Preserving America’s Best Idea

 

“Today is a time ripe with uncertainty. Our world is rapidly changing. Species are disappearing 100-1000 times faster than would occur naturally. Our ancient grasslands and woodlands are disappearing and vast landscapes are being cut up to make way for roads and development. Yet, today perhaps more than ever, the fate and state of our planet lies in the crosshairs of global awareness. There is an undercurrent of stewardship and foresight guided policies that will without a doubt shape the planet that our kids and grandkids will inherit. There has been no better time to raise our voices, and use our pens and dollars as a tool that will actively shape the world we wish to leave behind.”

Mountain Hardwear ambassador, ecologist, and storyteller, Charles Post.

Part of this undercurrent of stewardship, as Charles puts it, is seen in the growing chorus of support for our country’s public lands – a part of our cultural identity that is under threat now more than ever before. “America’s best idea,” the designation and protection of our National Parks, placed protections on acres upon acres of hallowed public lands that have since attracted climbers, hikers, and all stripes of outdoor enthusiasts for decades. The following is a collection of photographs and stories from Charles on the National Parks that have made an impact on his life and what’s at stake if we fail to protect our nation’s public lands. 


 

A ram standing in Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali National Park, Alaska

In 1906, a hunter and naturalist named Charles Sheldon made his way into the Alaskan backcountry. Over the course of his first winter in the bush, Sheldon witnessed the relentless slaughter of dall sheep, a mountain dwelling sheep perfectly suited for the slopes of Alaska’s wildest mountains and monoliths. Sheldon was an astute observer of the natural world who forecasted an impending systematic decline of his beloved dall sheep should protective measures fail to be established. With keen interest and support from wilderness warrior, Teddy Roosevelt’s Boone and Crockett Club, he rushed back to Washington D.C. with a heavy heart to petition the U.S. Government to protect the remaining dall sheep of Denali. He dreamed of a future where these majestic climbers of alpine crags and brows that loom amongst the Alaskan sky would once again roam free from unbridled rifle barrels of commercial hunters feverishly fueling the flood of miners and settlers adamant about taming what wilderness lay between them and “progress”. On February 26, 1917 his petition was realized as a bill to protect 2 million acres of wilderness as Denali National Park, formerly known as Mount McKinley National Park. This is proof that one person can change the fate of wilderness and the wildlife who call these patches of Earth home.

Denali National Park arial view

The end of another epic day exploring just a sliver of Denali National Park and Preserve’s six million acres of protected lands (that’s bigger than the entire state of Massachusetts!). As you travel across this wild landscape it’s hard to ignore the thought of climate change. Studies have found this part of the globe is warming at an unprecedented rate, far more rapidly than much of the planet. In the past 50 years Alaska has warmed 3 degrees Fahrenheit, a drastic shift that is slowly undermining a fragile ecological balance here in the Alaskan tundra. We treat each day here as a snapshot in time along an ever-changing ecological baseline, a reality that makes you feel as if you’re observing something that may never happen the same way again.


 

A valley in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho 

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem encompasses a wild landscape considered one of the last remaining large, nearly intact ecosystems in the northern temperate zone on Earth. What that means in laymen terms is that this swath of wilderness, which encompasses some 22 million acres, and includes Yellowstone National Park, is a national treasure unlike any other. And to think that a simple idea, widely considered America’s best, has left one of the last best places for us to explore.

Upper Yellowstone falls, Yellowstone National Park

Upper Yellowstone falls is a crown jewel of America’s first National Park. To think Teddy Roosevelt skied this very canyon as President in 1903 and fished the river below when food stores dwindled upon returning from a hunting trip in the region years prior speaks to the power of foresight. After all, it was Teddy Roosevelt who followed in the footsteps of President Ulysses S. Grant, who in 1872 in the wake of the American Civil War, established Yellowstone National Park, which triggered a wave of conservation championed by Teddy years later.


 

A deer buck in Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park, California

I unpeeled my warm sleeping bag, quietly slipped out of my tent tucked away in Redwood National Park and back into the forest. Surrounded by some of the world’s tallest and largest trees, I weaved between ancient columns, following an acoustic trail. Here, in these temperate rainforests the sound of wilderness is synonymous with the dawn call of a Roosevelt elk, its sharp, piercing symphony a testament to the wildness of this place.


 

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Situated at the confluence of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains is Great Sand Dunes National Park, home to Ranchlands Zapata Ranch where stewardship guides an 103,000 acre ranch into the future with this simple conviction by Ranchlands founder and CEO, Duke Phillips III, “while beef is often considered the product of ranching, conservation is the product of Ranchlands.” What a place to call home.

A heard of bison in Great Sand Dunes National Park

Bison have grazed these high plains for millennia. The vast herds that once roamed from Canada to Mexico have mostly disappeared save for a few remnant conservation herds that remain an ecological keystone amongst the sea of bunchgrass, sage, cacti and cottonwoods. In 1839, a man named Thomas Farnham rode through a herd of bison along the Santa Fe Trail for 3 days for nearly 45 miles. Some years later, in the summer of 1859, Luke Vorrhees rode from South Platte River to Pawnee Buttes in Nebraska, a route which extended some 200 miles, during which he passed through one vast herd of bison. In 1871, Colonel R.I. Dodge traveled along the Arkansas River through an immense herd of bison estimated to have been 50 miles long.  Today, large populations exist as fragments of the massive herds that once peppered North America. Yet without a rich community conservation and foresight minded stewards like Ranchlands, scenes like this may have been lost forever.


 

This summer, as the Department of the Interior began their review of 27 National Monuments designated or expanded since 1996 under the Antiquities Act of 1906, more than 1.5 million people submitted comments to the Department of the Interior and made their voices heard. It marked a moment ripe with opportunity to influence our collective swing of the axe and signature that will represent the mark we’ve left on the land. While we await the results from the review, one thing is clear: this is far from over. Let’s use our voices to protect America’s best idea: public lands protected in perpetuity. Learn more, take action and contact your local representative and urge them to help preserve our public lands.

 

Charles Post looking to the horizon

Charles Post, photographed by Forest Woodward

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