“I am glad I will not be young in a future without wilderness.” Aldo Leopold wrote these words in 1945, and thanks to the work of many forward-thinking people 100 years ago, many Americans today can say the same. The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and it is a great time to celebrate our public lands and also work toward a better future for these sacred spaces.
Thanks to conservationists like Aldo Leopold and President Theodore Roosevelt, Americans from all over the country can head to their public lands to hunt, fish, camp, hike, bird watch or just sit by a stream to enjoy the outdoors. At a time when more and more people — especially young people — sit in front of screens all day, getting outdoors is increasingly important for our mental and physical health. Our public lands make opportunities to recharge in nature possible and affordable for everyone.
New Mexicans are fortunate to have 18 areas under the directive of the National Park Service, including Carlsbad Caverns, Bandelier, and our most recent addition, the Valles Caldera National Preserve. These beautiful areas not only help us connect with wildlife, water and our public lands, but they also connect us to our past and our shared culture.
But there is still work to be done. In addition to facing the negative consequences of climate change and increasingly divided views about conservation, the national parks also face a diversity problem. A recent study from the Center for American Progress shows that communities of color and low-income communities in the West have disproportionately less open space than the rest of the population. The study reinforces the need for everyone to have equal access to public spaces, and our national parks have a long way to go in including everyone in our outdoor traditions.
I encourage everyone to go out and enjoy our public lands and think about ways we can make the outdoors more accessible to everyone.
Susan Torres is communications director for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.