The spotlight's on our National Parks this week as National Geographic's current issue pays tribute to our redwoods and Ken Burns' "The National Parks andndash; America's Best Idea" six-part series began Sunday night. I watched the first episode twice because I was amazed by how much I didn't know about the history of our National Parks. I say "our" to emphasize the genuine sense of ownership that I'm feeling now.
It was right here in California in 1864 that the idea "that our most magnificent natural wonders should be owned by all of us and preserved by all of us" became reality when Yosemite Valley was set aside as park land establishing the model for the future National Park System. "For the first time in human history," Burns says, "land was set aside not for the pleasure of kings and noblemen and the very, very rich, but for everybody, for all time."
Think about it. This land is your land, this land is my land. We are stakeholders in these parks. The parks are not merely "public lands." They can be your back yard, your summer home, your Saturday adventure, your meditation room and the family vacation you'll never forget.
In August 1995 a visit to Glacier National Park gave me the opportunity to spend a week with my youngest son against a backdrop of nature in its purest form. Dana was 13 and had just studied the National Parks in school. My parents took me to the Grand Canyon when I was his age and I had loved it, so I wanted to do the same for him.
We chose Glacier for several reasons: I wanted to avoid extreme
heat; Dana wanted to ride the train; and this Montana park flows into
Canada adding an international twist.
We boarded Amtrak's Empire Builder in Portland. I checked today and
discovered the schedule hasn't changed. The train pulls out of
Portland's Union Station at 4:45 p.m. then crosses the Willamette River
and the Oregon Slough into Vancouver. It disappears into a 2,369-foot
tunnel through the Cascade Range then skirts the Bonneville Dam, the
Columbia Gorge, White Salmon, Mt. Hood and finally approaches Spokane
where it joins the Seattle train headed to St. Paul-Minneapolis and
While we slept we crossed into Mountain Time. We woke to a brilliant
sunrise somewhere in Montana. About 17 hours after leaving Portland we
disembarked at the Glacier Park Station.
The station, built in 1913, sits next to the entrance to the
impressive Glacier Park Lodge constructed with 600-year-old timber. We
didn't stay there, though. I rented a car across from the station and
drove to a more affordable motel nearby.
With 50 "live" glaciers, 10,000-foot mountain peaks, numerous swift
water lakes, over 700 miles of hiking trails and the incredible
Going-to-the-Sun Road that crosses the Continental Divide, the park
kept us busy. Wildflowers and wildlife were abundant in August and
although we never saw a grizzly we managed to be just a few minutes
behind two different sightings.
One morning we drove north into Canada's Waterton Lakes National
Park established in 1895. In 1932 the two parks joined as the
Waterton/Glacier International Peace Park thanks to the efforts of
Congress, the Canadian Parliament and Rotary International of Alberta
and Montana (way to go, Rotary!).
When I dug out the photo album today, I smiled at that summer 14
years ago when Dana and I--explorers, adventurers and land barons of
the park that President Taft preserved for us back in 1910 andndash; spent a
week surveying our property together. Memories are the deed of trust.
If you're thinking about a trip to one of your parks, consider going
to Glacier. By train, it's $176 (before the senior discount) round trip
Reach Michele Thomas, The Daily Triplicate's publisher, at 464-2141, or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.