Good People Doing Good Things — National Park Volunteers

As a result of the Trump government shutdown, some 800,000+ federal employees are either furloughed from their jobs, else are asked to continue working without immediate compensation and with only the hope of back pay at some elusive date in the future.  Among those who are on furlough are the employees of the national parks around the nation.Trash-overflowing.jpgWith nobody to empty trash, clean restrooms, move debris from public areas, the parks were, after nearly three weeks untended, falling into a state of disrepair.  But last week, some good people took notice.  Let me introduce you to just a few …

Mike Skelton is the owner of Yellowstone Wonders, a company that offers tours of Yellowstone National Park.  Last week, with the holidays in the rearview mirror, Mike noticed a serious buildup of trash in the park.yellowstone-4

“We all live here. When it gets down to it, it is our park and it belongs to all of us in this country.”

Yellowstone-3.jpgAnd with that, he gathered a few other local residents and got to work.  They brushed snow off entrances, cleaned toilets, replaced toilet paper and switched out garbage bags, and they’ll likely do it again most weekends, if the shutdown continues.  The first day, Saturday, Mr. Skelton was joined by about 15 volunteers, but the next day, Sunday, there were 40!  Some volunteers brought supplies from home or bought them along the way.yellowstone-2In addition to individuals lending a hand, dozens of small businesses located in proximity to Yellowstone National Park have all chipped in thousands of dollars to keep the park open and tidy during the winter tourist season … they even offer free pizza to the volunteers!

gsm-signIn Tennessee, Marc Newland and his 10-year-old daughter Erica have spent their days in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hiking the mountain trails with trash bags in hand so they can pick up litter along the way. gsm-3The Newlands have always been avid hikers, but when Marc told his daughter about how the shutdown would affect the mountain park, she suggested that they take it upon themselves to keep the trails tidy.

“Erica says that she would like to challenge other hikers to take one day off from getting in miles and impressive vista pics and instead, give back by grabbing a trash bag, heading to the park and collecting some litter!! These mountains give so much to so many people. Imagine if only a fraction of those people decided to give back to the mountains.”


Ever hear of Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (AMYA)?  It is a Maryland-based organization that regularly organizes community service cleaning efforts across the country, and presently they are mobilizing to clean up in Joshua Tree National Park, Everglades National Park, the National Mall, and Independence Hall in Philadelphia and Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio.


Joshua Tree National Park – California

At least 70 members of the group emptied overflowing trash cans, picked up piles of litter and swept the streets over the weekend.  Young.  Muslim.  Men.  The ones who so many call terrorists … are picking up trash in order to keep our national parks clean.  Think about that one for a minute, if you will.

These are but a few of the groups and individuals who are stepping up to the plate during the Trump shutdown to help keep things running smoothly.  Unfortunately, due to a weekend incident where park visitors damaged trees while driving off-road, Joshua Tree National Park is now closed to visitors.  Had park rangers been on the job, the incident likely would not have happened.

Nonetheless, there are thousands of people out there volunteering to pick up the slack left by the Trump shutdown, and I, for one, am grateful to them.  The parks belong to us all, and we should offer kudos to these fine volunteers for helping to take care of the parks so that we can continue to enjoy them.  Thank you ALL!!!

Thoughts on Preserving Federal Lands

yellowstone-4On March 1, 1872, Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the U.S., signed the bill creating Yellowstone National Park, America’s first and the world’s first such place, “set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” This move was intended to protect Yellowstone with its natural geysers, river canyons and waterfalls, from becoming commercialized by private profiteers as Niagara Falls had been turned into a “circus of amusements”.  In addition to providing benefit and enjoyment for the people, public lands shelter wildlife and provide watersheds that provide clean water to millions of people.

As the world becomes ever more over-populated, and large corporations seek even higher profits, there comes a call to remove large portions of land from federal protection.  There are a number of federal agencies that are tasked with protecting the approximately 640 million acres of federal, or public land in the United States, including:

  • National Park Service.
  • Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs.
  • Bureau of Land Management.
  • Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.
  • Bureau of Reclamation.
  • Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement.
  • Geological Survey.

Amid calls for selling public lands, or turning them over to the states to decide their fate, environmentalists are horrified at the thought of these lands being opened for mining, timbering, ranching and commercialization.  In January, in one of his more lucid moments, Donald Trump told Field & Stream magazine that he opposed divesting such holdings because “I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do.” If he were to stand by that, it would be one of his better positions.

yellowstone-2.jpegHowever, this week the news from Trump Tower is that he plans to nominate Cathy McMorris Rodgers as Secretary of the Interior, a move at odds with his earlier assertion. Rodgers is strongly in favor of developing the United States’ fossil fuel resources. She has also opposed federal ownership of public lands and voted to make it more difficult for the president to create national monuments. Rodgers, a U.S. Representative of the state of Washington, is the author of a bill that would have directed the Department of the Interior to sell off federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. Rodgers has repeatedly voted to limit or repeal key Obama administration climate and environmental regulations. She has also voted to expand offshore drilling and to stop the Interior Department from regulating hydraulic fracturing in states that already have their own fracking rules. On climate change, Ms. Rodgers is on record as saying, “scientific reports are inconclusive at best on human culpability for global warming.”

yellowstoneWhat exactly are federal, or public lands?  They are lands owned by you, me, and the other 319 million people in the U.S. They are there to be enjoyed by all, certainly, but also the protection they are afforded is crucial to the preservation of wildlife and the environment.  I don’t know about you, but I rather like knowing there are places left in this nation where we can go to “get away from it all” and enjoy nature.  We do not need more corporate structures, office buildings, factories, amusement parks and the like.  And we certainly do not need more mining and drilling operations decimating the landscape, destroying water resources and adding to the pollutants in the air.

The nomination of Cathy McMorris Rodgers is yet another of the “worst possible choices” Trump has made for his expanding list of advisors and cabinet members.  Once again, we must hope that Congress as a legislative body will make at least a few wise choices and deny Trump the right to destroy our nation by surrounding himself with those who intend more harm than good.

mined land.jpg

Once a beautiful mountain where trees grew tall and wildlife roamed free, this is how it looks after strip mining