Once again, the Internet has shown its ability to prompt arrogantly stupid people to broadcast their idiocy for the entire world to see. This time, thoughtless snowmobilers here in Colorado videotaped themselves chasing a moose at high speed along a trail. The encounter ends in a near collision when the harassed moose suddenly stops and turns to face its pursuer. This incident highlights the growing problem of rude, thoughtless, illegal, and just plain dumb activity by users of off-highway motorized vehicles
Tag: National Parks
It is a beautiful spring day in Washington. This is a nice respite from the horrors taking place in Japan and the ever-growing nuttiness of D.C. politics. Enjoying the weather provides a nice alternative to listening to the news or reading the newspaper.
The flood of nonsense in the traditional news outlets just continues to
In 2008 a young environmental activist named Tim DeChristopher bid on 13 parcels of land quietly put up for auction by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the waning days of the Bush Administration. This land was part of a larger offering by the BLM of federal public land in an attempt to open it up to oil and gas exploration. The majority of the land was near national parks in southern
WASHINGTON, DC (February 18, 2011) – Despite this being a Friday, the diligent staff in the office of Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) — aided by the Congresswoman herself — examined the gist of hundreds of amendments being offered by Republicans to their bill, H.R. 1, the Continuing Resolution to fund the government for the next seven months.
After much debate,
Very few wild, relatively pristine lands remain in the lower 48 states — about 8% of the total land area. Less than half of that 8% lie within protected areas like national parks and officially designated wilderness areas. The rest of these scarce wild lands are vulnerable to mining, oil and gas drilling, off-road vehicle abuse, etc. Since 8% is a small number, one would think that no one would be in favor of letting it dwindle down to, say,
Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. It was a pitched battle, but it’s got nothing on the fight ahead in Congress — the fight over federal spending that could pollute our air and water, close national parks, decimate our forests and more.
In this coming budget showdown, the biggest hits won’t be on the playing field, they will be in our national parks and refuges, where slashed funding could mean decreased access and even closures. Clean air and water will also take tough hits, as we see increased pollution in our air, water and our wild lands.
We are facing cuts in conservation spending that could easily go as high as 40 percent, which would be devastating for public health and the health of wild lands across the country.
The worst plays the new Congress could run include:
Eliminating the EPA’s authority to hold polluters accountable
Closing National Parks and Wildlife Refuges
Cutting back on forest rangers, youth outdoor education, and law enforcement
Limiting access to hunting and fishing, slashing local jobs, and not protecting our clean water supplies
Putting off maintenance projects, weed treatment, restoration work, timber cutting, and managing wildfire
Preventing federal agencies from moving forward with their legal responsibility to protect wild lands, wildlife habitat, and watersheds
In the coming weeks, we will face the potential consequences, which would affect wilderness and wildlife for decades to come.
Failure to fund the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program, for instance, would threaten drinking water supplied to 66 million people. The cut could also eliminate funding for up to 2,500
When most Americans hear the words “public lands” they think of our national parks or national forests or perhaps even our national wildlife refuges. Yet, what might surprise them is that the largest category of our publicly owned land is administered by a little-known agency, the Bureau of Land Management, with a big mandate—taking care of 400,000 square miles, an area nearly four times the size of Colorado, on behalf of all Americans.
These sweeping lands stretch across 12 states including Alaska, and though relatively unknown compared to parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Mount Rushmore or the Grand Canyon, their very vastness represents a resource of enormous importance to us—a diverse trove of wild treasures. Happy Canyon in the archeologically rich lands near Canyonlands National Park in Utah is such a
Even though the holidays are now over, there are certain gifts that just keep on giving. Last week, for instance, Sarah Palin accused conservationists of “hypocrisy” because they send her letters on paper
written with wooden pencils. While discussing the tree and lumber harvesting industry, Palin was quoted as saying, “Conservationists write me these nasty letters because I support an industry like this…They write me these nasty letters using their pretty little pencils on their pretty little stationery
not realizing. Where do you think your pencil and your piece of paper came from, people? It came from a tree that was harvested.” She said this, incidentally, while taking a chainsaw to an Evergreen timber and cutting it down.
The good news is that this story was covered and given the treatment it truly deserved, which was not terribly much. In general, “conservationists” seek to maintain a healthy balance between our needs as humans to survive, and the excesses that have happened and can continue to happen if unchecked. As in most movements, the conservation movement includes those on the more extreme side, which can have the undesirable effect of impeding all progress.
The conservation movement in this country developed in the early twentieth century through the leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt, and progressed throughout the century with the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency by President Richard M. Nixon. Looks like the Grand Ol’ Party had a decent understanding about the value of limited natural resources back in the day, and certainly didn’t rely on basically stupid and argumentative commentary to get their points across. Of course, without these two presidents, we might not have our National Parks or clean water to drink. To Palin, however, this is just a small matter that she conveniently overlooks as millions of dollars in eco tourism pour annually into her home state of Alaska.
If Palin wants to have a proper debate about the value conservation, it would be much healthier for her to stop relying on outmoded photo ops and statements like this last one to make a strong argument. Maybe she could do some actual research (that means reading) and learn that many
paper manufacturers are now harvesting trees from forests that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, whose mission is to develop standards to responsibly harvest trees and work with the industry in making it so. This gives both manufacturers and consumers a stake in what kind of paper is available for purchase. There are also pencil manufacturers that are now using recycled wood products as well.
Of course, the good news is that as long as Palin makes comments along these lines, she’ll help keep discussion about our environment alive.
So thank you, former Governor!
Jonathan A. Schein is CEO/ScheinMedia; Publisher of GreenRealEstateDaily.com
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Puerto Rico boasts 272 miles of coastline, diverse beaches (calm waters to pounding surfs), a world-renown rain forest, tasty cuisine (if you don’t gain ten pounds in P.R., you haven’t lived!), friendly people and a swinging nightlife. Travelers can choose between an idyllic resort getaway, and a vibrant urban/beach town experience. And when you consider the island is a U.S Commonwealth (often viewed as America’s 51st state), just a few hours from the mainland, has the Caribbean’s largest airport and only requires a driver’s license for entry – vacationing here is both tempting and easy!
