Who knows where Americans — with their pent-up frustration, wanderlust, and fighting children — would be this summer without being able to explore the great outdoors.
Our nation’s parks have saved our sanity through the global pandemic. Being trapped indoors is not conducive to mental health, children’s development, or marital harmony.
And it appears that the Trump administration understands this with the President signing into law a massive plan to protect our National Parks. But is anything really ever simple in politics? (You already know the answer.)
“The mountains are calling…
Over a century ago, when society was still fairly civilized and the world had not gone to hell in a handbasket, one passionate soul wrote about the importance of nature in saving our sanity.
John Muir’s 1901 book, America’s National Parks, has become a sort of bible for nature conservation.
In 1903, Muir would take one of the most notable camping trips in history with none other than President Theodore Roosevelt as his camping buddy.
During this trip, Muir would convince Teddy (who was already known for his love of nature) to federally protect our nation’s wilderness for future generations.
Muir was astute and could foresee that people would destroy these lands if they were not protected on a federal level – and so, many of our famous National Parks were born.
But people are people, and we’re often jerks. Our population has exploded. Our mobility has increased exponentially. We take things for granted.
And our nation’s most famous lands have suffered for our selfishness.
…and I must go.”
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” – John Muir
Muir could not have known when writing these words more than a century ago just how much they would ring true in 2020.
When COVID-19 hit our shores and we started experiencing shutdowns and lockdowns, one of the only ways to escape the confines of our home was the great outdoors. Our “parents” in the government figured we couldn’t get into too much trouble if we had more room to play.
But, as I said, people can be jerks.
In our frenzy to go someplace where we could throw our cares and our masks to the wind and pretend like life is normal, we’ve flooded our parks — both state and national.
They’re packed to the gills and the effects prove just how uncivilized we really are.
Now, I’m no Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen who thinks we’re all destroying her future by being a bunch of selfish pigs. “No more airplanes! All adults are #$%&!s who don’t care about the earth or its children! I’m 17, and I know more than scientists, researchers, and my parents!! Jerks!!”
But I do know that human beings get stuck in their own little bubbles. “I’m too tired to carry my trash back to the car. I’ll leave it here in the middle of the trail for the squirrels.”
TIME Magazine recently reported just how badly we are literally trashing our parks. People who have no nature etiquette are leaving trash, graffiti, even bodily fluids and excrement wherever they please. (Seriously, were you born in a barn?!)
One disgusted parkgoer spoke of discarded masks and trash everywhere, as though our animalistic instincts have come to the surface after spending months caged indoors. “Even through a mask, it smells like you’re at Disneyland,” she stated.
I’m pretty sure she’s not talking about funnel cakes and cotton candy here.
Park Rangers have worked to curtail the nastiness with many National Park Service outposts trying to limit the number of parkgoers by giving timed entry passes.
The problem is, the same people trashing the parks are the same who think no rules apply to them, so they’re sneaking in before parks open and running around like lunatics.
They’re encroaching on Native American lands, for example, where Montana’s Glacier National Park borders the Blackfeet Nation – a population determined to be much more susceptible to COVID-19.
It’s gotten bad — and has proven Muir’s foreshadowing of the destruction of our most beautiful landscapes at the hands of jerks who only care about themselves.
“Most people are on the world, not in it — have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them — undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.” – John Muir
Traffic, Trash, and Trump’s Plan
Yes, our National Parks are supposed to be protected by federal funding and programs like 1964’s Land and Water Conservation Fund directed at conservation, preservation, and maintenance.
But our nation is run by politicians. And you know what that means.
Our tax-and-spend politicians decide what our money should go toward, so they’ve been robbing Peter to pay Paul by pulling funding from conservation programs to pay for their pet projects.
It’s Washington after all — quid pro quo… trading favors… breaking promises… lining everyone’s pockets but ours.
So President Trump, with bipartisan support (we’ll get to that in a moment), signed into law the Great American Outdoors Act that will permanently earmark $900 million a year into repairing the infrastructure of our National Parks, keep them clean, and maintain roads, trails, and Native American schools.
Now, there are a couple of important details to note here — and here’s where the bipartisan support, as it usually does, stems from other issues than a concern for our environment.
Whatever your opinion of our orange-hued President, he is a great businessman-turned-politician who knows how to play the game.
The Great American Outdoors Act would provide more than a hundred thousand new jobs.
It’s an election year, and Trump — who was beloved for our booming economy that’s now plummeted due to the pandemic — is working to regain ground.
He’s also condemned other countries (surprise, like China and Russia) for their pollution and lack of conservation measures, urging them to adopt similar laws.
And then, there are some little-known court rulings that have come down recently in regard to oil pipelines and Native American lands.
Remember, part of the funding allocated in the Great American Outdoors Act will go toward preserving Native American lands bordering parks and improvement in their schools.
The Trump administration had been working to ramp-up the Dakota Access Pipeline project, much to the dismay of Native Americans who have called such projects “environmental racism.”
It’s no coincidence that part of the funding for the GAO Act is being pulled from royalties that stem from offshore oil and gas drilling programs.
The Dakota Access Pipeline project has been temporarily halted by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia citing that the Army Corps of Engineers did not comply with the National Environmental Protection Act.
I find it a little too coincidental that Democrats, who never work with President Trump on anything, so quickly jumped to support this legislation.
In 2008, Barack Obama vowed to make it a priority to reach out to the under-represented Native American tribes to garner their input in the political arena. It was the first time in history that Native American leaders participated in presidential forums.
And leading up to this year’s presidential election, Democrats have turned their focus toward Native Americans, who overwhelmingly vote for the Democrat ticket.
Whatever the politics behind the Great American Outdoors Act, I’m all for keeping our National Parks clean and safe for future generations.
The problem is, politicians like to allocate funds and then divert them to something brighter and shinier that comes along and furthers their career. But in this case, it seems our esteemed representatives on both sides of the aisle have something to gain by keeping this program alive.
“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.”
I’m with you on this one, Mr. Muir. Let’s just hope the Great American Outdoors Act doesn’t fall prey to politics as usual.