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Saturday, March 9, 2013

What Parks Actually Protect

March 9, 2013
On September 11, 2001, I like everyone else was horrified by al Qaeda’s attack on America and destruction of the World Trade towers and the damage to the Pentagon.  We were barraged that day with countless replays of the tower’s collapse and a smoldering Department of Defense.  Like the towers it appeared the nation teetered on the edge of ruin.   But it survived.  Since that time, I like many others have thought about the possible next attack.  Will this one take down the nation and if so where is America’s Achilles heal? 
That question is at the center of my new novel, Unleashing Colter’s Hell a political thriller set in Yellowstone national park.  The story centers on a madman who has acquired an atomic bomb with a plan to detonate it the park.  Yellowstone is one of the world’s largest super volcanoes.  The geologic record shows that the Yellowstone volcano erupts roughly every 600,000 years.  These past eruptions have buried much the mid-west in tens of feet of ash.  The sun would have been blotted out for weeks and possibly casting the world into years of winter.  It’s a plan to literally destroy the United States.  But is it possible to actually destroy the country?
The park system and the park rangers who work in them protect some of the world’s most iconic scenery, as well as some of our most sacred historic and cultural sites.  Growing up, my parents took my brother and me nearly every summer to our national parks.  We made trips to Mount Rainier and Glacier, Yellowstone and Denali, the Grand Canyon, Gettysburg, and the Everglades. 
I didn’t always enjoy these trips.  It seemed to me that parks were little more than boring scenery and dusty old buildings.  Yet since then, I’ve spent years in our national parks.  I’ve trekked the rainforests of Olympic, tramped the canyons of Zion, walked the hallowed grounds of Shiloh, and hiked the coasts of Acadia.  Through the trips I’ve come to realize that the essence of America is actually protected in our park system, because America isn’t a place or even a people.  It’s an idea, one inscribed on the walls of the Jefferson memorial. It’s the simple idea that all humans are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Where there is at least one person who believes this “self-evident truth”, there is America. 
The destruction of the World Trade towers was a powerful image.  Yet, for me a far more powerful symbol was that of the Statue of Liberty silhouetted by the burning towers.  Lady Liberty stood in defiant rejection of al Qaeda’s attack!  Other parks such as Mount Rushmore and Independence Hall sent the same message.
So, is it possible for a terrorist or even a large terrorist organization to destroy America?  I believe Lincoln summed it up best when he said no foreign power or combination of foreign powers could by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years.  Rather as long as Americans hold simple truths and charge the park service to protect the ideas, hopes, and values we hold sacred, the country will endure.
Sean Smith is a former Yellowstone ranger and writes National Park thrillers from his home in Western Washington.  Follow him on Twitter: @parkthrillers or on Facebook:


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