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Writings from the Porch 

January 29, 2017

National Parks: Impermanence vs. Greed

Back in my late teens when I first started spending every available moment I could find in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I felt I was in a place that had been set aside forever, protected from human greed. The greed stacked up around the borders—and I spent years working in it—but it couldn’t cross. Then I started paying closer attention to politics and discovered that there is a segment of our population who would love to turn the Smokies and the other great lands into a means of putting money into private pockets. They could actually make it happen, and the starting point was the voting booth.

Then came the bizarre and definitively ignorant notion that science—particularly environmental science—is a liberal conspiracy (also, according to one office seeker, a Chinese hoax, but nobody who believes THAT would win an election, right?). Combining that sort of propaganda with the idea of returning to concepts that made America great again—concepts that include squeezing every last nickel possible out of the earth without concern for nature or the future—opens the door for marking the national parks as monuments of big government standing in the way of private profiteering (i.e. the full measure of capitalism, the parks being socialist). And now, just a couple of weeks into the new administration, that process has begun.

According to their Facebook page, the Alt National Park Service is “a growing coalition of 57 National Park Service employees from nine different National Parks. We formed to ensure the protection of the environment for future generations to come. We were forced into a media blackout, hiring freeze, policy changes, and possible reduction in funding. We are here to stand up and speak out against the current administration. We all refuse to be silenced while we watch everything we love crumble. Join the movement at www.altnps.org —Arches, Everglades, Cuyahoga Valley, Rocky Mountain, Shenandoah, Yosemite, Badlands, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

I have known many park rangers and workers over the years, and even a couple of park superintendents. In fact, I was introduced to the Smokies by one of its initial surveyors and public champions—John O. Morrell. I can say without reservation that all of these people were highly educated, dedicated, and hardworking servants for the good of the whole community—by which I mean the world. And most of them lived in inexpensive government housing despite having the sort of education and skills that could have landed them high paying jobs in the private sector. They chose to work for the park system—they didn’t get stuck with it. They were able to combine a paycheck with a passion, even though it meant doing without luxuries.

So now, when they are coming together to hold firm on the ideals not only of the national park system but also the ideals of freedom, I’m on their side. An easy choice comparable to having a park ranger ask me to help look for a lost child. No question—I’m with you.

“Cades Cove Winter” by Jim Gray

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