The Politics of Funding National Parks

The Politics of Funding National Parks

Voters seem much more in agreement about national parks than just about anything else, but the politics of funding our parks have left them with an enormous backlog of “deferred maintenance.” As a nation we have not been very good at putting our money where our mouth is. The immeasurable value of national parks, though, more than justifies an investment in their future.

Religion in Yellowstone

Religion in Yellowstone

When I mention that I am working on a history of religion in Yellowstone National Park, people are often puzzled. They usually say something like, “Is there religion in Yellowstone?” And then they might remark, “Oh, you must mean Native Americans.” “Yes,” I reply, “I will include something about how Native American people regarded the area, but my project is…

The First National Park? Maybe Not What You Thought

The First National Park? Maybe Not What You Thought

Journalists and many historians like to say that Yellowstone reigns as America’s, indeed the world’s, first national park. Yellowstone’s standing as originator of national parks, though, comes with some contingency. At least two parks came before Yellowstone, an easily ignored fact that sometimes shows up as a footnote in the accounts of more astute historians. Yosemite National Park, more widely…

100 Years of the National Park Service

100 Years of the National Park Service

Happy centennial day for the National Park Service! On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson took up his pen and made official the National Park Service Organic Act. To be clear, Wilson’s autograph did not originate our national parks system. That distinction goes to the establishment of Yellowstone in 1872, or to federal protection of Yosemite in 1864, or to…

Viewing the Underworld

Viewing the Underworld

Gazing into the blue-green depths through this watery portal to the underworld, we don’t see the fiery hell of our imagination, but instead only reflections of our own worlds. Our demons do not dwell in the boiling, stinking waters that ooze from the earth’s bowels. They dance instead in the forests and meadows that surround us. ♨

Religion in the National Parks

Religion in the National Parks

Religion has been an implied value in America’s national park idea from the time of the earliest nineteenth-century parks to the present. But the religious element usually remains buried in visitors’ private aesthetic responses to park experiences and attractions. Rarely do specific theological views appear in the parks, even in unofficial activities or park uses. Certainly, the National Park Service…

Celebrating a Government Agency

Celebrating a Government Agency

America celebrates the centennial of the National Park Service this year with some high-profile publicity for the nation’s parks. First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush are serving as honorary co-chairs of the National Park Service’s centennial celebration, highlighted by Find Your Park, a public awareness and education campaign celebrating the milestone centennial anniversary, specifically targeting millennials;…

Camping Nostalgia

Camping Nostalgia

I recently let go of a tent trailer that had come to me from my father. This trailer had been a special sort of place for me, a mobile habitation invested of nostalgia, memory, and hope. But too little time spent inside its canvas walls, too few miles pulling it along the memorable highways of scenic lands, had left me…