When was the last time you visited a state or national park? What did you do when you were there?
For many of us, the answer is probably something along the lines of: walked a trail, took some pictures, went home. We tend to enjoy these gorgeous, well-maintained, easily-accessed natural wonders without too much thought.
The National Park Service recently caught attention when it was banned from tweeting. People began calling park rangers the leaders of a resistance. Then other big news took over, wiping the entire ordeal from our minds.
But the problems facing our public lands and the overarching environmental and climate issues facing our planet aren’t going to go away.
We need to learn, we need to care, and we need to fight for awareness, attention, and change for issues that will have a significant impact on not just our own futures, but the futures of generations to come.The problems facing our public lands and the environment aren't going to go away. #VisitAmericasParks Click To Tweet
Getting started is simple: Visit America’s parks.
I love nature. Being surrounded by it gives me immense peace. I like to think that I also have an immense appreciation for nature, but I have come to realize that you need to do a little learning to truly appreciate something.
Last month, I decided to take action, so I took a guided walk with a fantastic naturalist guide at Honeymoon Island State Park, a barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
To be honest, I expected to be a little bored on a guided walk. Instead, I left the park with a sense of urgency and a lot of concerns. I went home and spent hours researching environmental issues and reaching out to friends with backgrounds in environmental science with questions.
Now, more than ever, we need to be reminded of how important the environment is to our existence. Over the course of two miles, I passed plants that we eat, plants we use to make glue, and plants being used in cancer research. Nature isn’t just pretty to look at. We need it.
A lesson in the dangers our parks face
It was also a close-to-home reminder of the impact humans have on our surroundings. I was shocked to learn the effects just building a causeway to the island had on the environment.
The fact Honeymoon Island exists as a state park is a miracle in itself. Developers originally wanted to fill in the sound separating the island from the mainland and build up the entire area with high-rises and hotels.
It’s worth noting this same issue is happening right now with Bear Ears National Monument. Not just spectacular landscapes, this land is sacred Native American ground. Obama made it a national monument last year, and now lawmakers are fighting to overturn this so they can sell and develop the land.
As our guide led us down the trail, I tried to imagine the beautiful nature surrounding me replaced by sinking condos. It made me appreciate the control we have to make a positive or negative impact on the environment.We have control over whether we make a positive or negative impact on the environment. #VisitAmericasParks Click To Tweet
Our responsibility to protect
Honeymoon Island is home to many threatened species, including the gopher tortoise, which is considered a “keystone” species. More than 300 other species rely on the tortoise’s burrows. Some make it their home, others — including owls, foxes, and armadillos — use the burrows as shelter during storms
In a way, humans are a keystone species with a choice: hold our ecosystems together or tear them apart.
Our guided walk ended with a glimpse of hope: a nest, where a pair of bald eagles tended to their eggs. The eagles have returned to this same nest every year since 2008. Their first set of eggs hatched in December, but the chicks didn’t make it. The eagles are trying again. We can keep trying, too.
It’s time to take action
This weekend, go to a national or state park. Take your boyfriend, your kids, your dog. Go alone.
Educate yourself. Appreciate the nature we are so fortunate to have. Appreciate the fact that people had the foresight and cared enough to save that land and preserve that habitat.
Go learn from the park rangers and the naturalists. Keep learning. Understand what we need to fight for and why it’s worth it. For the sake of our parks, our country, and our planet, we are going to need as many advocates as we can get.
Who cares if it’s in the news or not. Join the Park Ranger Rebellion.Join the Park Ranger Rebellion. #VisitAmericasParks this weekend. Click To Tweet