The Quiet Life In Rio Grande
The northeast coastal town of Ro Grande, 15.4 miles east of San Juan International Airport, is home to the 28,000-acre El Yunque National Forest Reserve, the oldest forest reserve (circa 1876) in the Western Hemisphere. The reserve is crowned by a sub tropical Rain Forest, which has 250 native tree species, 200 types of ferns, and petroglyphs left by the Taino aborigines. Hikers enjoy climbing to the dramatic La Mina waterfalls, where water cascades over a cliff and down a hill to a cold freshwater pool that is perfect for dunking (watch out for severe drop-offs when you walk into the water).
Speaking of water, Luquillo Beach, Puerto Rico’s famous mile-long version of the Riviera, is due east of Rio Grande. Offshore reefs keep the ocean waters calm and tranquil, leaving the creamed-colored sands in pristine condition. Sun worshippers and swimmers congregate, enjoying the vibe, munching on fresh fried red snapper from concession stands and washing it down with cold Medalla beer.
Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort and Spa has Top-Notch Restaurants Too
Rio Grande’s Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort and Spa sits on 500 acres along a quiet beach. 600 rooms and suites in the creamy olive-colored building face the ocean or the El Yunque National Forest. Two pools sit near the shore. Greg Norman designed the challenging River Golf Course; the easier Ocean Course designed by Tom and George Fazio has great views; Golf Pro Rafael Prestamo gives smart tips that could improve even Charles Barkley’s swing. Tennis Director Scott Teller runs a friendly tennis program on the 11 Har-Tru and two hard courts. Check into the exquisitely appointed, Balinese-style 7,000-square foot Mandara Spa and try the Exotic Coconut & Milk Wrap followed by the Mandara Four Hand Massage.
The Latino/Asian fusion cuisine at Shimas restaurant includes Oriental Mojitos (sake, lychees, lime and ginger ale), Pink Lady sushi (crunchy crab, shrimp, avocado and pink soy paper), tangerine BBQ Ribs, and orange ginger chocolate cake with coconut ice cream and raspberry infusion. The signature dessert at the Italian eatery Palio is the very decadent Fragole (tower of balsamic strawberries and vanilla ice cream with chocolate vipers).
City and Sand in San Juan
San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital city, has a business district, cruise ship harbor and a brand new convention center (largest in the Caribbean). Most tourists seek lodging in the beachfront Condado neighborhood. Hotels, upscale stores (Cartier, Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo) and restaurants (Ajili Mojili, De Parma Trattoria, Budatai) — all within easy walking distance — line Ashford Avenue which runs parallel to the shoreline and evokes Collins Avenue in Miami Beach or Avenue Alantica in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. At dawn and dusk, joggers chase the pavement (bring your Nikes). At night, pedestrians promenade up and down Ashford, as cars jam the avenue filled with mellow people headed to the bars, cafes and casinos.
In and Around San Juan
The beach town experience meets urban environment when you travel on the newly completed rapid transit line, ATI (Alternativa de Transport Integrado), which runs 15 miles from San Juan to Bayamn, Puerto Rico’s second largest city. The ATI ($1.50 per ride), a clean, quiet marvel of new technology, is the only subway/el system in the Caribbean and it shames New York City’s dirty subways ($2.25 and rising).
Tour the Bacardi Rum Factory (Highway 888, Catano), the world’s largest rum distillery, and you’ll learn the rum’s history and how to make Mojitos, get free drinks and enter into the customary island debate: Bacardi vs. Don Q, which is the better Puerto Rican Rum?
Check out Old San Juan: Visit the historic fortresses of Fort San Felipe del Morro (1539), El Palacio de Santa Catalina (La Fortaleza, 1540), and Fort San Crisobal (1783). Fill up on Nuevo Latino cuisine at The Parrot Club (try the Caesar salad topped with Chicarrones de Pollo). Snack on delectable mallorca, a donut-like flat bread topped with powered sugar, at the bistro-looking diner La Bombonera. Then decompress at the funky El Batey bar (101 Calle del Cristo), or live it up after midnight at the raggaetn nightclub, Club Lazer (251 Cruz Street).
The Family Friendly San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
If you’re traveling with family and want a homey feel, the 513 guest rooms and 12 suites at the salmon-colored San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino beckon. The resort, in the heart of the Condado, has a 21-story tower and nine-story cabana section (cabana rooms are larger). Marble bathrooms and classic contemporary furniture give the hotel a warm ambiance.
The extensive pool area features a waterslide. The beach scene is quite popular on weekends. At night, the Marriott lobby becomes a local watering hole; a band or DJ plays salsa music and people dance fervently, like they were at their daughter’s wedding. The 12,700-square foot Vegas-style casino bustles, and its slot haven’t forgotten how to give back a quarter.
Puerto Rico offers a variety of experiences for those seeking a bit of jungle — or pavement — with their beach vacation.
Visit travel writer Dwight Brown at www.DwightBrownInk.com.
A crown jewel in the National Park System, Yosemite National Park has seen its fair share of high profile visitors–including the latest, Oprah Winfrey, who taped her travels with best friend Gayle King to share with America. As millions watched their camping adventure in Yosemite, Oprah and Gayle helped bring to light the fact that people of color remain largely absent from our national parks as both visitors and National Park Service staff.
She left her “comfort zone” and rode a mule, cooked dinner on a campfire, and went fly-fishing in the Merced River. She also met with Yosemite Park Ranger Shelton Johnson, whose initial invitation to Oprah to visit Yosemite asked her to help in “spreading the word that the national parks really are America’s best idea, and that this beauty belongs to every American, including African-Americans.”
