Point of View

Preserve our parks and the Blue Ridge Parkway

October 19, 2013 

During the government shutdown there were numerous communications and accusations about our national parks. Although many of the specifics of the conversations were not productive and were primarily for political leverage, it brought to the forefront our collective commitment to our parks as a nation, as states, and as individuals.

The entire nation sat on the edge of our seats waiting for a solution to a crisis that has cost us all much more than just dollars. Economic woes due to the shutdown are real and lack of access to our parks generated disappointment and anger. Businesses suffered, communities lost, and travelers were turned away from our nation’s icons. The image of a child’s hand at a closed park gate is haunting.

But before we turn to the next crisis, before we flip the channel onto the next issue of the day, now is a time to reflect on what our parks mean to us as a nation, as states, as individuals and solidify our commitment to their future.

The United States was the first nation in the world to create a national park system. We have been an example to the world and now even the poorest nations have found ways to set aside the most beautiful parts of their countries for future generations. Our parks provide a haven for what we love: spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife, healthy forests and clean streams. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the best examples of a park with outstanding natural and cultural resources that thrill the heart and keep it healthy with miles of exceptional trails.

As with all critical issues there is ebb and flow and how we choose to respond to a crisis can strengthen or weaken our national parks. Although the shutdown was a terrible crisis for our parks, the communities that surround them and for the millions of visitors who were turned away at the gates, it is at least resolved for the moment. However, our national parks face a much deeper crisis.

Funding for our national parks has consistently declined for many years while infrastructure has crumbled. With the recent attention on national parks due to the shutdown, we have an opportunity to reach out to lawmakers, neighbors, and family to let them know how much we value our parks. The headlines will soon change, but our parks remain underfunded, understaffed, and saddled with a backlog of unmet needs.

The measure of us as a group or as individuals comes from how we handle difficult times and challenges and whether we stay alert when not in crisis. Even in the good times we must remain vigilant to ensure what we value most is supported in perpetuity. The community of stewards of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation choose to stand united as the people behind the parkway, as the enduring community ensuring that the Parkway will not only survive, but thrive in the years to come.

Carolyn Ward is CEO of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation

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