I love our public lands! I'm in awe at the opportunity greeting me every day as I travel this nation's roads.
Our National Parks, National Forests, National Monuments, National Preserves and Reserves, National Recreation Areas, National Historic Sites, National Battlefields, National Scenic Rivers and Lakes, National Historic and Scenic Trails, and other public assets are the treasures of this nation. And we all have access! Peoples' outdoor uses are vast -- 4-wheeling, bicycling, birding, skiing, climbing. The campgrounds, even off season, are bursting at the seams with overflowing campers. Trail heads always have a gaggle of cars. Boat ramps are in heavy demand. Horse camps are well used. There's an awkward balance between providing facilities and preserving the land but, for the most part, that line, although always fluid, is thoughtfully selected and gently enforced.
Each visitor center has been designed thoughtfully to blend into the natural setting. They are well maintained and staffed with well-trained personnel. Visitors flock to them for their educational displays, tastefully-selected souvenirs, information and maps. Park films are outstanding, both in their entertainment and educational value. It's easy to feel pride in our public lands, right down to the toilets which are clean, well stocked with toilet paper, and often have sanitizing soap for hand cleaning. Plus the toilets always provide space and access for handicap use. It's impressive! I can almost feel the pain of the government worker who posted this message:
Ed and I were boondocked on DNR national forest land outside the Canyonlands's gate (the inn was full) when a man drove up in his pickup pulling a trailer holding one saddled horse and two dogs. He was a real cowboy. Tall hat, boots, plus he wore fringed leather chaps. He was searching for two cattle and he'd seen them in this area a couple of days ago.
"Have you seen them?" he asked. "No, sorry," we said. "Mind if I hike up to the top of that rock to see if I can spot them?" "No, not at all." At the top of the rock he pulled out a monocular to help spot his cattle. No luck. "Thanks" he said, as he drove away. A couple of hours later he passed by our camp with a friendly wave. His trailer now had one saddled horse, two dogs, and two cows.
Naturally there are disagreements over the mix of uses, lease fees, water rights--all the details of land management can be snarly. The cattle can compact the land and pollute the water and mining can do even more damage but compromise is critical. Although I, like every other citizen, can find fault, I also must commend our federal agencies for their effort to bring balanced management to the land.
Have you ever been engaged in one of those "the government is all bad" conversations?
..."National parks are underutilized", or
..."the national forests cost the tax payers too much money", or
... "public lands should all be sold to private business".
Sputtering in frustration, I determine the next time I suffer through one of these conversations I'm just going to spit in their eye.
"As we Americans celebrate our diversity, so we must affirm our unity if we are to remain the 'one nation' to which we pledge allegiance. Such great national symbols and Meccas as the Liberty Bell, the battlefields on which our independence was won and our union preserved, the Lincoln Memorial, the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and numerous other treasures of our national park system belong to all of us, both legally and spiritually. These tangible evidence of our cultural and natural heritage help make us all Americans."
~ Edwin C. Bearss, NPS Chief Historian, 1981 - 1994