Oprah has done a great service to our national parks by highlighting that even though the National Park System protects all of America’s heritage–including sites of significance to ethnic groups–recent surveys show that national park visitors in no way reflect the diverse make up of the U.S. population as a whole. For example, at Yosemite National Park, less than 1 percent of the visitors are African American. And in Florida, only 4 percent of visitors to Everglades National Park are Hispanic or African American–nearby Miami is 54 percent Hispanic and 14 percent African American.
At the National Parks Conservation Association, we have worked for more than a decade to attract new audiences and diverse populations to our national parks, and we are pleased to welcome Oprah and her viewers into the fold. Our parks are the soul of America, telling our diverse stories and teaching valuable lessons about our shared heritage, from the Underground Railroad and Buffalo Soldiers in Yosemite to the San Antonio Missions. Attracting the next generation of park advocates and enthusiasts from all walks of life is an important part of ensuring that our national parks remain relevant in a modern world.
We now have an opportunity to ensure that our national parks remain relevant to a changing America. President Obama recently established the America’s Great Outdoors initiative to create a 21st century strategy for reconnecting Americans with their rich natural heritage. National parks provide some of the best means of connecting Americans, young and old, to America’s Great Outdoors, and the Administration should improve opportunities to reconnect all Americans with our national treasures.
America’s national parks have something for everybody–all races, all interests, and all aptitudes. But much like when your mother advised you “How do you know you don’t like something, if you’ve never tried?” You have to get out there and try. And that is exactly what Oprah did.
So I encourage all Americans to get out there and explore the natural beauty of our national parks. There are nearly 400 national park sites across the country, maybe even in your own backyard. Besides, you never know who you’ll run into out there. Maybe even America’s number one media mogul, who while she may never choose pop-up trailer accommodations and sea bass cooked over a campfire again–readily admits, she will be back: “Just the beauty of the park. Everything about it is spectacular…being surrounded by the cathedral of stone. Now I want to see all the other national parks.”
Visit NPCA online for more information on diverse populations in our nation’s history and in our national parks, including Yosemite and to find a park near you.
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Andrus Nichols as Hamlet in We Players’ Hamlet
Denmark is a prison.
I’m headed to see We Player’s production of Hamlet on Alcatraz. On the ferry from Pier 33 across the San Francisco Bay to The Rock, I overhear three young hipster girls:
“But have you seen the movie? Hamlet the movie? With that British guy form Harry Potter?” [She meant Kenneth Branaugh.]
“All British Guys are in Harry Potter.”
“But with that girl from Titanic?” [She meant Kate Winslet.]
“Oh right. I heard it was hella long.”
One: Hilarious. Two: Curious. I leaned over and asked them how the heard about Hamlet on Alcatraz, why they were here, and if they are regular theatre goers?
“My friend hooked us up. I don’t see that much theatre. But this just sounded so cool.”
It seems that these future patrons of the arts were not here for the cultural chore, the artsy fartsyness, or literary bragging rights — they were hear because seeing a famous play at a famous prison? It’s freakin’ cool.
And though this production has no international star power in the form of humans, its real draw is The Rock itself. And for a play about murder, treachery, betrayal, death, violence, and justice… this is not a bad location to summon those ancient spirits.
We docked at Alcatraz just as Marcellus enters the second floor deck. He’s seen a ghost and Horatio has gotta check it out.
And we do. All of the 200 of us audience members. We trail Horatio off the boat and to the edge of the main prison, where he climbs the three story stairs to the overlooking deck and sees the ghost of Hamlet’s Father is a gauzy white face mask. Then that ghost disappears and another (the same?) ghost rises over the rocky cliff fifty yards away. Uh… awesome.
Nicholas Trengove as Horatio in We Players’ Hamlet
So begins a nearly 3.5 hour long, fast-paced Hamlet hike around Alcatraz. “Adventure Shakespeare,” this might be dubbed. Scenes were staged in every nook of the Island including usually restricted areas. The actor and volunteers eagerly lead the audience from spot to spot, demarcating playing areas with a swift stroke of chalk. Scenes lasted for no more than 10 or 15 minutes, some as little as a few lines before off we went again.
Basically any time the characters said “Come!” or “Go we now!” that’s exactly what we did. Whereas those lines would usually take an actor offstage, in this case they took the play with them. And if we wanted to know what happened next, we had to keep up. And y’all, there’s a lot of “comes” and go’s” in this damn play.
The dynamism of this production was unmatched by anything I’ve experienced before. The audience mimicked the momentum of the action, scrambling to the next dramatic moment. There was a giddiness among us, a truly engaged charge. As Hamlet chased his Father’s Ghost, so did we. As he — actually she, Hamlet was played by Andus Nichols — sends the players to “catch the conscience of the king,” he sends us too. There was velocity, distance, spacial extremes, sounds of life and motion. And a lot of water. And yelling. And creepy echoes.
Hamlet’s “wild and whirling words” were exactly that.
Jack Holton as The Gravedigger in We Players’ Hamlet
The audience was a near-perfect cross section of ages — young (10ish), teens, 20-somethings, moms and kids, all ages of adults. The twenty-somethings were most animated, hmm-ing knowingly at the famous lines, laughing out loud at Jack Halton’s lovely Polonius and Gravedigger. And adding a few “boos” at Claudius’s announcement of his marriage to Hamlet’s mom (the strong, if young Carly Cioffi). As a theatre geek to the extreme, I was overjoyed to see this kind of cross-generational engagement. This just might be the future of theatre.
There also seemed to be a hero in each group — the chap that managed to get tickets for everyone. I kept hearing, “Thanks, man, this is so great. How did you find out about this?”
I should mention the performers since it was not just an experience, but, y’know, a performance. The actors were overall sharp, smart, energetic, and poised. The language was clear, the emotional timbre spot on. They had to be crisp and fast to match The Rock’s own ominous, crowded, and noisy world. But this business added to the feel that we were all in the royal turmoil of a working castle — the rotten (and harried) state of Denmark.
