“Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
Sound like a cliché to you?
Then you haven’t seen our national parks, those spectacular landscapes so beautiful that they spontaneously uplift the soul. Beginning in 1872 they’ve been set aside as “a pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
Memories of my experiences in the parks are the most glorious antidote I have to the cacophony of present day life. So I wonder how much that privilege will be reduced, and for how many families, if the Park Service follows through with its current proposal to double the entrance fees at 17 of our most iconic parks?
Fees will increase from approximately $30 to $70 per car during “peak season,” and also double for people on foot or bikes. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (the Park Service falls under this agency) projects that this hike will raise approximately $70 million per year to take care of such necessities as roads and bathrooms.
This might sound perfectly logical unless you know that the national parks are federal assets that are supposed to be funded out of the federal budget, which is the money we pay in taxes. While placing a burden on the public that will decidedly affect their ability to enjoy the parks, the administration simultaneously proposes to slash the amount allocated to the Park Service from the federal budget.
Of 180 units of the park system we’ve visited, we never had to think about whether we could afford it based upon the time of year. Making it unaffordable for some people to visit the parks in peak season – ie, the time when the weather is most conducive and the parks are at their most spectacular – is inherently unfair and UN-American. It could set up a class system in the enjoyment of assets that are supposed to be most egalitarian – a kind of “separate and unequal” scenario.
Here are some of the experiences I’ve had in these particular 17 parks that keep me invested in working to protect our democracy, experiences I may never have had if the parks were available to me only on a preferential-pay scale:
As a 44-year-old immigrant visiting Acadia in Maine in September, I was so overcome with the pristine beauty and majesty of the view from Cadillac Mountain that I fell in love with myself. I realized how infinitesimal I am in the scheme of things, and yet how connected to the Oneness of all things. 23 years later, it’s still influencing me to love the world indiscriminately.
In Arches National Park, UT, I hiked to Delicate Arch among the largest concentration of natural rock arches in the world, and marveled at the elderly people on walkers similarly making the trek. Nearby Canyonlands was equally spectacular.
Frank and I took four of our grandchildren, aged four to 15 to Bryce Canyon, and couldn’t pry them away from Fairy Land lookout, described by one writer as “a gorgeous chasm in an immense bowl of lace and filigree work in stone, colored with the white of frost and the pinks of glowing embers. To those who have not forgotten the story books of childhood it suggests a playground of fairies. . .” In nearby Zion my husband says he feels more than he sees, an energy so potent it must be what’s called God.
In Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, I spent a day in bed, looking through my cabin window and communing with the snowclad giant known as “The Great One.” Until you have seen that monolith, the highest mountain on the face of North America clad in pink Alpen light – well, you just have to see it.
In Glacier National Park, Montana, we drove up the “Going to the Sun Road,” a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark clinging to the side of the mountains, winding up on the Canadian side where a huge mountain goat waited as if to greet us, leisurely chewing its cud.
In Grand Canyon, Arizona we stood among hundreds at the South Rim marveling at the Condors riding the thermal waves and giving us the eye. In Grand Teton, Wyoming, I visited the Chapel of the Ascension and from looked in awe upon the jagged snowclad peaks framed by the window. In nearby Yellowstone I went out at dawn one morning and heard the eerie sounds of elk bugling as Old Faithful went off.
In Sequoia, California we walked among the 2000-year old Giant Sequoia Trees and felt the energy they’ve concentrated since the time Jesus walked on Earth. In Yosemite we slept in our truck on the side of the road and woke up to the surreal mating of Earth and sky, as the Sun gently lifted the dew from the ground.
In Mount Rainier, WA we hiked for the first time on a glacier and in nearby Olympic we hiked the Hoh Rainforest and splashed in the Pacific among sea anemones and starfish. In Rocky Mountains, Colorado we posed on the Continental Divide, and in Shenandoah, Virginia we celebrated the Black legacy at Lewis Mountain campgrounds. We had to go to Joshua Tree, California, to see the namesake trees which Natives used in their artwork and diet.
I can bring forth any one of those memories in an instant when I need to impose calm upon myself in a chaotic situation, or when the news is just too confusing to understand. If you’re already a park lover I know you understand. If you’re not yet familiar with the parks I hope I’ve inspired you sufficiently to explore our birthright, those places set aside for our enjoyment. In any event, I ask you to join me in making a comment on the National Park Service proposal here, and direct them to keep the parks an affordable experience for every spectrum of the American family. Thank you.