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Readings for the National Park Service Centennial

Celebrate the legacy of the National Park system

Read in Ned June 26, 2016

By Tom Lambrecht 

Centennials are always special occasions and 2016 will mark a very special one for fans of our National Park system. The first western National Parks, Yosemite (established in 1864) and Yellowstone (1872) were administered and patrolled by the US Army. As the Park system grew, the idea of having a single agency dedicated to its management evolved and on August 25th, 1916, Woodrow Wilson signed into law the bill authorizing the creation of the National Park Service. That National Park vision has expanded from the preservation of scenic wild areas to sites of military, historic and archaeological significance.

The Nederland Community Library has added three new books that celebrate this legacy. These range from the philosophical to the historical to a travel guide, but all three titles manage to blur these rigid classifications, making for immersive reading.

The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks is the latest book by conservationist/activist Terry Tempest Williams and brings her very personal writing style to focus on a dozen sites in the National Park System. The last volume of hers that I completed, Refuge – An Unnatural History of Family and Place, was an intimate, almost naked narrative of the deaths of her mother and grandmother set against the backdrop of the natural history of Great Salt Lake. The Hour of Land employs varied literary techniques including dialogues with her father, letters written, both sent and unsent and even extended verse to set down her impressions. My feeling is these contrasts make the book more appealing than some of her earlier works, which I (regrettably) left unfinished.
There are myriad guidebooks dedicated to the National Parks and A Thinking Person’s Guide to America’s National Parks is yet another. However, it goes far beyond the genre’s “Don’t miss the Silver Grotto at the 20.2 mile pullout” in the twenty-three short essays contained in its pages. Relevant discussions of the attractions, the history, the inevitable controversies and the delicate question of stewardship are interspersed with excellent photographs and though not a “guidebook” in the strictest sense, it serves nicely to whet one’s appetite for a road trip.

The final title, Douglas Brinkley’s Rightful Heritage is a weighty (744 pages) chronicle of the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt with emphasis on Roosevelt’s contributions to conservation. Brinkley also authored The Wilderness Warrior, a similar profile of Theodore Roosevelt, a New York Times bestseller and even more imposing at over 900 pages. The reader shouldn’t let that be a deterrent for Brinkley’s writing style is utterly engaging as he draws his narrative from a dizzying array (over a hundred pages of notes, acknowledgements and appendices alone) of sources. Particularly interesting are the formation and achievements of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the portrayal of Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes which nearly constitutes a biography of its own. Though Franklin’s conservation legacy is frequently considered to be overshadowed by  that of distant cousin Teddy, a reading of Rightful Heritage will decisively change that perception.

Hopefully you’ll take an opportunity to indulge in one of these good reads and then follow the spirit, if not the literal advice of Ed Abbey who wrote his classic Desert Solitaire while working as a ranger in Arches National Park:  “A venturesome minority will always be eager to set off on their own, and no obstacles should be placed in their path; let them take risks, for godsake, let them get lost, sunburnt, stranded, drowned, eaten by bears, buried alive under avalanches – that is the right and privilege of any free American.”

Tom Lambrecht is a Library Assistant at the Nederland Community Library.

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