Claudius’s repentant speech was done in a small moss-covered abandoned cavern outside the prison which gave a tinny echo to Scott Phillips’s performance that gave me chills. And though even an ardent feminist needs to get used to a female Hamlet, Andrus Nichols was wonderful, thoughtful, and muscled. Misti Boettiger’s Ophelia was simple and sweet — a humanity that made me want to give that girl a break and a mug of green tea. Laertes (Benjamin Stowe) was the sympathetic and ultimately broken brother, both delicate and enraged. The personalities were foremost. This was not just a performance of the language but of the spirit of these people. It made them (and us) seem like survivors on this awful place, not characters in a play.
Cast of We Players’ Hamlet.
The real star is director Ava Roy, whose masterful use of the entire island was both subtle and innovative; at times organic (the gravedigger scene was on a small mountain of rubble) and striking (Ophelia’s madness was played inside a wide open hospital room threaded with white twine, empty birdcages, and lilting bird down.) The use of music and dance worked almost all of the time — serving to tug at our perceptions of normalcy, space and time. And the fabulous minstrel quintet of brass, percussion, and cello kept us in the world of the play accompanying our every step.
This was a thrilling, fundamentally moving (literally) theatrical and cultural experience. Bravo to We Players. Bravo to The National Park Service. Their combined vision and artistic audacity made for an incredible adventure, an incredible interpretation of this play, and an incredible exploration of theatre and this national landmark.
If the city, the park service, and anybody with love for the arts were smart, they would fund this work constantly. Call me greedy but I want Macbeth on The Rock. I want The Odyssey and Stalag 17 and, heck, The Diary of Anne Frank on The Rock. I want new plays, poetry, and dance on The Rock. The readiness (and the funding) is all.
If the setting is celebrity and the art is visionary, please give us more. Claudius says that revenge has no bounds? Neither does theatre.
Benjamin Stowe as Laertes and Geof Libby as Osricke in We Players’ Hamlet
This Blogger’s Books from
Emilie: La Marquise Du Chtelet Defends Her Life Tonight
by Lauren Gunderson
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Sometime back in the early ’90s, some congress-critter got it into his head that the Department of the Interior should promote music.
A few years earlier, in 1987, Congress passed one of those symbolic resolutions, somewhat akin to “National Turnip Day,” declaring “Jazz is hereby designated as a rare and valuable national American treasure to which we should devote our attention, support, and resources to make sure it is preserved, understood and promulgated.” This was harmless enough in itself, but how exactly does it go from there to one of the more misbegotten parks in the National Park System?
Well, in 1993, Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA), the guy who would eventually wind up in jail for having all that cash in his freezer, introduced H.R. 3408, a classic piece of pork designating something in New Orleans to be a National Park celebrating the history of Jazz. It had no boundaries, no land, no nothing. Just funding for some rangers based in the offices of Jean Lafitte National Park trying to promote what the city of New Orleans was doing very nicely on it’s own.
Today, it has a few very modest venues around the French quarter and is getting some more, but that’s why not why it’s essential. The reason it’s essential is that Jazz National Historic Park, and its sibling Jean Lafitte, cover the entire French Quarter of New Orleans.
So get this: The two Hustler Clubs on Bourbon Street, of which I’ve only seen the outside of, are inside a National Park, so’s the rest of Bourbon Street (and if there ever was a tourist trap, it’s Bourbon street).
The French Quarter, unlike, say Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, is a source of pride for New Orleans-ians, and while the place is as touristy as Hell, the locals not only admit to frequenting the place, they can outnumber the tourists on occasion, and the area of Bourbon St. between Canal and St. Phillip, is Disneyland for Drunks.
The drinks are extremely expensive, although you can take them outside and go to another bar for a refill, paying $16 for a shot is a little much. But if you do it right, you can manage to hear some pretty good music, which is what the National Park is all about. While it’s not always Marti Gras, they try to keep up the pretense.
One block south of Bourbon is Royal, which is full of art galleries and restaurants, all three levels of government, Federal, State, and Local, have strict laws regarding the preservation of buildings, and as the Quarter was one of the few areas that were totally unscathed by Katrina, and unlike the Ninth ward, the powers that be want this area to continue to thrive, and it does.
Most people in the Quarter don’t know that they’re simultaneously in two National Parks. Tour Guides Association of Greater New Orleans, Inc., who’s membership doesn’t appreciate the Federal Government taking over their jobs, has an agreement limiting the NPS to one fifteen minute tour a day. With tourism the areas largest industry, that makes sense.
The architecture is beautiful, the people are mostly friendly, and while everything is damn expensive, but you just have to see it.
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Colorado residents are fortunate to have beautiful parks, trails, ball fields, and public lands in our backyards. These places enhance our communities and attract millions of tourists who are eager to enjoy our gorgeous scenery while hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, and hiking. Best yet: these public lands and waters offer plenty of opportunities to get fit.
Earlier this summer, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and other members of the Obama administration held several public conversations about conservation in Golden and Grand Junction as part of the president’s new America’s Great Outdoors initiative.
I know Coloradans are proud of our great outdoors. They told me this during my statewide listening tour this past year. They told me about the importance of connecting future generations to our great outdoors. They know that getting outside and staying fit benefits the learning, behavior and health of our children, and also encourages stewardship of Colorado’s public lands and active, healthy lifestyles later in life. We incorporated the information we gathered about local successes and ideas for improvements into a report and community toolkit, as well as the Colorado Kids’ Outdoor Bill of Rights.
At the federal level, Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet are supporting legislation that would ensure full and dedicated funding for the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). For decades, this program has invested royalties from offshore oil and gas development into national land conservation and outdoor recreation.
Long championed by Secretary Salazar and Sen. Udall, LWCF has protected Rocky Mountain National Park and other national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges, and provided more than $58 million in matching grants to leverage state lottery funds and other dollars to build and enhance parks, trails, playgrounds, and ball fields across Colorado. Especially in light of the BP oil spill, I urge Congress to move quickly to pass legislation to fully fund LWCF for the benefit of Colorado and communities nationwide.
We have a shared responsibility to serve as role models and mentors for our children and future generations, and as stewards of Colorado’s breathtaking landscapes and waterways. Working together, Colorado can set an example for the country, ensuring the health and vitality of our youth and precious natural resources.
