Bart Smith: Arches National Park and Canyonlands visit reinforces need to protect public lands | SteamboatToday.com

Bart Smith: Arches National Park and Canyonlands visit reinforces need to protect public lands

Bart Smith/Greeley Tribune

Sunset at Arches National Park.

We were deeply impressed last week at the dedication of some people to enjoy the spectacular view of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park in neighboring Utah.

To get up close, visitors need to hike up a rather steep rock slope for a mile and a half, then circle around 200 yards on a narrow ledge with a sharp drop-off with no guard rails or handholds to help out. Then there’s a little scramble at the top to a fairly steep bowl at the base of the arch itself.

As we took our time picking our way up and taking breaks we marveled at the number of parents packing kids on their backs. Most impressive, however, was a physically challenged man, who we guessed to be in his late 70s, with an awkward shuffling and unsteady gate. With a hiking pole in each hand he labored up the trail and negotiated the narrow walkway, then teetered down the steep trail back.

He was inspiring; I imagine most people in his condition might have enjoyed the views from a car, or gone out to an occasional nearby overlook.

In the three days we spent hiking around Arches and Canyonlands we were regularly impressed by the parents with kids or the elderly, enjoying the trails in two of our spectacular national parks.

Our visit rekindled my love affair with national parks and the determination to keep them and other protected lands such as national monuments free from sale, commercialization or development. There is an aggressive yet unsuccessful movement underway to privatize public land. No amount of money can replace these spectacular places that any of us can go and enjoy, without regard to bank account or physical ability.

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I’ve been fortunate to live near national parks all of my adult life. In Wyoming, we would hit Yellowstone and Grand Teton every few years, and I cherished Devil’s Tower National Monument since climbing it in my college days.

Crater Lake National Park was about an hour and a half away from our home in Oregon, and we were just a few more hours away from Redwood National Park in northern California. In Montana we lived near rugged Glacier National Park.

Here, soaring Rocky Mountain National Park is just a short drive. Colorado is blessed with three more national parks: Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Great Sand Dunes and Mesa Verde.

Many who want protections rolled back from public lands are driven by money. Some believe these lands are “locked up” to be seen only by backpackers. This argument can be quickly eliminated by a visit. There are tremendous views available at most every road pullout. Our experience in Moab and Canyonlands showed that many more scenes are available to people of any age and capability.

Canyonlands has a number of back roads accessible by four-wheel drive, mountain bikes and horseback riders, that lead to remote trails and campsites.

The latest threat to keeping public lands public comes from President Donald Trump’s recent executive order triggering a review of 21 years of national monument designations. These decisions were made only after years of study and include land that already was managed by the government.

Anyone who truly enjoys these areas and understands the need to set some of these special places aside for our grandchildren and their children needs to stay attentive to attempts to reduce protection. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue; the history of the National Parks System and the involvement by Congress proves that.

“There is nothing so American as our national parks. … The fundamental idea behind the parks … is that the country belongs to the people … for the enrichment of the lives of all of us, ” President Franklin D. Roosevelt, an early champion of our national parks.

Going to visit them is a great start. Toss away the TV remote, lace up the tennies and head out for a visit. Not in the best shape? Just grab a walking stick and a sandwich and take your time. This site lists national parks and monuments by state. Anyone over 62 years of age can buy a lifetime pass good at any national park for just $10.

Your friends on social media will marvel and like your photo posts and you’ll enjoy the wonderful calm and peacefulness that nature brings humans, no matter how many years removed from the wild.

Western author Wallace Stegner said it right: “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” I would add national monuments to that sentiment.

Bart Smith is general manager of The Greeley Publishing Co. and Fence Post Co. He can be reached at bsmith@greeleytribune.com or 970-392-4403.