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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President:

It's 2016, and shortly you will deliver your final State of the Union. This speech provides an opportunity for you to set the tone and course for your last year in office.

Over the past seven years, under your leadership the country exited its worst economic recession since the great depression. It has seen expanded health care coverage for millions of Americans, and brought Osama Bin Laden to justice.

Yet, during your tenure the country has seen deep divisions. You ran on the hope that America is not separate states of blue and red, but rather one country of purple. It's a noble vision. However, it has yet been achieved.

Thankfully, there is still time to set the course toward unity. The answer lies in remembering our country's past and looking toward its future. In our past, the times of greatest unity occurred when the nation was confronted with significant challenge such as World War II or set a national purpose such as the Apollo Program.

Mr. President you have a similar opportunity before you to unite the American public.

The National Park System is described by some as America's best idea, its greatest gift to world culture. Each year, hundreds of millions of people flock to the national parks because they are responding to what national parks truly are, the physical manifestation of all that the country values and holds dear. They represent universal values of freedom, democracy, progress, and equality.  National Parks such as the Constitution Gardens  and Independence Hall physically embody our national goal to "form a more perfect union."

In August, the National Park Service will mark its 100th birthday.  Over the next several months the National Park Service will mark this anniversary with numerous celebrations, events, and parties. As President, this centennial presents numerous opportunities to articulate the truly American themes and values in a way that brings people together.

Specifically, I ask you to advocate for increased park funding, expanded resource protection, and the addition of new parks, especially large natural parks in the Western United States. I'd also encourage you to designate the Apollo landers as national monuments.

As a former park ranger, I saw first-hand the power national parks have to bring people together. At  evening programs, it was customary to ask people where they were from. Asking this question revealed the farther a person was from home the more people they were likely to identify with. For example, people from Boston would say they are from Massachusetts, while people from Dallas would claim Texas. Someday when people visit the lunar lander monuments and park rangers ask where they are from they will point to the earth and say "I'm from there." We need more reminders that we live on one planet, we share the same air and water. National Parks do just that. They reveal our shared humanity.

I encourage you Mr. President to make it a priority this last year in office to find and focus on unifying themes and efforts. America can be a country of purple, your last year in office can set us on a path to make this happen.


Sean Smith

Sean Smith is a former Yellowstone Ranger, and an award winning conservationist, TEDx speaker, and author. He writes national park thrillers from his home in the shadow of Mount Rainier National Park. To learn more about his thrillers click here or follow him on twitter: @parkthrillers

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