Someday, our kids will thank us.
This is the second in a series of posts about the Parque Nacional da Gorongosa and associated Gorongosa Restoration Project. The first is here.
Fifty years and three months ago, Mozambique’s first national park was born. In making that decision, the Portuguese colonial government joined a worldwide 20th-century effort to ensure that at least some undeveloped landscapes stayed that way.
For a few years, Gorongosa National Park was a safari mecca. It’s a stunning place, and the tourists’ Super 8 movies (appropriately silent) give a sense of what it used to look like. Herds of buffalo and wildebeest being stalked by cagey lions across a lush flood plain fringed by palms and fever trees. People eating lunch before stuffing themselves into VW Microbuses.
As Gorongosa National Park was entering the world, the shreds of European imperialism in Africa were falling away. It took 11 years of guerilla war to make it happen in Mozambique. After that, no peace, just an awful civil war, eating the new republic alive. Tourists had stopped visiting Gorongosa long before the civil war ended in 1992, and the first ones back through what remained of the gates weren’t tourists, but hunters who quickly dispatched what remained of the large wildlife.
You might mark 1994 as the death of Gorongosa National Park. In 1960, the average baby born in Mozambique could expect to live just under 35 years. By coincidence, and a set of factors far too complex to unpack here, Gorongosa National Park hit that mark almost exactly.
In the United States, we tend to view our national parks as static entities. Most of us know that this isn’t quite accurate–that ecosystems are dynamic, and that national park boundaries and management priorities change over time. But the idea of national parks as pristine, primordial wildernesses is appealing, and it remains one of the popular national myths that we inherit and cling to, with the contrary evidence all around us, simply because it’s kind of fun pretend that you’re the first human ever to see a place. That’s why we pack out our garbage and pretend to “Leave no trace.” My sister once spent a summer working as a Junior Ranger in Denali, where a big part of her job was to go around to campsites and move rocks away from illegal firepits so that nobody would notice that someone else had made a firepit.
The fact is, though, that even the very model of what a national park ought to be has changed a lot since Congress gazetted Yellowstone in 1872. Even within the US, the goals have fluctuated: first we killed all the wolves, then we changed our minds and put them back. But exporting the US model to other countries adds a whole new layer of complexity. For one thing, before you could have American national parks as we know them, you had to obliterate a large population of native Americans. Today, genocide is no longer politically correct; it wasn’t even considered politically correct, for the most part, in colonial Africa, where the humanitarian bar was set fairly low.
In short, our evolving standards of how we should and shouldn’t treat our fellow humans, our evolving beliefs about what nature is and how to conserve it, and our confrontation with certain biophysical, geopolitical, and socio-economic realities have forced us to continually redefine national parks.
So what should a national park be? You can ask ten people and still get ten different answers. But most people would probably agree that the purpose of national parks is to ensure the continued existence of unbuilt landscapes, sites of cultural importance, beautiful scenery, and biodiversity (a young but powerful concept); that they should provide opportunities for recreation, education, and contemplation; and that when you make them (or make them bigger), you shouldn’t screw anybody over too badly in the process–that national parks should contribute to economic development and increase human well-being rather than exacerbate poverty. As for how exactly to accomplish all these things, opinions differ.
That was the global context into which Gorongosa National Park was born again.
This was the local context: Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world, if not the poorest. The population–especially the rural population–is exhausted and scared to death. They’re deeply traumatized by what they’ve seen during the civil war, by what’s been done to them, and by what they’ve done to others. The average person lives on the equivalent of $0.38 per day, and one in every four babies dies before age five. The Gorongosa ecosystem, having been a major battle zone, lacks functional populations of virtually all its large herbivores–the animals that keep the grass down and the fires from burning out of control. People displaced by the rebels, the government, or both have taken refuge on the previously sacrosanct upper slopes of the mountain outside the park, where their farming threatens downstream water quality and the very existence of the rift-valley floodplain that underpins the entire ecosystem. The Mozambican Government, rightly recognizing Gorongosa as a major potential asset, wants to bring the park back to life, while simultaneously catering to the needs of the long-suffering people. How do they do it?
A lot of people and a lot of factors have contributed to the rebirth of Gorongosa National Park, but one crucial catalyst has been an unusual coupling between the Mozambican government and an American philanthropist named Greg Carr. Carr first visited Gorongosa in 2004, and in 2007, his foundation entered a 20-year deal with the government to co-manage the park; explicit in the 122-page agreement are commitments to both ecological restoration and sustainable economic development. The Carr Foundation shoulders much of the financial load for the project, and in return the government cedes much of the responsibility for both day-to-day management and long-term planning.
The ultimate goal, of course, is for the park to pay the price its own existence, which means covering not just its operating costs, but also its opportunity costs. The park needs to provide the jobs and entice the tourists to spend the money necessary to make the people next door better off than they’d be if they used the same land to make a living some other way.
In other words, Gorongosa is aiming for what one ecologist has called “Phase II conservation”. Phase I is the old school: draw lines on a map, kick people out, post guards with guns, and arrest the poachers and squatters. When the poachers come back, arrest them again. This is a war of attrition that the conservation area will always lose. Phase II is the effort to embed the conservation area in society, such that its right to exist ceases to be questioned. It pays its own way both literally, by generating things like clean water and tourist revenue, and also figuratively, being perceived locally as a welcome member of society, like a herd of cattle, a health clinic, or a university.
And before Gorongosa can fully do that, it needs to become a functional ecosystem again. Zebras, elephants, and hippos multitask. They are lawnmowers and weed-wackers and sediment stirrers. They are firefighters. They are prodigious poopers whose very pooping keeps the nutrients flowing and the plants fertilized. Perhaps most importantly of all, they are spectacles, by virtue of their own vulnerability. Because we humans have pushed them out of so many places where they used to exist, we are now willing to pay large quantities of money to sit in cars and watch them poop. (We humans will pay a lot of money for a lot of stuff, as long as the stuff is rare enough.)
