DECATUR The trips we’ve made this year to visit state parks have left me with a much deeper appreciation for this great state in which we live.
Similarly, an increased sense of awe and admiration for our country resulted after watching at least portions of the six episodes of “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” last week on AETN. Our country is rich in many ways, and this series emphasized our tremendous wealth of natural scenic beauty. These shows, directed by distinguished filmmaker Ken Burns and filmed over a sixyear period, left me dreaming of someday seeing every one of our national parks.
A different episode ran each evening, Sunday through Friday, and told the amazing story of how the parks were first established and what has transpired since. Each episode covered an important era of park history, starting in 1851 and ending in 1980. In addition to offering stunning photography, the films used archival photographs and movies, as well as personal interviews to chronicle the journey.
Aside from the beautiful scenery and wildlife, the documentary also focused on individuals responsible forturning the idea of developing a national park system into a reality. One of the most influential early supporters was John Muir. A devoted defender of nature, Muir influenced prominent people, including President Theodore Roosevelt, who then persuaded Congress to pass an act to get the first parks established. Yellowstone, was set aside as a national park in 1872. Yosemite and Sequoia followed in 1890. Since that time, the total number has grown to about 58 national parks, with hundreds more national historical sites, monuments, battlefields and rivers.
As more parks were created, an agency to oversee them was needed. The National Park Service was established in 1916 with the declared purpose “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Good for us that somebody was planning forward!
By watching the television series and reading national park Web sites, I learned that our country’s national parks contain “84 million acres of the most stunning landscapes anyone has ever seen.” That is a big claim for sure, but I don’t see how any one could argue.
For instance, Denali, the highest point on the continent, peaks at more than 20,000 feet above sea level. In contrast, Death Valley, at 282 feet below sea level is the “lowest, hottest and driest location in the country.” Mammoth Cave has the longest cave system known in the world with over 367 miles explored. The deepest lake in the nation is Crater Lake in Oregon. It is over nineteenhundred feet deep, with “the clearest water in the world.” The Petrified Forest contains “trees dead for 225 million years that are now solid rock and trees still growing that were already saplings before the time of Christ.”
Our parks also have the tallest and the largest trees! The Grand Canyon is a mile deep with exposed rocks that scientists believe are 1.7 billion years old. Yellowstone is considered a “geological wonderland” with the greatest collection of geysers in the world. And that’s just to mention a few!
In addition, national parks provide safe havens for animals that might have otherwise vanished, not to mention the refuge they are to “human beings seeking to replenish their spirit … where countless American families have forged an intimate connection to their land and then passed it along to their children.”
I feel fortunate to have visited several of our national parks over the years. Although it is unlikely I will ever realize my dream of seeing all of them in person, I do hope to see many more in the future. Meanwhile, I will from time to time trade my hiking shoes for house slippers and settle for watching documentaries of the visits made by others. As long as there are shows like last week’s National Parks series, this will be a pleasing alternative.
Interestingly enough, there was another national park set aside by Congress in 1832, forty years before Yellowstone was established. Although it doesn’t get the credit it deserves, this park was actually the first. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know the park’s name.
Opinion, Pages 5 on 10/14/2009
Print Headline: A Walk in the Park: A visit to our National Parks in house slippers