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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A More Perfect Union

Manzanar National Historic Site
It seems to be popular sport these days for those on both the left and right to talk down their country and its future. The left points to racism and gun violence as obvious evidence of our national sin. While the right counters it's an overreaching federal government and international terrorism that signals the country's failure.

But the only way one can truly make this claim is to ignore American history, to be truly ignorant of where we have been and where the country is likely to go.

What does this have to do with national parks, one might ask. When one mentions the term national park, the vast majority of people think of places like Yellowstone and Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Everglades.  National Parks are the location of countless family vacations, where cherished memories are made. National Parks are home to treasured wildlife and spectacular scenery.

If this is all anyone thinks of parks then they have served their purpose. Yet, parks are much more.  National Parks surely tell and protect the positive aspects of our nation's history. But America's story is a complicated one.

Over our more than 240 year history, Americans have made progress such as slavery's abolition, the extension of the franchise to women, and civil rights, and environmental protection. We have established parks that rightly commemorate these accomplishments.

However, America's progress has not been a straight path. We have stumbled and fallen short of the mark. The United States forcibly removed Native Americans from their homes. During World War II, we interred thousands of Americans in camps. At our nation's birth, we enslaved millions condemning countless to a life of toil and misery, and led massacres against women and children.

These are true black marks on America's historical record. 

However, unlike most other countries, America doesn't shy away from its dark stories. Rather, we are a people who want to remember these dark chapters. We learn the lessons of these stories, so that we never repeat these mistakes.

America's founding document is the Constitution. It's opening statement, called the preamble, sets our central goal as "to form a more perfect union." Note the constitution doesn't say the country will form "a perfect union," a noun, a destination. Rather, our purpose is to "form a more perfect union," a verb, it's a process.

This goal is a double edged sword. On the one hand, America will never reach perfection. There is no promised land. Anyone expecting perfection will be disappointed. However, on the other as long as we continue to strive toward perfection, toward bettering ourselves, we attain the goal the founders set for us.

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

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Please Designate the Apollo Landers as National Monuments

Please help add the Apollo landers to the national park system. Add your name to a petition asking
President Obama to designate the landers as national monuments.
This July 20th marks an important anniversary.  Sadly many will allow the day to pass without so much as an understanding of the importance of this date in world history. It marks the date of what many of described as the greatest technological achievement in world history. I'd drop the qualifier technological and call it humanities greatest moment, the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Why is this landing so important? Aside from the obvious engineering and technological achievements, for me its the political and societal hurdles that had to be overcome that are more impressive.

In 1961, President Kennedy challenged the United States to land a human on the moon and return him safely to earth before the end of the decade.  To us today this seems like a simple goal, easily attainable.  Yet it should be remembered that at the time Kennedy made this challenge America had only launched one person into space and only for 15 minutes. That's like someone climbing a local hill and saying within nine years, they would be the first to climb Mount Everest. It's almost laughable. In fact, going to the moon was as difficult as America's construction of the Panama Canal or it's building the atomic bomb.

And yet, with a clear goal, deadline, and political will the impossible happened, America landed not one but 12 people on the moon.

In the 47 years since America's landing on the moon, the United States' space program has languished. In fact, the nation's ability to launch astronauts into space is totally dependent upon the Russians. Meanwhile, private companies like Space X and countries such as China are ramping up their space efforts. It's likely people will soon return to the moon.

When that happens, the Apollo lander sites may be at risk of salvage, vandalism, or looting. Moreover, these sites are as important to human history as the prehistoric footprints found at Laetoli in Tanzania. As such, they Apollo sites are worthy of federal protection.

In 1906 Congress passed the Antiquities Act  which authorizes the President to designate federal property or territory as National Monuments. This property must be of historic or scientific significance.  The Apollo landers meet all three of these criteria. 

In 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt was the first president to use the Antiquities Act when he made Devil's Tower in Northeaster Wyoming at national monument. Since then nearly every president has used the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments, many of which later were elevated to national parks. 

President Obama has a unique opportunity before him. He can be the first president to designate a national monument on another heavenly body. This would set the precedent of conserving human history, scientific advancement, and the environment off planet earth.  With a simple stroke of the pen Obama would be able to place his conservation record among those such as T.R., Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter. Moreover, this designation will commemorate and send the hopeful message that humanity can make great leaps in progress, it just takes clear goals, set deadlines, and political will.

Mr. President please take this opportunity to designate the physical equipment of the six Apollo lander sites as national monuments. These sites should be added to the list of national park sites and jointly managed by the National Park Service and National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Please visit the following link and add your name to the growing list who support making the landers national monuments!

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

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Happy Birthday Mom

As most of my fans know my parents made it a priority to take my brother and I to national parks. We traveled to parks from New York's Statute of Liberty to Arizona's Grand Canyon.  We also spent time in Florida's Everglades and Alaska's Denali. Although I didn't always appreciate them at the time, those trips are some of my most cherished memories.

In 1972, we moved to Alaska. To make the move, we bought a Ford Truck and Camper. Over the next 12 years we put thousands of miles on the truck. We spent countless nights around campfires and toasting marshmallows and regaling the family with tales of our days adventure.

These camping trips in America's wilderness away from just about everyone else in the world, deeply bonded our family. 

I now have a family of my own and have come to realize how much work and effort goes into a family camping trip. My dad, and especially my mom made these trips appear effortless and with minimal drama. I've come to appreciate how much my mom and dad did to make these trips adventures that I'll never forget.

My mom during these trips planned all our meals, carried heavy backpacks, packed the camper, shared the driving and often put her family's needs ahead of her own. Oh, yeah and she often went on these trips with perfect hair and style.

All of the pictures included for this blog post were taken long before smart phones and selfies. As such, someone had to be the camera person. Guess what? That camera person was often my mom. My brother, father and I are in the lion's share of the camping pictures, which makes the ones I do have of my mom all the more precious.

Mom your work at these, and countless other times of my life didn't go unnoticed. Your efforts if not at the time, are now much appreciated. You set an example that I now try to emulate with my family.

I hope you have a very happy birthday. Let's plan a trip to a national park soon!
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