You probably heard somewhere along the way that last year was the Centennial celebration of the National Park Service. There was a lot of press coverage, which is great!
Our parks are beautiful, they tell amazing stories, and are a gateway to truly understanding what it means to be an American. The whirlwind of 2016 left me asking myself what we need for the next century of the Park Service, for our country.
First of all, we need more women.
It was covered significantly less than the centennial, but this year the harsh reality of the Park Service was brought to light when numerous women stepped forward to talk about their sexual harassment cases that took place when they were employed as rangers, and how poorly they were handled (if at all).
Tradition reigns among Park Rangers. A typical face welcoming you to your favorite national park or historic site is middle aged or older, white, and male.
There is a decent chance the majority of his career has been spent with the Park Service. But why is that? Let me break it down for you
This has had some super consequences, including a low number of female employees, an environment that is unwelcoming to female employees, and a workplace that is built on tradition (meaning that any sort of equal rights is apparently out of the question).
It doesn’t help that, even this year, the Park Service is more than willing to partner with the Boy Scouts of America, but haven’t gone anywhere near the Girl Scouts for similar career readiness and learning opportunities.
To all of the women who do work in the public sector, I applaud you.
You are strong, you are intelligent, and you are the future of this nation. I don’t know if I have the courage to do what you do.
You are role models for our girls, showing them that being smart doesn’t make you less attractive, what it means to be strong and to stand up for what you believe in, and that just because it always has been a boys club doesn’t mean it always will be.
Second, we need funding. Our National Parks are beautiful and generate billions of dollars in tourism each year for our economy.
So why, you may ask, does the Park Service have a 12 billion dollar maintenance backlog of projects that need to be done, but can’t, because the government is more interested in building a new fighter plane?
Additionally, if they aren’t willing to give parks the funds they need to operate, why can’t they advocate for themselves? For every major park in the country you can find a charitable partner who raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for them every year to do even the most simple of projects like trail maintenance and updating educational materials. If we want to tell our story, we must commit to doing it well.
Third, we need someone other than Donald Trump running our country. His interest in corporations and oil, and denial of climate change have left Park Service employees across the country questioning what the next four years of their life will look like, and what they will look like for America’s natural areas.
His pick for secretary of the Interior isn’t much better. They’re like ping pong balls, bouncing from one side of issues to the other.
What we need for our parks is a strong advocate. Someone who won’t give up. Someone who understands the foundation we come from, but also where we need to go.
As someone who has found solace in these wild places, has found herself there, battled mental illness and had small victories there, grown closer to her family, and ignited her curiosity there, we need our parks.
The election has left me pessimistic about the future of America’s land, but I truly hope that the people speak up. While we might never agree on who should’ve won on that Tuesday in November, we can unite on our love for our parks, our playground, our history, and we should. We must.