National park superintendents attended a brainstorming session at Snowbird last Wednesday. The idea was to find a vision for how the parks will evolve over the next 100 years. Given the fact most people have no idea how the world will evolve over the next 100 days, it was an ambitious agenda.
And several good things emerged from the meeting. After pointing out that national parks are ubiquitous even showing up on U.S. currency Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne urged the superintendents to look at their own parks with "fresh eyes." He wondered if "by the book" attitudes would have allowed a mountain to be carved up (as at Mount Rushmore) or allowed an enormous obelisk (the Washington Monument) to be built in a park.
With the largest budget increase in history under its belt, the Park Service is on fairly firm footing for the year ahead. And it should be kept there. The national parks play a unique role in the life of the United States. They belong to everybody. And people who visit them whether they visit the startling spires of Bryce Canyon or the imposing figure of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial almost always come away with deep feelings. Some come away humbled, dwarfed by the wonders of nature. Others feel empowered, part of something grand, worthy and ongoing.
President Theodore Roosevelt is usually viewed as the godfather of the national park system. He had the vision that Kempthorne was seeking from his superintendents. Roosevelt could see that the national parks would not only fasten America to the prehistoric past and the foreboding future, they could give Americans a sense of peace, patriotism and cheer. When milling about in the national parks, people have a common interest, a common history. Differences are replaced by a common purpose.
In times of trouble, the nation needs continuity. And the great national parks offer continuity galore.
We wish the superintendents well as they venture out with "fresh eyes" to search for ways to make some of the country's most meaningful places even richer in special moments and feelings for the American people.