The National Park Service, which celebrates its 100th year Anniversary in 2016, has spent the last century preserving and managing America’s great wilderness areas.
One Delta College Biology Professor has a strong connection to the NPS. Since 2010 Dr. Paul Ustach has been a seasonal Interpretive Ranger Naturalist serving the public at Yosemite National Park.
“One of the reasons the parks were born was, were we becoming more and more industrialized and city oriented and people were losing that connection to remote wild places untouched by civilization. As a human being we need to get to these wild places. We’ve been domesticated and we need places to regain our sanity. I think that’s in our DNA,” said Ustach.
The sights and sounds and smells of vibrant living nature, activate parts of our human brain that recall a time when, as a species, we lived deep in its embrace. However not all people have an appreciative view of nature.
“Initially most people’s view of the wild is it’s a scary place. A place where you get lost, where something’s going to eat you or you are going to get stung, but the key is just getting them out there. Once they feel the peace, smell the flowers, hear the birds, most people gravitate to that right away,” he said. “We have these places where everybody can go, but a big challenge for the National Park Service is getting everyone to go out there. This year especially, they’re trying to make efforts to reach out to those people and get them out into the woods.”
Since the beginning of the National Park Service the range of duties expanded from the management and protection of wilderness areas to include the stewardship of cultural and historical treasures, for the enjoyment and enrichment of generations to come.
“The NPS system oversees 413 areas in American territories covering more than 84 million acres,” according to the National Park Service website, nps.gov. “These areas include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House.”
One of the first advocates for creating a National Park Service was the naturalist writer and conservationist John Muir.
As the Industrial age began to gain momentum, raiding the land for resources, there were some men like Muir who were farsighted enough to realize that some land needed to be protected from development and allowed to continue to flourish in a pristine state of wilderness.
In 1892 Muir founded the environmental preservation society known as the Sierra Club.
In 1903, a camping trip with Muir in the Yosemite Valley, prompted President Theodore Roosevelt, to incorporate the land into Yosemite National Park.
“Muir felt a spiritual connection to nature; he believed that mankind is just one part of an interconnected natural world, not its master, and that God is revealed through nature,” according a Public Broadcasting System article.
By writing about the wild places of the west in popular magazines of the day, Muir inspired the nation to support the idea of National Parks.
By 1916, 14 wilderness areas and 21 national monuments had been established, and a new organized system of managing them was needed.
On Aug. 25 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed what’s now known as the Organic Act, and the National Park Service was born.
In this day and age of deforestation pollution and global warming, it’s more important than ever to realize the value of preserving the wilderness, and one of the ways we can do this is by visiting our National Parks.
“The parks are for everybody and they’ll only survive with the support of everyone, not just a small segment of the population. So that’s why it’s important to get all of America involved. They’re our parks. They are there for all of us,” said Ustach.