The dedicated and professional staff of Gorongosa are doing their part. Together with help partners in both public and private spheres, they are putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. The end result will look different than it did before–that’s a given. But that’s also perfectly fine. Gorongosa doesn’t need to be a precise wax-museum replica of itself circa 1960, 1860, or 16,000 B.C. It just needs to be something that the world will treasure.
Idaho judge ignores a centennial affront to the descendants of Japanese farmers
Traveling to a WWII internment camp
Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column this month on the threat development poses to a Civil War historic site where President Lincoln once dodged bullets reminded me to check on the status of a similar threat I wrote about last spring. At that time, the issue of whether a massive factory farm would be allowed to despoil Minidoka, site of a World War II internment camp where American citizens of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned, was pending the decision of an Idaho court.
As I learned last week, while I was out of the country in August, Judge Robert Elgee of Idaho’s Fifth District ruled in favor of the developers who plan to build a 13,000-head cattle feedlot adjacent to Minidoka, rendering it a historic attraction in name only. Given the contributions of Japanese immigrants to American farming, the desecration of this National Historic Site by a so-called farm would be especially egregious.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, The National Park Service, and Idaho landowners and environmental groups all oppose the project. Friends of Minidoka are asking for contributions to help fund an appeal of the judge’s ruling.
A century ago, a generation of Japanese farmers, recruited to the United States to grow food for Americans, was vilified as an economic threat to white farmers. Three decades later, at the beginning of World War II, many of these same immigrants, along with their US-born children and grandchildren, now transformed in the public imagination to a homegrown security threat, were shipped off to prison camps, including Minidoka. There, they used their farming skills to support the war effort.
Nearly four decades after the war, former prisoners and their descendants received an apology from Congress, and in 2001 President Clinton designated the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho a National Monument, creating a perpetual reminder of the devastating consequences of government-sanctioned racism.
In a cruel twist of irony, the threat represented by the proposed confined animal feeding operation (CAFO, or factory farm) landed Minidoka on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of American’s Most Endangered Historic Places. Whether the CAFO will swallow up the historic site now depends on whether opponents of the proposed development can afford to appeal the August 3 ruling.
The history behind the congressional apology to Japanese Americans is long and ugly. In January of 1909, an article in The New York Times described the formative role of Japanese immigrants in the agricultural development of the American West:
That same year, the first of many anti-Japanese bills was introduced in California, followed four years later in 1913 by the Webb-Harley Law. Japanese immigrants were already denied the opportunity to become US citizens by federal law restricting that right to “free white persons,” but the Webb-Harley Law – which remained in effect until 1952 – decreed that “aliens ineligible to citizenship,” could no longer purchase land or even rent it for more than three years, effectively preventing Japanese immigrants from farming independently.
Apparently, though, depriving the Japanese of land ownership did little to alleviate tensions in California. According to The Reader’s Companion to American History, one of several motivations for US imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II was the desire of other West Coast farmers to eliminate competition.
On February 21, 1942, two days after President Roosevelt gave his military the power to relocate Japanese-American citizens and non-citizen Japanese immigrants, The Times reported:
Agricultural experts, intent on seeing that increased farm production quotas for 1942 are realized, have objected to proposals that all persons of Japanese ancestry be moved out of the Pacific Coast “combat zone” on the ground that such an evacuation would create a big shortage of garden products. One hears a different story from white farmers …
In the end, Japanese immigrants who had purchased land before Webb-Harley passed, and Americans of Japanese ancestry who owned their own farms, had them taken away as a matter of government policy. Rumors spread like weeds, with Agricultural Commissioners of the San Joaquin Valley ordering inventories of the insecticides owned by “alien farmers” as “an outgrowth of warnings recurrent in California now and then among those who do not trust Japanese farmers that ‘too much arsenic’ might sometime be put on vegetables prepared by them for the markets.” Flashlights used by farmers to navigate to their outhouses at night became, in the imaginations of Army commanders, signals to Japanese submarines off the California Coast.
While the government had no respect for the Japanese famers’ land rights, their skills were nevertheless in great demand, as food was needed to feed an army and a hungry nation. Plans were hatched to “get the non-citizens, many of whom are looked upon as potential fifth columnists, out of the vital defense areas and at the same time help meet the threat of reduced crops at a time when the Department of Agriculture is calling for unprecedented production.” So the imprisoned Japanese farmers were once again put to work growing food for the nation that despised and discriminated against them.
By the summer of 1942, the US Military’s propaganda machine had successfully recast the uprooting of more than 100,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans as an act of kindness and a source of pride. In one of a series of on-the-ground reports on the evacuations and internments, Lawrence Davies of The New York Times described the arrival of about 1,000 Japanese “volunteers” from Los Angeles at the Manzanar “pioneer colony” like this:
[T]his correspondent was stuck by the feeling of relief and security evident among the eager evacuees. Roy Takeno, English editor of The California Daily News, confirmed the impression; it was, he said, the predominant topic of conversation in all groups of his fellows. For the first time since Pearl Harbor men of Japanese blood did not have to be afraid. They had reached a haven where they could not be blamed for any flashing lights along the shoreline or for the firing of a shotgun near the airport.
Of course, given the escalating hostility toward Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans from both white Americans and other immigrant groups, there is every reason to believe the relief Davis described was very real. Much of the rest of his report painted a rosy picture of life in the camps.
Despite the temporary nature of these communities, the residents try to make them homelike. Within two weeks after the first newcomers arrived neat rows of radishes, carrots and beets began pushing up their shoots around the dwellings. Flowers miraculously appeared in window boxes. Tables, chairs, vanity sets – fashioned from scraps of lumber left by carpenters – soon furnished the bare apartments…
Baseball games . . . organized into regular leagues, are a popular form of recreation. Another pastime is the Saturday night dance, attended . . . by couples attired all the way from slacks and boots to the latest Hollywood fashion.
