National Park Week 2013 – Celebrate the Great Outdoors

Redwood National Park, CaliforniaCelebrate the great outdoors during National Park Week 2013, April 20th – 28th. Admission is free at National Parks Monday, April 22nd through Friday, April 26th. National Park Week is a collaborative effort between the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation.

As a kid growing up in California, I hiked, camped, and visited several of the 26 national parks in California. Being in the midst of nature inspired a lifelong love of trees, birds, and wildflowers.

In honor of National Park Week, I decided to learn more about National Parks.

The First National Park Week in 1994

Junior Rangers at Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaOn April 14, 1994, President Bill Clinton issued Presidential Proclamation 6670 proclaiming the week of May 23 through May 29, as National Park Week. At that time there were 367 national parks, which included historic sites, monuments, parks, lakeshores, seashores, rivers, and scenic trails. In his proclamation President Clinton stated:

“I encourage all Americans to join me in making National Park Week a truly American celebration of our heritage. We are challenged to protect and preserve our parks, to cherish them first, then to teach our children to do the same, so that they, too, can give this gift to their children.”

Every president since has issued a yearly Presidential Proclamation for National Park Week. In 1996, National Park Week moved to the last week in April.

National Park Service

National Park Service Arrowhead Emblem LogoThe National Park Service (NPS), created in 1916 as a bureau of the Department of the Interior, oversees the management of the National Park System. The NPS also helps administer the National Register of Historic Places, Heritage Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, Historic Landmarks, and Trails.

The National Park Service Mission is:

“to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

National Park System

The National Park System covers more than 84 million acres and is comprised of 401 sites which include:

  • Fort Sumter National Monument, South Carolina125 historical parks or sites
  • 78 monuments
  • 59 parks
  • 29 seashores, lakeshores, rivers, or riverways
  • 29 memorials
  • 25 battlefields or military parks
  • 20 preserves or reserves
  • 18 recreation areas
  • 18 parkways, scenic trails, or other designations

President Barack Obama issued Presidential Proclamations in March 2013 establishing 5 new national monuments (included in above figures).

  1. Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument (Ohio)
  2. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument (Maryland)
  3. First State National Monument (Delaware)
  4. Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument (New Mexico)
  5. San Juan Islands National Monument (Washington)

National Park Trivia

  • Bison at Junction Butte in Yellowstone National Park ,UtahYellowstone National Park was the first national park, established in 1872.
  • Every American lives within 100 miles of at least one national park.
  • The smallest national park site is the 1/4 acre Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania.
  • 282 million people visited national parks in 2012.
  • National parks contain 17,000 miles of trails.
  • The world’s largest living things, Giant Sequoia trees, live in California’s Sequoia National Park.
  • Annually, nearly 275,000 people contribute about 6.4 million volunteer hours to national parks.
  • Alaska’s 13.2 million acres Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest national park.
  • National parks provide habitat protection for 421 threatened or endangered plant and animal species.
  • President’s Park in Washington, DC encompasses the White House and its grounds.

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Silent Spring – Book Review

Silent Spring Book CoverThis March, in honor of Women’s History Month, I read Silent Spring, by environmental pioneer, Rachel Carson. I selected the 40th-anniversary edition which includes an introduction by the biographer, Linda Lear and an afterword by author and scientist, Edward O. Wilson.

Simple, beautiful, and evocative illustrations by Lois and Louis Darling begin each chapter.

Book Review

In a way, Silent Spring is a classic tale of warfare—us against them. The war described in the book is between man and other members of nature, specifically unwanted insects (pests) and to a lesser extent unwanted plants (weeds). As with all wars, there is collateral damage and unintended consequences. The weapons of this war were pesticides, herbicides, and other toxic chemicals, many of which were byproducts of another war, World War II.

Readers learn about the impact of these “elixirs of death” on not only their intended targets of insect pests and weeds but also on the water, soil, plants, animals, and humans. Carson recounts the effects of widespread insecticide spraying operations that took place over millions and millions of acres of land, often repeatedly. In the end, the insects just came back in greater numbers as they adapted quickly to the poisons, but damage to plants, animals, and humans was long lasting and sometimes fatal.

The book tells of how chemical companies convinced farmers, ranchers, foresters, and governmental agencies that insecticides and herbicides were necessary and safe. They, in turn, informed the public there was nothing to worry about. The areas sprayed included forests, agricultural land, orchards, roadsides, and even residential neighborhoods. Many times insecticides and herbicides were applied without the consent of the public and often without any pre-notification.

Carson was not against killing insects that carry infection and disease, just the practice of killing off everything else at the same time. In the final chapter, she describes some alternatives. Silent Spring contains a lot of scientific information, research, facts, and examples. The 50 or so pages at the end of the text contain Carson’s sources.

One section in the book that struck me described an effort to expand cattle grazing land by using herbicides to kill off sagebrush. Justice William O. Douglas tells of attending a meeting where citizen protests were discussed. A woman had opposed the plan as it would kill all the wildflowers. Justice Douglas said,

“Yet, was not her right to search out a banded cup or tiger lily as inalienable as the right of stockmen to search out grass or of a lumberman to claim a tree?”

The Bottom Line

Rachel Carson was a marine biologist and enjoyed writing about nature. She spent most of her professional life with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and was already an accomplished nature writer by the time Silent Spring was published in 1962.

The publication of Silent Spring brought the widespread use and effects of pesticides and herbicides into the public view and provided inspiration for environmentalists across the country.

Silent Spring unleashed an avalanche of attacks on Carson and many people tried to discredit her. In the end, her voice was not silenced and although Silent Spring was written over 50 years ago, Rachel Carson and her message live on.

The next time you grab a can of insecticide to kill an ant trail in your kitchen or a can of herbicide to spray to kill the crabgrass on your lawn, put the can away, and go read Silent Spring.

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