We Were Made to Enjoy Parks
MOST of us experience a feeling of peace and contentment when we can get away from the hustle and bustle of city life to enjoy the beauties of some natural setting. John Muir, a well-known early conservationist, noted: “Mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
So it should not surprise us that our Creator provided the first human pair a beautiful gardenlike park as a home. It occupied a portion of the region called Eden and so was called “the garden of Eden.” This gardenlike park was very large. This is shown by the fact that a river watering it separated and formed the headwaters of four major rivers and that “every tree desirable to one’s sight and good for food” was found in the garden.—Genesis 2:8-10, 15.
Until the present century, most of humankind lived where they could be refreshed by such “fountains of life.” But then people started cramming together into large cities, and wilderness areas began to be damaged and even ruined by man. The idea, therefore, to set aside areas as national parks has rightly been called “a grand and fabulous notion.” When and how did this notion originate?
The First National Parks
Its origin might be dated to 1870. After exploring the Yellowstone region of the United States, an expedition of men gathered around an evening campfire and reviewed the remarkable sights they had seen. One of them, Cornelius Hedges, later a governor of the Montana Territory, proposed that the region be preserved as a national park for the benefit of future generations. The others enthusiastically agreed. Two years later the idea won approval, and in 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill that made Yellowstone the world’s first national park.
Later, imitating the example of Yellowstone, a natural sanctuary in New South Wales, Australia, was created that is now known as the Royal National Park. Then just 13 years after Yellowstone was inaugurated, the world’s third national park was created in Alberta, Canada. It was interesting how this occurred.
Canada was then a new nation committed to a rail link through the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast. One day in November 1883, three railway workers exploring the wilderness near Fort Calgary came upon warm mineral water bubbling up from the earth. The value of these springs was realized, and legal battles to establish ownership rights followed.
Soon, however, the Canadian government stepped in. It could see that the area had the potential to draw tourists, and it was disinclined to give the rights to any private entrepreneurs. So, in 1885, the government passed an order-in-council decreeing that the area be set aside for “sanitary advantage to the public” and be “reserved from sale or settlement or squatting.” The original 10-square-mile [26 sq km] site has been enlarged to become part of a 2,564-square-mile [6,641 sq km] reserve known as Banff National Park.
Canada now has some 30 of such parks throughout the country, with a land area equal to that of England. The United States has more than 300 such areas in its National Park System, totaling well over twice the land area of England. Worldwide, the “grand and fabulous notion” of having national parks has caught on to such an extent that there are more than 2,000 protected areas in about 120 different countries.
A Change in Emphasis
Originally, the Banff area was, in effect, a spa for the privileged few. “Since we can’t export the scenery,” one early promoter stated, “we’ll have to import the tourists.” And tourists did come. In fact, tourists have so inundated some national parks that these are overcrowded and congested beyond belief. “The crowds,” said one family after visiting Yellowstone, “dismayed us—it was like the streets of Manhattan [New York City].” Rangers in some parks have had to be trained in police techniques and narcotics control.
Recently, however, there have been greater efforts to preserve the natural state of the parks. For example, in Yosemite, a famous California park, removal of such facilities as the commercial garage, gift shops, ice rinks, golf courses, tennis courts, and swimming pools has been an issue. Park managers are trying to provide recreational facilities that are compatible with long-range protection of the natural resources.
This is certainly true in Canada, as evidenced by the Parks Canada Policy of 1979. It states that the national parks are designed ‘to protect for all time representative natural areas and leave them unimpaired for future generations.’
One of the main functions of many parks is to protect the animals. In Italy the Gran Paradiso National Park, created in 1922, protects the ibex, once hunted to the verge of extinction. And the Gir Wild Life Sanctuary created in 1965 in India protects the last of the Asian lions that once roamed the country. An estimated 60 million bison, or buffalo, once roamed North America, but by 1900 the bison faced extinction. Now, as a result of protective measures, many thousands of them are found in such places as the large Wood Buffalo National Park.
Indeed, visiting national parks, hiking in wilderness areas, and seeing animals in their natural settings is refreshing to the spirit. It is, as it were, a fountain of life. But there are dangers to be aware of.