Nick Kristof’s recent column commemorating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service made a crucial point: our public lands are one of our most democratic spaces. Along with a story about the rise and fall of Congressional support for the NPS system, he told a much more personal one, about hiking the John Muir Trail with his 18 year old daughter “in the handful of years in which she’s strong enough and [he’s] not yet decrepit.”
I know these years well. For the last decade of my dad’s life, ending during my 31st year, he and I backpacked or hiked annually on public lands throughout the West – New Mexico to Washington, many trips to Utah, even Guadalupe National Park in Texas. These trips were a highly-anticipated week for us to hike in humbling, breathtaking landscapes, explore lonely back roads, and talk – about our lives, and about this exceptional country.
To love this country – to have a stake in sustaining it – you have to know it. You have to get out into it, explore it, and experience it firsthand. And with both urban transit and public lands, it’s all about access.
My dad dedicated his career to improving cities, particularly their transit systems. In San Francisco, he was instrumental in the removal of the Embarcadero freeway and the redevelopment of the city’s waterfront. He loved the urban landscape, and he wanted to make it as functional – and accessible – as possible.
It was only in my 20’s that I began to grasp the connection between my dad’s commitment to urban planning and his love of hiking and backpacking. For me, the link between places like the Embarcadero and Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park began to crystallize. To love this country – to have a stake in sustaining it – you have to know it. You have to get out into it, explore it, and experience it firsthand. And with both urban transit and public lands, it’s all about access.
Applause to Nick Kristof for getting his daughter out on the John Muir Trail. Let’s all do our part to make sure that more daughters can get out there, and that “out there” is protected and accessible for generations to come. Happy Centennial to the National Parks!