President Barack Obama has just created five new national monuments, including one in our geographic neighborhood — the 240,000 acre Rio Grande del Norte in northern New Mexico. Protected lands like national monuments not only safeguard our nation's cultural and natural heritage for future generations, but also serve as economic engines for nearby communities.
Earlier this year, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, introduced a resolution calling on Congress and President Obama to protect the Greater Canyonlands here in Utah. As someone who has grown up and continues to live on the doorstep of a national park, and whose family and neighbors have prospered from the park's existence, I think Dabakis and his colleagues have a great idea.
I am a fourth-generation Utahn, and a third-generation resident of Springdale. My hometown is nearly surrounded by Zion National Park, and I tell everyone about the quality of life here. Growing up, Zion was a classroom for my friends and me. We learned natural and human history and saw close-up the ecological relationships that sustain our planet. As I grew, I found solace and inspiration in the unspoiled beauty of the park. Like many small-town kids, I left home and thought that I could stay away, but Zion called me back, just as it continues to call to others. I am so grateful that the park has been preserved and generations of children continue to have experiences similar to mine here.
Zion and the nearby parks and monuments have created enormous opportunities for southern Utahns. My grandfather, a stone mason, helped build the original park housing, the bridges and retaining walls on the Zion-Mt. Carmel highway in the 1930s. After World War II, my father and mother opened a small café to serve tourists traveling to the park, and their business eventually expanded to lodging. We welcomed visitors from around the world coming to experience the natural spectacle Zion offered. The park, directly or indirectly, has provided livelihoods for four generations of my family, as well as the families of my fellow residents.
Many people may not know that Zion, like some of Utah's premier tourist destinations — Arches, Capital Reef and Canyonlands, among them — began as national monuments set aside by presidential proclamation. Today, who can say that protecting these areas was a bad thing?
The Dabakis resolution urges Congress and/or President Obama to act. It would be wonderful if Congress would take action, led by our own governor, congressional delegation and state legislators. That is not likely to happen for many reasons. And because some places are too valuable to lose, I hope that President Obama will use his executive authority to create a Greater Canyonlands National Monument.
Preserving certain lands and holding them for the common good is an incredibly democratic act. If you think about land distribution in less democratic nations, it's often aristocrats or the very wealthy who had exclusive access to the best places. Even today in some societies, the most beautiful lands are fenced and gated as private reserves for a privileged few. Imagine if that were the case here. What if Zion, Canyonlands or Grand Staircase-Escalante were the private domain of others, but out of reach for you and me?
In the U.S., however, we have chosen to hold the very best places in common for the benefit of all, not just for those who can afford to own and exploit them. Our public lands are gifts from inspired and visionary leaders. I wholeheartedly urge President Obama to act soon to help Utahns and Americans preserve the precious scenic, archeological, recreational and ecological values of the Greater Canyonlands area.
Louise Excell is a lifetime resident of Springdale, Utah, a Dixie State University professor emeritus and currently serves on the Springdale Town Council.