The first time I approached the Grand Canyon I walked to the rim expecting to look down, and instead looked over and out at a vast landscape of undulating canyons in primal colors, rising up into fantastic shapes and plunging down to the Colorado River. It was not what I ex- pected at all, but so much more. It was the effect it created in me, as if my sight expanded, my feelings engorged, my soul exulted in the wondrous panorama spread out before me. I felt infinitesimal, smaller than I had ever felt, and yet totally connected to everything around me. I felt completely humbled in the presence of God.
When President Teddy Roosevelt saw it for the first time he said,
“Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.” He promptly made it into a National Monument in 1909, and in 1919 it was made a national park.
So the idea of visiting this natural wonder of the world and being greeted by a billboard, “Grand Canyon brought to you by. . .” fills me with rage. Last week I learned that there is a very real possibility of this happening as a result of actions taken by the Director of the Park Service, who has issued a ‘director’s order’ proposing, among other things, to allow “the temporary naming of rooms and interior spaces in NPS facilities…to recognize donations for the renovation of an existing facility or construction of a new facility…”
This opens the door to commercialization of our parks in ways that the public has resisted for 100 years. While the Park Service has been trumpeting its “Centennial Celebrations,” under cover it is surreptitiously eviscerating the heart and soul of our park system. The Grand Canyon is one of the “Crown Jewels” in our expansive National Park System, which includes 60 other large scale pleasuring grounds (people are often shocked when I mention that at 2.5 million acres Yellowstone is 11 times the size of New York City) and 350 other kinds of parks including historic sites, monuments and battlefields.
The entire wondrous collection is managed by the Park Service, the agency created by an Act of Congress on August 25, 1916 to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values … for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”
But the Service is challenged to maintain our treasures, with a backlog approaching $12 billion in their budget to maintain roads and other features. As a government agency their funding comes directly from our tax dollars through the Congressional appropriations process, buttressed by contributions from philanthropic entities and corporations, which, until now, have not been allowed to put their names on any areas within the parks.
Since the G.W. Bush administration, Congress has re- peatedly failed to allocate appropriate amounts for the parks, and many leaders in the Republican Party have made it their mission to take back much of this publiclyowned land and “return” them to the states. The goal is to extract more resources such as oil, gas and timber to enrich a few while impoverishing the nation and our future.
Grand Canyon National Park today is a million and a quarter acres. With development restricted to a few areas, it is one of my favorite national parks to spend time in a luxury hotel overlooking the canyon, take a sightseeing tour by bus or on foot, venture down below the rim for a short hike, and eat and drink in a fine restaurant overlooking the splendid sights. I return home recharged, grateful for the privilege of being an American and eager to do my part to help our great country.
If you haven’t seen this natural wonder, hasten to take your family. Take a week of your vacation and drive there, just because you can. Or take the train or a plane. Then you will know what we are in jeopardy of losing.
A petition being circulated online at SumofUS.org challenges the director to protect our parks, not reduce them to a shadow of their former selves while trumpeting “Centennial Celebrations.” Please check it out, sign and share.
Do we really want to sell our birthright “for a mess of pottage?” God forbid!
Contact Audrey Peterman at firstname.lastname@example.org