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Election results take nation ‘Forward!’ on national parks

Audrey Peterman

Election results take nation ‘Forward!’ on national parks

By Audrey Peterman


    From the national parks side of things – my area of expertise – I am happy to report that “Forward!” is not just a slogan in the newly re-elected Obama Administration, but an actual on-the-ground movement.

    Why am I so elated today, besides the fact that I believe we dodged a bullet last week? (A Romney administration would arguably have been catastrophic for our publicly-owned lands system, since the governor opined that he did not know “why the government owns so much land!”) I’m overjoyed because I recently learned that the National Park Service (NPS) intends to launch a public information campaign much like we’ve been advocating for the past 17 years.

    Finally, eventually, we are going to have a National Parks campaign, where Americans will see in their living rooms the supernatural beauty, history, poetry, romance and triumph that we have in the NPS and which I describe in my new book, Our True Nature: Finding a Zest for Life in the National Park System.

    For many years we were told by people in multiple different administrations that the Park Service’s charter specifically forbids advertising. I found this curious since the Service’s mandate issued in 1916 is to “. . . promote and regulate the use of …national parks, monuments and reservations . . . to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. . .”

    How can you possibly carry out the mission to ‘promote’ the parks without being able to tell people they exist? And when is “public information” the same as advertising, especially when the majority of Americans of African and Hispanic descent specifically state that they do not utilize the parks because they know little about them and don’t feel invited? I’ve asked those questions so many times that I’ve sometimes felt like a broken record, though that did not keep me from continuing to raise them.

    Now I am thrilled to find that the NPS and its congressionally-chartered arm – the National Park Foundation (NPF) – are in talks with a big marketing firm about how to get the message of the parks to the American people. Yaaay! I truly believe that the parks can transform our relationship with each other, just as they transformed my life. As I state in the book: I count my life now in terms of “BP” & “AP” – Before Parks and After Parks. Everything about my “BP” life pales in comparison to my “AP” life, despite growing up on one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, and gawking at the ornate architectural wonders of Europe before I ever set foot in a national park.

    Expanding the constituency of people who know, love and support the parks is vital not only for those benefits, but for the very survival of our NPS. The Obama Administration has been a conservative steward of our resources – President Obama named three new units to the Park System, using his Executive authority. But the only way to assure the parks’ survival into the future is when people love and support them.              

    It is not enough to have the same small sector of people working amongst ourselves to protect our sacred spaces. I want to know that there are millions of new park lovers that we can call on to send an e-mail to their congressperson or to meet them in their home office and talk about the value of the parks in their lives.

    For our natural treasures to fulfill their purpose of inspiring and “recreating” us, they must become better known to the diverse public. As we move towards 2016 and the 100th anniversary celebrations of the NPS, we deserve a park system that is inclusive and looks more like today’s America than the monochromatic, losing side in the last elections.

    Kudos to the leadership that finally gets this and is prepared to act on it and kudos to our country for moving Forward, not back.

    (Audrey Peterman is a national-award winning environmentalist, writer and speaker living in Fort Lauderdale. Her books are available at her at


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