I listened to Pres. Obama carefully on Tuesday evening when
he gave his State of the Union address. It was a good message, a message of
hope and enthusiasm. We can’t just cut, cut, cut. We have to grow the economy
and give people opportunities. That’s the American way and I agree. But he talked about jobs, jobs, job but not
one word on our public lands. It’s as if Americans just needed to work and eat,
work and eat.
John Muir said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,
places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength
to the body and soul.”
However, the President just talked about bread or jobs. According
to National Parks Conservation Association, national parks generate over $31 billion
for the local economy. When Congress feels the need to shut down the
government, the first thing they shut down is National Parks. As if parks were the
only nonessential federal service.
Poor and middle-class Americans may not have the money or opportunity
to recreate on private land. This is where public parks and forests come in. Compare
the entrance fee for Yosemite – $20 for a carload for seven days – with
Disneyworld where a one-day ticket is $89.
Many state parks are free and closer
to where people live. And of course, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is
free. The best bargain in America? An America the Beautiful Pass.
The next day Wednesday February 13, the President came to Asheville.
And for a few hours, the eyes of the world were on us. He toured the Linamar
plant, a Canadian auto parts manufacturer. We’re grateful that Linamar moved in
when Volvo left. They provide good jobs and make use of a large manufacturing
site. Then the President had a lunch of ribs and sides from 12 Bones.
But he had no time or thought about the natural surroundings
around him. The Blue Ridge Parkway was very close, Great Smoky Mountains
National Park not much further. Businesses move here partly because of the
beauty and accessibility of the outdoors.
The Asheville area has three National Parks (also Carl
Sandburg House) less than an hour’s drive. All three need our love, attention,
and money. All the volunteers in the world (and I’m one of them) can’t replace
properly funding our public lands. Outdoor professionals need to have enough
money in their budge to manage our parks.
So, President Obama, the next time you want to give a
speech of hope and opportunity, think of our public lands. They’re distinctly
American as well.