"The best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst." That's how the great Western writer Wallace Stegner once described America's national parks. Anyone who has spent time in one of the parks — Yellowstone, Acadia, the Everglades, you name it — knows exactly what he meant. Rhea Suh, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), certainly does. Suh leads nearly 600 scientists, lawyers, and policy experts — not to mention more than three million members — in the fight to preserve the environment for all Americans. Here, Suh, who grew up with Rocky Mountain National Park as her backyard, pays tribute to her own favorite parks and reminds us that despite ongoing attempts to shrink and privatize them, they remain treasures worth fighting for.
(Pictured above: Grand Canyon)
SUH: "Yellowstone is one of the great gems of American wilderness and has helped define our character as a nation. Its importance as our first national park — President Ulysses S. Grant gave it that designation in 1872 — can't be overstated. Yellowstone also holds so many personal memories for me. This is where I learned to fly fish as a kid with my dad. Once, we were at Firehole River in the off-season, and I remember standing in my waders with snow all along the banks. The water was warm from the geothermal activity nearby, and I watched the horizon as bison slowly walked toward the water. I remember thinking, 'I love doing this. I love this place.'"SumikoPhoto GRAND STAIRCASE - ESCALANTE NATIONAL MONUMENT, UT
SUH: “When we think about ‘America the Beautiful,’ we think Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, certainly, but Grand Staircase-Escalante is just as breathtaking and should be on everyone’s bucket list. It’s also important archeologically; there have been new dinosaur species discovered there since Bill Clinton made it a national monument in 1996. But some months ago, the Trump administration and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered the park’s size reduced by some 800,000 acres — almost half — in order to sell large swathes off for coal mining and oil drilling. This kind of attack is simply unprecedented. Every single president since Teddy Roosevelt — Republican and Democrat — has added to the list of public lands, until now. Selling off these lands to corporate polluters is antithetical to who we are as Americans and to what we believe in, which is why we have sued the Trump administration as a response. (We have sued to save Bears Ears, too). It’s really important to protect these spaces not only for wildlife and wilderness, but also for rural communities who depend on and live off these lands.”Keith Ladzinski GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MT
SUH: "If there could be a 'poster child' to help people visualize the threats of climate change, it's Glacier National Park. There used to be 150 glaciers in the area; now just 25 are left, which is discouraging for those of us trying to minimize the damaging effects of climate change. The way to help the incredible wildlife in the park adapt to this challenge is to keep the park big, giving the animals the space they need. Also, Glacier is unusual because there's a Canadian piece of it called Waterton Lakes National Park. It's heartening that this longstanding agreement between U.S. and Canada recognizes the importance of nature not having boundaries."Dean Fikar GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, AZ
SUH: "Grand Canyon is such a spectacular symbol of America's beauty — and the quintessential American summer destination. Growing up, my family and I spent a lot of time outdoors. My parents immigrated to this country for the American dream which, of course, included an unmatched quality of life. For them, part of that meant seeing and appreciating all the amazing natural places that the United States had to offer. Every chance we had, it was, 'Pack up the station wagon! Let's go to Grand Canyon . . .' Or Yosemite. Or another place. These experiences transformed me, and they truly made me a child of the West. Like other national parks, the Grand Canyon is accessible and affordable to all — a family car gets into the park for $30 now; Interior Secretary Zinke proposed raising this to $70 but backtracked because of public outrage."Art Wolfe ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, CO
SUH: "This park is home to me. Growing up in Boulder, I was so lucky to have these majestic mountains as my backyard. For me, one of the hidden wonders of Rocky National Mountain Park comes during the fall when the elk come out and start to bugle. It's unlike anything you've ever heard — high-pitched, primal, and a little haunting. And the mystery of it is enhanced because it happens around dusk, and in the growing darkness, you can't tell where the sounds are coming from. Then, the elks communicate by call and response. It's cacophonous, and magical."Bob Thomason BEARS EARS NATIONAL MONUMENT, UT
SUH: "Bears Ears is our youngest national park, designated by President Obama in 2016. When you start exploring it, you quickly see that it's not only a geologically important landscape, it's also a very human landscape. There are ancient pottery shards in some places, as well as pictographs and petroglyphs drawn on rock walls thousands of years ago that look seemingly as vivid as the day they were created. Bears Ears is a living and breathing cultural landscape for indigenous nations, so it's important to protect their history. That was the promise of preserving this park as a national monument. We at NRDC are currently working to defend it against the Trump administration's plan, which would cut it down by 85 percent."The Asahi Shimbun ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, AK
SUH: "This area is truly America's last great frontier — it's large and wild and unspoiled. And yet, the new tax bill passed by Congress now allows for drilling oil and gas in this ecologically invaluable area. It completely rejects the vision that Teddy Roosevelt had to set aside incredible places like these for the benefit of future generations. To throw all that away on a couple of fast bucks for a specific industry makes absolutely no sense to me. The destruction will be irreversible, and our kids will pay the price."Ken Cedeno/Corbis via Getty Images THE NATIONAL MALL, WASHINGTON, D.C.
SUH: "It may surprise people to learn that the National Mall is actually a unit of the National Park Service, which means it belongs to the public. It's also important as a space for demonstrations and for the democratic process. During my time as assistant secretary in the Department of the Interior, I hosted a field trip from a local school. I asked the kids, 'Who do you think owns all this stuff?' And they said, 'The Man does!' or 'Obama!' and I said, 'No, you guys own it.' And they were, like, 'What? No way!' I think it's so important, and now more than ever, to instill this idea in children: that this is their land, whether it's in the middle of the city or high in the mountains. And that it's also their responsibility — one they can't take for granted, one they have to fight for every day. The fact that these lands belong to all of us is what makes America great."
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