On Centennial, Honoring the Legacy of National Parks for Veterans
This week, we celebrate 100 years since President Woodrow Wilson signed the law establishing the National Park Service, a historic moment for our country and our state. Home to the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest National Park, Prescott National Forest, and the fascinating Montezuma Castle National Monument, just north of Phoenix, we in Arizona know the value of protecting our country’s iconic natural beauty and cultural and historic sites. These places contribute to our quality of life, protect our history, and are a vital part of the state tourism and recreation economy.
As a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, I feel a deep connection to our country’s public lands. That’s a sentiment shared by many veterans. These are the places that we fought to defend. They are symbols of our country’s freedom and they are memorials to our fallen and to our history. To experience all of this, look no further than the jaw dropping views at the Grand Canyon to feel free, to the Statue of Liberty to reflect on our history, and to the Flight 93 National Memorial to quietly remember our country’s heroes.
It is our responsibility to not only celebrate the past 100 years but to also look ahead. What will the next 100 years hold for our national parks and other public lands?
Recently, I was proud to participate in the press conference that launched a first-of-its-kind collaboration of civil rights groups, veterans, and environmental justice, conservation and community organizations. I joined several of my Congressional colleagues in supporting the Next100 coalition’s call to urge President Obama to support a new vision for conservation that would focus on engaging our country’s diverse communities in our national parks and other public lands — from Latinos to Native Americans to our young people and our veterans.
Without the engagement of all Americans, we put at risk the legacy of our national parks and other public lands.
As the part of this effort, the Next 100 Coalition has also called for specific changes that will be welcome for veterans and all Americans, including enhanced engagement. The coalition has proposed special training for land management agency representatives on interacting with veterans who suffer from war-related traumas and to ensure that public actions and events do not negatively affect them.
Public lands are an important place for veterans who are dealing with both visible and invisible wounds of war. Many find ways to reconnect with family and friends in the great outdoors. Others find solace and calm in the peacefulness of hiking, hunting and fishing. Myself, I’ve often turned to our national parks when I need to retreat to nature during difficult times or when I need to reflect on the day-to-day issues I’m considering in Congress. We should ensure that our public lands are welcoming to our veterans, and all of our families.
I support these efforts and urge President Obama to do the same. He has made great strides in his time in office on public lands issues — from protecting new national monuments such as the César E. Chávez National Monument to establishing “Every Kid in a Park” — a program to ensure every fourth grader can visit parks for free, regardless of family circumstance. With the centennial of the National Park Service, he has an opportunity to build on this legacy. Let’s recommit to the conservation of our nation’s iconic public lands and national parks for another 100 years for the future generations of veterans and their families.