Protecting Our Public Estate
Meier, Joel, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
The United States is fortunate to have some of the world's most magnificent outdoor recreation resources. Our national parks, forests, wilderness areas, wildlife preserves, recreation areas, and other federally mandated natural and cultural resources have been set aside anti managed for the benefit of all. The tact is, our society has taken tot granted that these outstanding resources and the agencies that manage them will always exist. However, despite rising popularity and increased use of these magnificent outdoor recreation resources over the past 25 years, they are certainly at risk today. The potential loss of such valuable national treasures should be a major concern to all of us in the recreation, park resources, and leisure services profession.
To get a better sense of the present situation, this article first examines the history of the conservation movement in America. Following that, it explores contemporary events and challenges facing our natural resources, and concludes by focusing on the responsibilities that the parks anti recreation profession has in respect to dealing with these issues and concerns.
The Conservation Movement in America
The environmental movement in America began in the 1800s, and it was a long, slow revolution in values of which contemporary environmentalism is a consequence and a continuation. Still in transition is the notion that humans have a dependence on the earth and have a responsibility to it. Author Wallace Stegner (1992) wrote:
Values, both those that we approve and
those that we don't, have roots as deep
as creosote rings, and live as long, and
grow as slowly. Every action is an idea
before it is an action, and perhaps a
feeling before it is an idea, and every
idea rests upon other ideas that have
preceded it in time. (p. 117)
He then applies this concept of value formulation to the modern environmental movement: This movement, he says, "... derives pretty directly from the nineteenth-century travelers, philosophers, artists, writers, divines, natural historians, and what Time has called 'upper-class bird-watchers'...." (p. 117).
As far back as 1851, Henry David Thoreau anticipated the urban-open-space idea by suggesting that every community should have its patch of woods where people could refresh themselves. His notion of nature as having healing powers has now been revealed as truth.
While Thoreau was an early spokesperson for open space and a life close to nature, George Perkins Marsh was the first to relate the values of wilderness to ecological principles. In his book, Man and Nature (1965), first published in 1864, then reissued in revised form in 1874 as The Earth as Modified by Human Action (1970), Marsh articulated the concept dealing with the connectedness of the things that we now call the web of life. He spoke out against faith in an inexhaustible American continent, and his writings pointed toward the potentially irrevocable damage to what we now call the ecosystem. He also was one of the early spokespersons for the recreational values associated with keeping a large portion of American soil in its "primitive condition." Such a preserve could serve as "a garden for the recreation of the lover of nature and an asylum where indigenous trees, told humble plant that loves the shade, and fish and foul and four-footed beast, may dwell and perpetuate their kind ...." (1965, pp. 203-204).
Marsh's writings heightened the awareness of a concerned few who, in 1875, formed the American Forestry Association (AFA). The AFA ultimately influenced public opinion leading to preservation legislation that authorized the president to establish forest reserves. Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, and Theodore Roosevelt took full advantage of the law, and collectively put 43 million acres of forests into the Public Domain. …