Opinion

Celebrating Our National Park System

Veterans all over the United States join Americans in congratulating National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, and all the men and women of the National Park Service, past and present, for 100 years of service to our nation. We share a common goal to advocate for American values and our heritage, and appreciate your dedication to the mission.

Last year, more than 307 million people visited our National Park System — just a few million less than the entire population of the United States — a fact that indicates the great popularity our park system enjoys domestically and internationally.

You might say that two American presidents, one Republican and one Democrat, Roosevelt and Wilson, set the stage for our world-renowned park system. Over the past 100 years, the system has evolved from a few protected landscapes of waterfalls and mountain views to more than 400 battlefields, cultural and historic sites. This very far-reaching and bipartisan effort is a gift to all. And our American story continues to be told — new sites like the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania and the Castle Mountains National Monument in the California Desert are critical to protect and to interpret for the public.

Our national public lands play a unique role in capturing the many different historical, cultural and spiritual stories that have shaped this country; celebrating acts of bravery and sacrifice and recognizing the unique contributions of all people. Most significantly, under President Obama’s leadership, our national parks increasingly honor and interpret for the public the inspiring contributions of Americans of all races and ethnicity. I am eager to visit the new Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument, where U.S. Army Col. Young’s story of unflagging dedication to his country in the face of adversity and racism inspires soldiers and all Americans today. In fact, Col. Young and the Buffalo soldiers were the procurers of the National Park Service and served as first stewards of the national parks — protecting Sequoia and other parks from illegal logging, poachers and other threats.

The mission of the National Park Service today is to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.”

American veterans are among those partners. Many serve as wildland firefighters. Others clear trails and help the Park Service maintain natural areas. Veterans across Maine and the nation will enjoy the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in northern Maine. It protects an amazing landscape for future generations and thanks to the leadership of Director Jarvis, protects traditional outdoor recreational activities in the region — guaranteeing access for hunting and snowmobiling in areas where those activities are currently allowed.

Veterans are among those working with the Colorado Congressional Delegation advocating for the protection of the military training site, Camp Hale in Colorado, as a national park site. Native American veterans are urging President Obama to protect the vulnerable archaeological treasures in Bears Ears in Utah.

In light of recent partisan efforts in the U.S. Congress to seize and to sell off public lands; to attempt to allow the Land and Water Conservation Fund to expire; to cut funding for parks and other public lands; to limit the president’s authority to protect lands like the Katahdin Woods; and to under-regulate coal, oil and gas development on public lands — we need to step up support for our public lands. That includes Republicans and Democrats, young, old, veterans and all families whom represent the diversity of our great nation. Together, we need to stand up for our heritage and join the Park Service in ensuring another 100 years of public lands conservation.

 

Retired Major Gen. Paul Eaton is the executive director of the Vet Voice foundation.

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