National Park Service Centenary
It is the course of wisdom to set aside an ample portion of our natural resources as national parks and reserves, thus ensuring that future generations may know the majesty of the earth as we know it today.
—John F. Kennedy
Nations are land, and people, and ideas—and of all the ideas that enliven America, the idea of the National Park is one of its best. America created the first National Park in the world—Yellowstone, in 1872. The idea spread quickly around the world:
- Australia became the second country to establish a National Park: Royal National Park, south of Sydney, 1879.
- Canada became the third, with Rocky Mountain National Park, 1885.
- New Zealand, the fourth country, with Tongariro National Park, 1887.
- South Africa established its first National Park in 1898, the Sabie Game Reserve (later enlarged and renamed Krueger National Park).
- Sweden established nine National Parks in 1909.
- As of this writing, 100 countries have National Parks.
- North America (Canada, U.S., Mexico) has 169 parks.
- Africa has 268 parks.
- Europe has 359 National Parks.
- South and Central America have 518 parks.
- Australia has 685 National Parks.
- Asia has 972 parks!
- The United States protects 10 percent of its land as National Parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas: a tithe of the country.
- Namibia has protected 43 percent of its land.
- Germany has protected 48 percent of its land.
- The Seychelles have protected 50 percent of its land.
- New Caledonia has the largest percentage of protected land in the world—64 percent.
- The United Nations Convention on Biodiversity seeks to protect 10 percent of the world’s oceans by 2020.
America has 59 National Parks‚ but that is just the beginning of its National Park Service: there are actually 413 units under 24 designations that fall under the protection of the National Park Service, besides the National Parks:
- 83 National Monuments, including the Statue of Liberty and Muir Woods, north of San Francisco
- 50 national historical parks
- 30 national memorials
- 19 national preserves
- 4 national parkways, such as George Washington Memorial Parkway and Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia
What a joy it is to feel the soft, springy earth under my feet once more, to follow grassy roads that lead to ferny brooks where I can bathe my fingers in a cataract of rippling notes, or to clamber over a stone wall into green fields that tumble and roll and climb into riotous gladness!
Here is a link to the National Park Service website, which is filled with gorgeous photographs:
Here is a link to a beautiful article in The Washington Post, "Oldest, Newest, Largest, Smallest — a Roundup of U.S. National Park Superlatives" (no author attributed), which includes more beautiful photographs:
And, finally, here is a link to Rebecca Powers' magnificent article in The Washington Post, "America's Natural Heritage," which includes photographs from every National Park in America:
Some of the best days of my life have been spent in National Parks: the most beautiful places I have seen have been in National Parks. To me, the parks are holy—unroofed temples. Let us create and preserve many more.
Boccherini, String Quintet in C Major, Op. 30, No. 6
I was lucky for over a decade to have friends to explore deserts and National Parks with. There were years in the 1990s when my friends and I went out almost every weekend to some wondrous place. We took classical music with us—we were walking into the best places on Earth: surely, we all felt, only the best music was appropriate. Today, therefore, I listened to a piece that is pure joy—Boccherini's String Quartet in C Major, Op. 30, No. 6. You may recognize this from the last scene in Master and Commander, that thrilling thinking-person's film which is filled with adventures that are not all physical. In the film, Russell Crowe (in one of his finest roles) commands a British warship. Often, after dinner, he and his friend, the ship's doctor, play classical music, each on a violin: they can be heard far out over the water, and the men of the ship love the music. In the final scene, as the ship heads off to further adventure, the commander and the doctor play the third movement of this Boccherini. It is music worthy of adventure: and of National Parks.
The photograph, above, is of the Killik River Valley in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska (Credit: NPS/ Christopher Roulette; used here by permission of the National Park Service). In the coming days, This is the first of twenty photographs of National Parks that I will feature in this blog to honor the centenary of the National Park Service.