During my career as a National Park Ranger I was often surprised to discover how many people I ran into who did not care about the fact that they were in a park set aside for protection of cultural and natural resources. Since you are taking the time to read this blog one would assume that you care about parks. It is hard at times for us as individuals to accept that others do share the same commitments and values that we do. For me, even before I became a park ranger, I was emotionally embedded with an idealism of the sanctity of our National Parks and the resources they contain at an early age.
On to many occasions while working in parks I heard individuals exclaim in some form or manner, “Who cares?” In most instances these communications were initiated because the individual had committed some type of resource violation within the park. “Who cares” was a direct quote and attitude I heard from people I met when they threw litter out of their vehicles, defaced or stole signs, illegally killed wildlife, took a few plants, or even cut trees within the park boundary to expand their yard or improve the view from their deck. In one case a commercial bicycle race promoter who was conducting an event within the park did not see the need to obtain a permit for his money making business. He even had one of his workers spray paint directional arrows and distances on the pavement of the Blue Ridge Parkway. When the promoter was initially contacted by a park ranger his immediate response was, “Who cares?” People can get so focused on their personal agendas and desires that they do not see the impact of their actions or in these cases the long term affects on the health of our National Parks.
Coming to grips with these attitudes to justify individuals ‘degradations of National Park resources was a challenge to say the least for an idealistic protector of those special places set aside for every citizen. The realization that every citizen did not care about the mission of the National Park Service was an important lesson to be learned and created a cynicism of sorts.
So, what can you do to show that you care about your National Parks?
· When visiting a park serve as an example to others show your respect for resources and your fellow visitors
Learn what you can about what threats that are adversely affecting our parks
· Become proactive in helping to protect our parks by educating family members and friends
· Volunteer in a park near you
· Learn about or even join an organization that supports National Parks. A partial list includes:
o The National Parks Foundation
o The National Parks and Conservation Association
o A Friends Group of a specific park such as the Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway – You will find that most areas have a group that assists in supporting the park
Most importantly you can let our politicians in Washington know that parks and protected areas are important to you. The organizations above can help you with that process.
And if you are a park ranger or other employee of the National Park Service or any other land management agency, keep doing what you do to protect those special places and the people who come to visit them. Remember that no matter how the cynicism may leak into your daily routine, there are still many of us out here who care deeply about what you do.