“You can’t capture it in a picture, you have to be there to see it.” — Tobin Schafer, 12, of Ohio
No truer words have been spoken by the young boy at the end of a clip NBC’s Nightly News aired about the National Parks trying to attract more young people to come and visit them. While Schafer might be younger than Millennials, his sentiment is one that more Millennials need to share in order for our National Parks system to persevere and survive for our grandchildren, and their grandchildren. According to a University of Idaho analysis of Park Service attendance, “back in 1996, at Death Valley National Park, almost a third of visitors were in their 20s. But in the last few years, that number has dropped to just 11% at Yosemite and 6% at Yellowstone”.
The question is why? Perhaps it’s because Millennials and younger generations are addicted to technology (says the one who tried to ‘check-in’ on Foursquare when I reached the summit of Mt. Washington in the White Mountains). Perhaps it’s because beginning with our generations, kids spent more time indoors playing on the computer and with video games than we sent running around outdoors just enjoying the freedom of binging a kid. Perhaps it’s because we take for granted that they have always been there, and assume they always will be (you know what assume means — it makes an @$$ out of me and u…). The problem is no one has yet to figure out the reason why.
The NPCA, National Parks Conservation Association, urges its members of all ages to support the parks and to spread the importance of our parks. Many might take for granted that these parks are National Parks and assume that they will always be parks, but in today’s economy, the parks system faces budget cuts and drastic changes. According to an email from the NPCA President, Thomas C. Kiernan, to NPCA members, “Congress has slashed the National Park Service budget in the last two years — that’s an operations shortfall of $500 to $600 million! And funding is now 14% below where it was 10 years ago. Plus, President Obama’s proposed budget for next year would slash $22 million more from park operations.” A decrease in funding will lead to less staff at the parks to ensure the safety of visitors, less upkeep of the parks to ensure they are clean for new visitors and to protect the environment of the parks along with other cuts.
Funding is not the only issue facing the parks at the moment. Our government is taking actions that will effect the parks and the future visits of those who plan to visit them. Right now, the Manassas National Battlefield in Virginia is facing a highway to be built right in the middle of the battlefield. Who wants to visit a battlefield to see cars flying by? If I wanted to do that, I’d just go sit in a rest stop on I-95. And last month, the House Even passes a bill that could allow hunting in many of the parks. Who wants to go see a recreation at Gettysburg and fear that a hunt fight get caught up in the is and leave someone accidentally injured?
Some Millennials are out there protecting the environment, but is what we’ve done enough to ensure the National Parks stay for generations to come? Or decades from now, will we be viewed at the ones who allowed the parks to disappear? It’s time now for Millennials to decide what legacy we will leave our parks, and to act on it.