I had great plans for my visit to One Square Inch of Silence in the Hoh Rainforest, in Washington’s Olympic National Park. I was going to write a great article about how rare are places of natural quiet, where man-made or mechanical noise does not intrude. How such places are critical for our wellbeing. I had waited at least three years to visit the spot. I had driven across the country. I had visited parks from Acadia in Maine to Glacier in Montana, but I was really waiting for this special one. I finally made it to the park… and it was closed.
This was as close as I could get to a picture that captured what I was hoping to see:
I much prefer open roads.
This post is about the closure of national parks on account of today’s announced government shut down. I’ve got to be fair and say that on the day I visited, it was not closed due to the government shutdown, but because storms were blowing trees down over the road. According to rangers, the closure was an extreme, rare measure, making it one of the only days that the park has ever closed. Until now, thanks to politicians.
Anyway, because of all the storms here in the Pacific Northwest, my plans were to take me farther south, to the Redwoods. Another place I have waited years to see. Redwood National Park. And it is now closed, not because of natural storms, but because of politics.
Thankfully, California state parks in the Redwoods region remain open. So I will be able to see some inspiring, ancient giants soon. But without access to such parks, I, along with thousands of others, would be S.O.L. in our search for respite. The fact is, that is happening right now to thousands, perhaps millions, of travelers from all around the world who have come to the United States because — and often specifically because — they want to see the natural wonders that this country harbors. Many countries throughout the world don’t have such protected natural places. And apparently, our protection of America’s natural places is not as important as, say, who deserves the title of Alpha-est of the Males on Capitol Hill. Such facts are disheartening.
Ironically, just as politics is wreaking havoc on protected places and the people those places employ, politics also helped give us these places. Special thanks to Teddy Roosevelt here, among many others. So I do have hope. Of course, I’m sure this government shut down won’t last long, and our precious park rangers and other National Park staff members will hopefully get the pay they deserve. But in the meantime, park gates remain closed, and we have far less access to places of respite when things like this happen.
I hope this illustrates just how important our National Parks really are. Without them, where would we spend those rare two weeks of vacation? Where would we take our kids to give them their first campfire experience? Where would we go to find a quiet place to escape the noise of “civilization” and endless racing? If we own no land or water as individuals, where would we hunt and fish or take pictures of animals in their home settings?
This government shutdown and the resulting park closures may not be permanent, but it certainly highlights the importance of protecting wild land from development and the insatiable thirst for turning land into profit.
I haven’t been able to catch up on more newsy posts about all the wonderful places I’ve visited because I’ve been in the wilderness a lot lately. No Internet. So apologies to those who have been waiting for more updates on my travels, although I have managed to occasionally make quick place-tag updates on my Facebook page. Anyway, while lack of Internet frustrates my modern brain, I’m thankful for those places that force me to settle into a more natural rhythm. I am passionate about protecting our access to wild places, and I am thankful for non-wild places from which I can distribute messages about the value wild places. And it takes noisy modern machinery to build roads to give us access to quiet places. Both of these worlds can work together. But it takes effort.
You don’t have to be a flaming liberal tree hugger to tell the government, with your camping dollars and Thank Yous to park rangers, that wild natural spaces are important to you and that you want them to stay wild. Also, to my fellow second-amendment supporters, remember that many, if not most, of the staunchest environmental protection advocates were and still are hunters, fishermen, and dirt-collar farmers. We all can come together to tell our representatives to represent our hoped for wilderness time.
I hope you’ll join me in being aware and spreading awareness of the value of our wildlands. They are being erased from the earth rapidly and being replaced by profit-making factories of all types. If we stay silent on these matters, we will have no place to find true silence.