Today, not even a decade after the Minidoka Internment Camp was promised permanent preservation as a National Historic Site, it is threatened with becoming permanently overshadowed by the massive waste lagoons, poisoned air and putrid water that characterize Idaho’s dairy CAFOs.
To quote one area resident who wants the project stopped,
If you imagine visiting a park near a CAFO, you wouldn’t even want to get out of the car, let alone have a picnic, peruse the waysides [or ] look for names on the Honor Roll …
Or, as Dan Everhart, president of the board of Preservation Idaho, put it, allowing the CAFO to go forward “would be a de facto closing of the [historic] site because no one would be able to get out of the car.”
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When floating in a small, inflatable boat on a paradisiacal pond along the Snake River in Wyoming, my four-year-old nephew (my passenger), turned and said: “It’s like we went into a painting. But where does the painting end?”
Yes, this illuminates that my nephew is amazing. But it also gets at the heart of what rests on my mind as we delve into “National Public Lands Day”–what exactly is the “end” of a public land in nature? How do we define “natural”? And how do human beings psychologically differentiate such boundaries? Where does the painting end?
In 2006, my brother and I created a company to engage kids with nature and the environment. As a promotional effort, at the end of last year we conducted a writing contest called “My Land, Your Land: 2009 public lands writing contest for children and young adults.” We wanted to know how local, state, national parks, wilderness preserves or seashores influenced kids’ lives. (We excluded national monuments for our purposes.)
We received submissions about Bryce Canyon, The Delaware River, Lake George, and the Midwestern Sand Dunes. But what was most fascinating to me was that we also received submissions about family trips to water-slide parks and staying at outdoor hotels in the Bahamas. During classroom visits, I discovered similar answers from kids between 1st and 7th grade when asked about experience in the natural world. The distinction between what was “natural” and what was man-made was not obvious to them.
This could mean a number of things. It could mean that they simply hadn’t experienced enough of the outdoors to make such a distinction. It could mean they associate nature with vacation or something out of the ordinary. It may also simply be a more basic distinction between “inside” (human realm) and “outside” (nature). Or even more deeply, I wondered if, perhaps, there wasn’t such a clear distinction between the “natural” or the “unnatural” for children at all.
My question isn’t about environmental psychology in terms of how our surrounding world affects our behavior (although that is interesting and ultimately plays a role in how we emotionally or viscerally connect to nature as a “space”) it’s more about how we, as humans, actually perceive the natural world.
My friend Bill Cohen, M.D., who is a former wilderness therapy instructor and a psychiatry resident at Albert Einstein Medical Center, theorized that based on Piaget’s Classifications of cognitive development, a basic understanding of “nature” probably emerges during the “The Concrete Operational Stage,” which occurs around ages 7-11. Kids at that age learn to be less egocentric, more logical, and can start to grasp the idea of conservation. But the answer to the question is, they may not have the intellectual constructs to make the distinction between “natural” and “unnatural” in the way that us environmentally conscious adults would like them to. It’s still developing. How interesting, then, to try and teach ideas of nature conservation, even before those boundaries are clearly set.
But even in the adult world, our own definition of natural is like trying to hit a moving target. In the late 19th century, for example, people moved from thinking of nature as scary or needing to be conquered into imagining it as a recreational area (as eloquently articulated in Roderick Nash’s Wilderness & the American Mind). Most of us are familiar with the contrast to Native American practices of land ownership or migratory movement on the land. As an aside, to further illuminate the bizarre connection of humans to the environment (and racism), early proponents of national parks suggested that Native Americans just reside in the parks as part of the natural landscape! (Although frankly, “reservations” conjures up a whole other discussion of the equally strange allotment of land.)
If we can’t define what is natural, then our interaction with the environment becomes quite confusing. Can I take a walk in that park? Can I mine for coal? Can I touch that tree? What happens when millions of people want to touch the same rock? Is that rock any less natural?
On National Public Lands Day, thousands of volunteers convene across the country to plant trees, remove invasive species, and pick up trash. But some of these seemingly simple, positive volunteer efforts, however, remain controversial, precisely because of this inability to define the natural. Invasive species are species not “native” to a habitat that basically come in and take over an area–like the whitebark pine beetle decimating trees in Yellowstone, or pythons literally eating alligators in the Florida Everglades. (Europeans taking over North America?) We designate these things as terrible–and they are. But are they unnatural? There is also a heightened focus on raising awareness about climate change and its affects on the national parks. Surely, whether human caused or not, won’t the climate on earth at some point change, thereby affecting the landscape?
What, exactly, are we preserving?
At a certain point, these natural sanctuaries (unless it’s a “wilderness area”) aren’t actually “natural” anymore. We, as humans, have largely designated them as public lands because, well, we think they’re kinda pretty. As Richard Sellars points out in his book Preserving Nature in the National Parks: A History, most of the public lands were not created with environmental interests in mind at all–it was for tourism, plain and simple.
All this maintenance sometimes feels like an old lady getting too much botox in order to maintain what is “natural”–yes, plump lips were once natural, but as you age, they are not. By doing all this maintenance, we are preventing the earth from aging gracefully, or even more accurately, we are just trying to keep nature frozen–looking just like how we want it in that specific area, because we’ve managed to basically destroy so many other beautiful sections of the planet.
We are preserving our own perception of what is natural, not nature itself. We’re imposing our own, human, value judgment on the natural world–and that’s not necessarily bad–it’s just human (and therefore unnatural? Or hypernatural? You see the conundrum)! The sheer diversity of the organizations we have managing these public lands, and the degree to which humans are allowed to meddle in them, is revealing. Some we can barely touch but are highly developed (NPS), and some are quite open but not developed (Bureau of Land Management).
And, sadly, that is why public lands are so important. We’ve come to recognize that we can’t define nature and we do not understand the boundaries of the painting, even as adults. That’s why we’ve artificially created them, to force ourselves from over-consumption. We don’t know how to deal with the passage of time, with the shifting of the world, with the unpredictable. We want to control it and use it. Creating these places delineates what’s special in a way that only our human minds can grasp. Preserving our perception of nature is, perhaps, just as important as nature itself.
