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We, the people who love the parks, are underrepresented in our republic. Our passion rests in something so taken for granted, yet so ingrained in the American psyche, that our voices register as a Greek chorus, occasionally entertaining, easy to dismiss. Even as we fill the national parks beyond their ability to handle us, we can harness no political will to give us more. Classic government under-reach.
Ours is a representative democracy. We elect leaders to pursue their agendas, trusting the desire for reelection to ensure their work serves our interests. And the need for more national parks is not being met.
Exhibit A: The parks are currently enjoying a growth in visitation that far outpaces growth in population. In 2017, the parks recorded 331 million visits, a high-water mark that rises every year. Seems like an easy and obvious thing for our national representatives to get with the times and expand the options.
So why don’t they? No simple answer there, except to say that special interests that cross state lines often need to hire lobbyists to press their case. But there is another way. Much like the Contract with America or the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, we can make our candidates for higher office promise to create more parks as a prerequisite for voting them into office. Call it the Parks Pledge.
Implicit in any such pledge is an acknowledgement that passion doesn’t fit neatly into state lines drawn by humans: You don’t have to be from Arizona to know that hiking the Grand Canyon is an act of national patriotism; you don’t have to be from California to know that touching the sun-warmed granite of Yosemite is like touching the divine.
Any hiker who’s ever laced up boots knows these things. And we ought to do what’s necessary to show the rest. That’s why we need the Parks Pledge. Yes, this turns the national parks into a political badge of courage. But in an era where public lands’ wins are in short supply, courage is what we need.