SCA Centennial Volunteer Ambassador Jacob Breslin Considers Why Parks Need Year-Round Advocates
As I bask in the rich natural and cultural heritage of Rock Creek Park along with visitors this morning, it’s a welcome relief to know I’m not breaking the law.
Today is the day the federal government was to shut down in the absence of a new funding plan. Fortunately, officials here in Washington agreed to keep the federal government open for business — for now. Otherwise, my presence in Rock Creek Park would be prohibited. National parks across the country would be off-limits to everyone. That’s probably not the best way to mark the eve of the National Park Service Centennial.
As a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador with the Student Conservation Association (SCA), I see the residual effects of the 2013 shutdown when a political stalemate idled the federal government for two solid weeks. Millions of Americans were denied access to their public lands, and billions of dollars were lost from our economy. This year, as the funding deadline approached, the stress in our office was palpable. And while we averted another closure, there’s always a next time.
Rock Creek Park is situated in a metropolitan area with a population of nearly six million people. For DC residents, national parks are not destinations, they are places we pass through every day – whether driving to work or taking a lunchtime walk. The National Mall, with its iconic memorials and monuments, is a national park. So are Anacostia Park, Dupont Circle, and the George Washington Memorial Parkway – all part of the daily routine for so many here.
It’s easy to take national parks for granted. It’s harder to stop and recognize what they represent. And it shouldn’t take the threat of a government shutdown – or the actual hanging of “Closed” signs on the gates of the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or the Lincoln Memorial – for Americans to appreciate these truly unique treasures.
Our national parks offer splendor and solitude. They symbolize a common culture that binds us to something larger than ourselves. And with more than 400 units from coast to coast, there’s a national park out there with your name on it. In fact, your name is on the deed to every one of them. As an American citizen, you own the national parks.
So don’t wait till the next government shutdown to exercise your ownership. Don’t even wait till the National Park Service Centennial that begins in August 2016. Find your park now. Lend a hand to help protect it. Volunteer to fight invasive species, interpret history, promote parks on social media, or join in an SCA Find Your Park Day of Service.
Every federally-funded program is more fragile than most realize, but as Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” You can learn more about that at the Benjamin Franklin Museum in Philadelphia, part of the Independence National Historical Park. I’m just sayin’, you know?