In light of the Executive Branch of the government directing the new Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, to review recent monument designations, we’ve been reflecting on the essential value of national monuments within the National Parks Service, We prefer Parks & Points be apolitical, focusing on the beauty and importance of public lands — wonder and passion is what inspired us to start Parks & Points, and we celebrate public lands within the content we publish. But the present moment begs us to reflect more deliberately and pointedly, because these monuments are irreplaceable and essential. Losing them would be a misstep for our culture. The value we as a society place on learning from history, and on cultural understanding, feels to be in jeopardy.
On a recent road trip to Arizona and New Mexico, we visited seven different national monuments and one national park. The monuments were comparably breathtaking to any celebrated national park, though less crowded. In our few hours at El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico, we explored caves (we hoped to see a bat, though was not to be this time), lava fields, and trails — we photographed colorful spring wildflowers and enjoyed the land that “We the People” own and can enjoy. At Sunset Crater we marveled at the still dark and ashy terrain stained by volcanic eruptions centuries ago, and at Walnut Canyon we were struck silent by a six-hundred foot gape in the earth that nestles cave dwellings of the early Sinagua people. In fact, the one national park we visited on our recent trip, Petrified Forest, started out as a national monument. The monument designation is an important and critical step to securing land and preserving it for public enrichment and enjoyment — it has on more than one occasion been the point of entry to the NPS system, followed by a national park designation in more than one instance, including Acadia and Zion National Parks among many others. And we’d challenge anyone to find a national park that isn’t loved by visitors. Consider this — the Statue of Liberty is a national monument.
The national monuments that are currently up for review may not see the same number of visitors as some of their more famous cousins within the National Parks Service system, however these lands are vital to our history as a nation and sense of purpose as a culture. We’ve come to place in our history where our public lands are valued for different reasons by different parties. “Protected” is no longer an absolute. And now, as a culture, as a society, we need to decide whether to maintain our public lands for recreation, exploration, learning, and science or whether to cede them to private interests for resource harvesting and unregulated use. We hope you will join Parks & Points in urging Secretary Zinke to keep the designations as they are — the value of our public lands is too great to be in the hands of the few.
You can visit www.monumentsforall.org for more information, and to register your reflections on the importance of these sites. The federal comment period runs through July 10 and we do hope you’ll take some time to make your voice heard.