Winners of the 2009 “My Land Your Land” writing contest (unaffiliated with National Public Lands Day or the National Environmental Education Foundation):
Nicole Kazekevich (Grade 5, Staten Island) “Southern Magnolia.”
Elizabeth Skelton (Grade 9, Washington D.C.) “Nature Sanctuary Near the Nation’s Capital.”
Nadia Vieira Chekan (Grade 4, New Jersey) “Pyramid Mountain Experiences, Montville, New Jersey.”
Matthew Tomassi (Grade 5, Staten Island) “Parrot Island.”
Millions travel to our national forests, parks and wilderness areas each year, with visitation in July 2010 to Yellowstone National Park marking an all-time high. What some may not realize is that each of us — every citizen of the United States — owns a stake in approximately 650 million acres of the nation’s lands. In effect, the property deed for almost one-third of our country lists the American people as owners. We’d better take care of it.
On Sept. 25, the congressionally chartered National Environmental Education Foundation will oversee National Public Lands Day, to commemorate our mutually owned acreage and to inspire us to visit and appreciate these places. But the event is not only a celebration, it’s an opportunity to take care of what we own, just as we mow our yards, rake leaves or tend our gardens.
True, 650 million acres is a lot to look after. And one day simply isn’t enough, even with all of us pitching in and giving back to our sources of camping, fishing, hiking and hunting. That’s why we hire dedicated people in the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management to help us care for it. Year round, these stewards administer the vast and varied landscape in the public interest, based on guiding laws such as the Wilderness Act of 1964.
Over this past summer, while many of us vacationed in our parks and wilderness, officials from the Obama administration toured the country, visiting small towns and big cities, to hear firsthand what Americans want for the future of our public lands. In places from Albuquerque to Concord and Missoula to Orlando, people shared their ideas. This effort, termed “America’s Great Outdoors listening tour,” will culminate in November with a report and recommendations to President Obama, based on lessons learned about how best to be good stewards of our public land.
It’s a big job, and an important one. Not only are we, and our public stewards, taking care of places like the Grand Canyon or the Everglades today, we’re also trying hard to make sure we leave them in good shape for future Americans. President Teddy Roosevelt said, “The nation behaves well if it treats its natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”
According to historian Douglas Brinkley, Roosevelt believed that “saving natural wonders, wildlife species, timberlands and diverse habitats was a patriotic endeavor.”
Inspired by citizen involvement from the ground up, our elected representatives and senators in Congress can continue carrying out that duty. They are working on legislation which could be enacted this year to protect an additional 2 million acres, across more than a dozen states, as wilderness, national monuments, conservation areas and recreation areas. These legislative measures are backed by hunters and anglers, business owners, city councilors and county commissioners. They are championed by members of both parties.
We can bequeath to future generations spectacular wonders with evocative names such as the Pioneer Mountains in Montana, Gold Butte in Nevada, Horse Heaven in Oregon and the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee. If we succeed, we fulfill an American tradition, providing special places to enjoy on this National Public Lands Day and those that will be celebrated by our children and grandchildren.
Back when I was a kid, first lady Ladybird Johnson announced the “See America First” Campaign. Travel America before going to Europe or the Middle East. There’s a lot to see in the US of A, and almost all of them are tourist traps: expensive hotels, cheesy souvenirs and lousy restaurants, you know the drill.
But a few of the things this cheesiness surrounds just have to be seen. It’s a mandatory part of a person’s well-rounded education, designated by the federal, state and local governments to be worthy of preservation. A few of these have also been designated as such by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, as World Heritage sites.
I’m not sure what exactly UNESCO, uses as criteria for designating them. For instance what exactly is there to see at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands? I know that something important happened there, but since it was repeatedly nuked in the 1950s and ’60s, what exactly is there to see or preserve?
Nothing. I could go on for pages and pages about what deserves to go on the list and isn’t (the Kaaba in Mecca) and what doesn’t (San Marino? Puh-leeze!), but in the United States there are 20, and some of these are actually easy to get to from major metropolitan areas, these plus a few others like Niagara Falls and the Lincoln Memorial are the Essentials.
The World Heritage sites, in order of accessibility by local public transportation, are:
* Independence Hall (Philadelphia, PA)
* Statue of Liberty (NYC, NY)
* Redwood National and State Parks (Outside San Francisco, CA)
* Everglades National Park (Near Miami, FL)
* Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville
* Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (Outside St. Louis, Mo.)
* La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico
* Olympic National Park (Washington state)
* Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)
* Yosemite National Park #(California)
* Hawaii Volcanoes National Park #
* Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)
* Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)
* Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)
* Great Smoky Mountains National Park(Tennessee)
* Chaco Culture (New Mexico)
* Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico/Texas border)
* Waterton Glacier International Peace Park
* Pueblo de Taos (New Mexico)
* Kluane / Wrangell-St Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek # * 34
* Papahnaumokukea (Somewhere in the Pacific)
Clearly, not all of these places are tourist traps, Papahnaumokukea, for example, is waaaay out in the middle of the Pacific, and unless you charter a yacht for a week, you just can’t get there. As far as I know, there are no souvenir stands, no cheap hotels, no nothing. (However there’s a visitors’ center in Hilo, Big Island Hawaii, hundreds of miles away). This is probably good for the area, and remoteness is good for quite a few national parks and monuments as well. Natural beauty must be preserved.
However, we’re not going to talk about that. We’re going to talk about those other places. The ones that are easy to get to, and despite the fact that they’re plagued with souvenir stands and fast food places are necessary to visit in order to have a well-rounded education.
Not all these places we’re going to talk about are World Heritage Sites, or even government sponsored sites, oh no. Disney World in Orlando. FL is entirely private, and rightly so, but it’s damn near close to being America’s Mecca. You just have to go there once . It’s an essential tourist trap if there ever was one.
First up: The Statue of Liberty, in New York City.
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