My husband and I have been talking about taking the kids to Glacier National Park every summer since they were born. Living in Montana, we suffer from the backyard curse – when you live so close to something so spectacular, it’s easy to find yourself never actually going. Each summer we say, “I guess we will try to go next year.”
This year, we’ve picked a date and made our reservations. There seems to be a greater sense of urgency now. It’s not just the fact the kids are getting older, and we realize it won’t be long before their days are filled with school and summer camps. We need to go because I want them to actually see a glacier before they disappear.
In 1850, there were an estimated 150 glaciers in the Glacier National Park. Today, only 25 remain. The last is predicted to disappear between 2030 and 2080. This is well within my children’s lifetimes. Climate change has accelerated their disappearance, ensuring that it will be humans – not glaciers – who carve out the final version of the park.
Even more than the rapidly retreating glaciers, I worry about my children’s access to public lands. Our family visits Forest Service land that surrounds our small town almost every single week for a toddler-sized hike. President Trump’s proposed budget would cut $1.5 billion from the Interior Department, which oversees vital programs such as the National Park Service and the Forest Service.
Montanans are taking this threat seriously. Our former Congressman – Ryan Zinke is now Secretary of the Interior. He stated during his confirmation hearing that he’s not happy about the cuts, and plans to fight them. The national parks face a $12.5 billion backlog in needed maintenance. This will be even more difficult to address given these steep cuts. Montana’s economy is heavily reliant on outdoor tourism, which generates thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in state and local tax revenue. We need our national parks up and running not only for our weekend adventures – but for a stable economy.
On an unusually warm winter day, I packed the twins up in the stroller and headed to a rally at our state capitol to protest the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act, which would have shifted federal lands to the states. Because states will not be able to pick up the hefty cost of maintaining these lands, much will likely have been sold off. We stood shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of hunters, anglers, parents, grandparents, and hikers. We jammed every corridor and flowed down staircases. Washington heard us loud and clear. The bill was withdrawn the next week.
In Montana, public lands are not thought of as simply nice tracts of land, or a beautiful feature of our state. This is our birthright. And the more time children spend exploring these lands, the better. Researchers at Cornell University have found that the more time children spend doing wild nature activities – such as camping, hiking, playing in the woods, fishing, hunting – the more likely they are to care about the environment when they are older. We need children who have had a chance to truly experience what we are asking them to protect.
I’m not sure my children will actually remember seeing a glacier this summer. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if they remember any of this trip ten years from now, it will be the s’mores. But I want to stand in front of a glacier with them, and remind myself about why I’m fighting to preserve these sacred lands.
My children are growing faster than the glaciers are melting. (Tweet this) This is their inheritance we are spending. Please stand with me and protect our national parks.