Dear Secretary Zinke

First, some context:

To quote from REI’s blog:

“Right now, the Department of the Interior, headed by Secretary Ryan Zinke, is undertaking an unprecedented review of 27 national monuments established by presidents from both parties since 1996, including the San Gabriel Mountains in California, Craters of the Moon in Idaho, and Bears Ears in Utah. More than 11 million acres of national public land are at stake.”

(You can read the rest of the REI blog post here.)

The Department of the Interior is currently gathering feedback in regard to this review. So if you want to see our national monuments protected, now is the time to speak up. You can do so via the REI form linked above, or you can find instructions on the Department of the Interior website. (The REI link is easier to use, though you do have to say you’re an REI member when filling it out.)

 

And now, for my actual post. Here is the letter I wrote:

Dear Secretary Zinke,

When I was sixteen years old, I got a brochure in the mail about a cross-country bus tour I could take over the summer. I hadn’t originally planned to go on the trip; I was going to spend one more summer at overnight camp instead. But each time I looked at the brochure, I became more convinced that I should get on that bus.

And do you know what drove me to make that choice? It wasn’t the visit to Disneyland or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was the Grand Canyon.

I saw so much of our country that summer, so many places I never would have visited otherwise. We spent July 4th in Texas and we ate beignets in New Orleans. I saw the corn fields in Iowa and potato fields in Idaho and a major league baseball game in Kansas City.

And I would have had none of these experiences had I not been drawn to the trip by the promise of a visit to the Grand Canyon.

And yes, it was just as amazing and awe-inspiring as I expected.

So were the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. So were the Badlands. I’d never seen anything like them.

In San Francisco, I was fascinated by what we saw at Alcatraz. In South Dakota, I was amazed by the faces carved into Mount Rushmore.

In Yellowstone, we got to see Old Faithful, but even better than that was another, smaller geyser that took us by surprise.

And since then, I haven’t stopped traveling. In college, I had a chance to visit Muir Woods, and I was so grateful that those awe-inspiring trees had not been cut down by loggers. I also got to visit Grand Teton National Park, and all I can say is, wow. To this day, I can still remember the glorious vista of those mountains.

And then there are the national monuments that are a part of my daily life. I am an itinerant teacher in the New York City Public Schools, and I travel from school to school each day to work with children. My schools are located in Downtown Manhattan, and I feel so fortunate that I am surrounded on a daily basis by reminders of what makes our country great. One of my favorite moments of the week is when I take the ferry to Governor’s Island to work with a student in a high school located there. As I walk past Castle Williams and past all of the old military buildings, I can’t help but feel that I am surrounded by history. It’s almost as if I am walking on hallowed ground. At other times during my work-week, I get to walk past Castle Clinton in the corner of Battery Park. And, of course, I can always take hope from the Statue of Liberty, standing proud in New York Harbor.

If only every American had such easy access to our national parks and national monuments.

These parks and monuments are national treasures. They promote tourism, and they get people to visit regions of the country they might otherwise never explore. But more than that, they are an inheritance that we can pass along to future generations, because of their beauty, because of the biodiversity they collectively contain, and because of the history they embody. Destroying a national park is also destroying a habitat. Allowing a national monument to be used by business interests detracts not only from the beauty of our country, but also from the opportunities available to teach the next generation about why they should work to preserve both the artifacts of our history and the many varied habitats that are scattered across our country, from coast to coast and beyond.

I’ve never been to the San Gabriel Mountains in California, Craters of the Moon in Idaho, or Bears Ears in Utah. But I’d like the chance to visit them someday. I’d like to see what makes them unique, and what I can take away from them. I’d like to be able to share that with my students.

I’d like to know that we live in a country where we preserve and protect our natural resources and our true national treasures.

These national parks and national monuments are a core part of what makes our country great. Please do everything in your power to preserve and protect them.

Sincerely,

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