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The Importance of America’s National Parks & Open Spaces

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Image Credit: Ansel Adams

Image Credit: Ansel Adams

On January 3, the 115th Congress met for their first session and voted on changes to the rules for the House of Representatives. Among those rules is a section on the “Treatment of Conveyances of Federal Land.” What does this mean? The new rule authorizes the transfer of federal lands to states, local government, or tribal entities without affecting the federal budget.

It seems innocent enough. But this new change could potentially affect the current 640 million acres of federal lands. On January 24, Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill to turn 3.3 million acres of federal lands over to their respective states. After receiving protests from many of his constituents, as well as hunting and fishing advocatesChaffetz announced on Instagram that he would withdraw HR 621.

However, the change in rules for Congress lays the groundwork for more potential bills such as HR 621. Many of the lands that could potentially be affected include open spaces, campgrounds, and national parks. The growing concern over this issue is that states or local governments could not afford the upkeep of these lands, and they could be sold or leased to private interests. In this essay, contributing writer Margot Black discusses how she feels the status of federal lands around the country could change, and why this is an issue that could quickly explode.

If Children are to Save the Planet, We Need to Show it to Them

Since my son was born, I have worked tirelessly to get him away from technology and into nature. Children and families need nature. I have spent the last nine years getting my kid into nature. I have written about it, planned for it, and enjoyed it. I have the photos, fridge magnets, and memories to prove it.

I have traveled across the country with my family and visited national parks from Yosemite, in California, to Dry Tortugas, in Florida, and absorbed every wonder from magnificent manatees to snowy mountain tops to historic trees we could drive through while laughing as a family.

When we connect with nature we are in touch with this planet we call home. It is the foundation of life. Our connection to nature is a vital life force that serves to strengthen and nurture us and our families, both as individuals and as a unit.

If the next generation is to save the planet we need to be able to show it to them. This is not just basic parenting 101, it’s basic human 101.

You cannot introduce your kid to the natural wonders of the world by staring at images of them on a small screen. You must get your children out in it so they can play in it, eat in it, drink in it, swim in it, touch it, feel it, and sleep in it.

They need to be involved in it. They need to be a part of it.

The Problem with Nature Deficit Disorder

One of my early inspirations as a new mom was the journalist and author Richard Louv. He coined the term “nature deficit disorder” and launched an eco-minded revolution in parenting in his book The Last Child in the Woods. It’s a continual bestseller that was brought together a growing body of research, which indicated that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development.

Look, I’m a city girl—born in New York and now living in LA—but I believe in nature and Louv’s book inspired me to travel to travel with my family to national parks across America.

It’s clear that there is a growing absence of nature in the lives of our children today, and those effects are dangerous.

The technology they are plugged into has been shown to cause obesity, attention deficit disorder, and ignorance of how the basic principles of nature work.

We need our open spaces in order to grow and be healthy. We must have a place for humans and animals to feel a safe connection to one another.

That’s what is going to save the world—not looking at them in the zoo. However, the Seattle Zoo, for example, now has more animal space than people space.

But in this most technologically-driven era, nature, open air, and experiencing the elements firsthand is more important than ever.

There’s no way to deny that we are perpetually connected via smartphones, but at the same time, we are all deeply and spiritually connected to the earth.

Preserving our parks should be a priority for every generation. Climate change is a real threat to our planet. Now more than ever we need to care for what we have.

The official Twitter feeds from National Parks employees can be temporarily muted, but the science cannot be denied.

The Profits of National Parks

I work in tourism, and understand one common argument is about profitability. Our parks and open spaces bring in millions of tourist dollars every year.

At stake in this new law are areas which contribute to an estimated $646 billion in economic stimulus each year from recreation on public lands.

The National Park Service’s 410 park sites encompass more than 84 million acres around the country. The most recent data (released February 2016) shows that parks around the country hosted a record-breaking 307.2 million visits in 2015.

In 2014, figures from the National Park Service show that park visitors spent nearly $16 billion in gateway regions. A study conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School found that 95 percent of Americans said it is important to protect national parks for future generations. Additionally, it found that 80 percent of Americans would pay higher federal taxes to ensure the protection and preservation of the National Park System.

Here’s why this is important. Our children’s connection to nature is as important as the four elements and as integral to our lives as the four seasons.

We all benefit from national parks. They are far too important to be sold to the highest bidder. We simply cannot afford to lose lands that we can never get back.

To learn more about America’s national parks, check out:

By Margot Black for PeterGreenberg.com

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