Escape to America’s best idea – National Parks
My life is a series of different-sized screens. From a 3.5-inch smartphone, to a 55-inch flat screen TV – and all dimensions and devices in-between – I spend much of my day focused on a digital reality.
When I need to flee the screen’s electronic grip, I head outdoors. Often times, the simplest escapes involve a quick trip to the backyard of my suburban home in Wisconsin. It could also be a bike ride or a visit to my state’s plethora of parks.
But I’m most happy anywhere I can find the familiar tan and forest green logo of the National Park Service. Officially created by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, national parks – and their idea – have been around much longer. President Ulysses Grant established Yellowstone National Park in 1872 – the nation’s first national park.
National Parks are part of our country’s fabric – and were established by visionaries who believed in the power of nature and the importance of preserving it – forever.
Indeed, they’re our best idea.
However, growing up my friends had different summer dreams – of baseball stadiums, big cities and beaches – not national parks. My family’s compass almost always pointed to the West, where interstate highways led us to less glamorous places with names like Badlands, Little Bighorn or Bryce Canyon.
I was a child of the National Park Service, and I haven’t forgotten the lessons I learned in some of its 51.9 million acres.
Last summer, I gave my kids (10 and 12) a similar education, going on what they dubbed “The Great American Road Trip.” OK, that’s a bit cliché, but we did have a fantastic, 3,800-mile journey through South Dakota and Wyoming.
Everywhere we went, so was the National Park Service. We saw (and smelled) mud pots, bison and geysers. We tent-camped in national forests and parks, paying a penance to sleep under billions of stars in lieu of cushy queen beds and free WiFi.
We ate and slept among nature – not protected from it in some stuffy, air-conditioned hotel room. Our dinners were on wooden picnic tables that thousands of other campers like us used before. We disconnected from reality for two weeks, and it was hard to come home – back to our screens. Back to reality.
But we returned recharged. And my kids learned the lessons of my youth - the ones only nature can teach: appreciation of life’s simpler gifts.
John Muir – a pioneer of national parks – said it best more than 100 years ago:
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease.”
― John Muir, Our National Parks
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