devious effort to wipe Tibetan culture from the earth. As the Manzanar National Historic Site proclaims, these protected places from our past serve “as a reminder to future generations of the fragility of American civil liberties.”

If not diligent, we can lose our tangled but proud history - just as we lost some of our magnificent geography. Glen Canyon and Hetch Hetchy are truly gone. The French were right: Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. And that last one, fraternity, is as important as the other two. If we don’t include everyone, then this is no longer America.

The first step in becoming a community is exercising tolerance and compassion toward others, admittedly an ongoing process. Without genuine togetherness, liberty and equality hang by a flimsy thread, and this thread can be strengthened by referring to and respecting our past struggles. The arc of civilization continually bends toward fairness for all - and an American arm helps push it steadily onward.

National Parks and Monuments - we can afford them. We must.

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This blog is meant to encourage awareness and thoughtfulness about the Grand Canyon, one of our most precious resources. It is not merely a story of what happens or has happened here, not a cookbook for what you should make of it yourself, but more an example of the many-faceted inspiration the Canyon nurtures in an artist, perhaps in you. Indeed, inspiration may be the Canyon's greatest resource.

These words are sincere, my own take on this world, deliberately non-academic and directed toward users of social media. In no way does it represent the policies or opinions of the National Park Service, although it is done under the auspices of that entity, but is offered in gratitude, with my respect and admiration for these soldiers of conservation. George H. Jacobi 2016

Last updated: December 31, 2016

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