A summer home for the rest of us

by

Thomas Moran, Tower Creek, Yellowstone National Park, 1871

For the last several weeks, we have been deep in the frenetic editorial season for Land&People magazine. These busy times as we put together the magazine are even more difficult since the advent of LandNotes.   I can hear the blog whining like a neglected puppy: pet me, pet me, I need attention, too!

So it is a happy occurrence when a Land&People obligation and a blog posting line up. One of the stories we are working on for the next issue is about the importance of federal conservation. The article, by frequent land Land&People contributor Todd Wilkinson, discusses the reasons that the federal government should continue acquiring land—especially the private inholdings that dot our national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges.

Now comes an opinion piece by Timothy Egan on the New York Times blog that makes an eloquent case for the importance of these federal lands to all Americans. Egan, a former Times staffer and a friend of TPL, is a stylish and articulate writer. This piece—part sermon, part essay—takes as its central conceit that our national parks and other federal lands are “summer homes” for all of us.

During the bittersweet days of September light, when a low-angled sun is unwavering in its withdrawal, I always have trouble saying goodbye. How to shutter the season? How to close the summer home with a memory to last through the dark months?

Growing up, I looked with nose pressed against a mythic window of class at those who played in their waterfront compounds at Hayden Lake in Idaho. And when I came of age, I heard about the Hamptons and Cape Cod, Aspen and the San Juan Islands, where the zip code itself was supposed to guarantee happiness.

We had nothing to call a second home, and then I saw in a month’s travel that we had everything. Not long after I was old enough to cast my first vote, I realized that with American citizenship came a birthright to my summer home.

We have heard these paeans to the national parks and public lands before, of course, including in the Ken Burns documentary special on the parks last year. But this is a particularly lovely piece that makes the case yet again for the unique gift of land that has been passed down to all of us.

The immensity often gets lost in the superlatives stirred up by the most outrageously scenic sites. But in the aggregate, this is what every citizen owns: 530 million acres, of which 193 million are run by the Forest Service, 253 million by the Bureau of Land Management and 84 million by the National Park Service. The public land endowment is more than three times the size of France.

Worth the read. Now for me, it’s back to Land&People, available by free subscription here.

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