National public lands offer enjoyment for everyone

September 26, 2010|By CELESTE MAIORANA / Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Chromatic Pool, a hot spring in Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin, is just one of the many unusual sights that visitors can see at our national parks.
Photo by Celeste Maiorana,

When settlers first came to this land, they found a bounty that seemed inexhaustible.

But it was not.

By the second half of the 1800s, much of the forest had been cleared, and many animals, including bison, elk and deer, hunted to near extinction in places where they were once abundant.

In 1872, Congress created our first national park, Yellowstone, setting it aside forever for the enjoyment of all. In the following decades much more land was set aside for parks, wilderness and national forests.

Today, our national public land consists of 530 million acres, of which 193 million (about the size of Texas) are run by the Forest Service, 253 million by the Bureau of Land Management (which includes more than 17,000 miles of fish hatcheries) and 84 million by the National Park Service.

These lands have conserved ecosystems and protected many species from extinction. They are also places of such stunning beauty and unique features that a visiting citizen will feel incredibly lucky and very wealthy to own such a place.


While our public lands are an immeasurably valuable resource, they need constant renewed commitment to their existence and wellbeing. There are many challenges from visitation, surrounding development, commercial exploitation, invasive species, and climate change.

Those seeking to represent us in government often promise to devote themselves to our narrow personal interests. It is important to remember that you benefit directly from the wealth of our nation that is held in common.

You can help parks simply by visiting them and becoming acquainted with their beauty, benefits, and challenges. You also can let your elected representatives know that public lands at all levels - community, state, and national - are important to you, and you expect them to be properly funded so that they can exist into the indefinite future.

But, mostly, you should visit your parks. Each visit is a lesson in history as well as nature. A visit shows us that we are just one species among many, present and past, great and small, all connected. That the more room we make in our lives for more species and healthy, diverse ecosystems, the wealthier we are, collectively and individually.

By visiting our parks and learning more about natural systems, we develop ideas on how our yards, gardens, woodlots, and community areas can do their part to improve the health of our planet's ecosystem.

All of our actions have consequences. Some of these are inevitably burdensome to the earth, but we can choose to lessen that burden and to promote complex, flexible habitats in our daily lives. Enriching nature enriches people, present and future.

Celeste Maiorana is a member of the Washington County Forest Conservancy District Board, which promotes forest conservation in Washington County. For more information, please visit the Board's website at .

Online resources

o National Park Service:

o Maryland Park Service:

o Washington County:

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