“How my public lands experience changed in the last 15 years”
Season 2, Week 4
October 4, 2018
Join us on Twitter with the hashtag #NatureWritingChallenge to discuss and share the topic Thursday at 8:30 CST. This post was created in one hour specifically for this challenge.
Fifteen years ago it was 2003 and I was in my first year of college at Grand Valley State University near Grand Rapids, Michigan. At that point on a “national level,” I had only been to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and parts of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I had only been out of the state a handful of times, mostly to Ontario, where I visited several provincial parks. Public land use for me was very localized until 2008.
As I’m writing this, I always jump to “national level” public land but there is so much at the local level that I almost overlooked all of the wonderful places I had been. Michigan has some of the best state parks I’ve seen, some of the finest state and national forests around, and plenty of county parks to fill any gaps. Near my college, we had university property along a river with miles of trails and down the road another county park that had a similar setup. On any given day, I could be found on the coast of Lake Michigan at the beach or on the dunes. My friends and I would hop in one of our cars and head west to the lake as often as we could during any season. There were several great state parks that offered a varying degree of the outdoor experience.
In 2006 I changed my major to Natural Resource Management and took a few courses in wildlife management and ecology. I had several projects that forced me out of the classroom and into the woods. I went to a national forest to help clear a trail, I surveyed state park camping sites, and assisted with trail building. I took a job, as my internship, as a seasonal park ranger with the City of Wyoming, a suburb of Grand Rapids. I patrolled the city parks with a partner for four summers. I removed graffiti, walked the trails, cleaned up trash, and learned that public spaces in the city can be worth exploring. Being a seasonal park ranger, in an urban area, was not ideal in my grand scheme of natural resource management, but it certainly helped me appreciate the tedious work that goes unnoticed by park patrons that I’m sure government employees across the agencies deal with daily.
Fast forward to 2007 when I embark on a spring break road trip that would forever change my perspective on life. As mentioned, I hadn’t been out of Michigan much and this trip took me across the Midwest directly to the Rocky Mountains. While no major national public lands were visited on this trip, I saw what was out there and where they were from the freeways. The 2007 trip got me looking at maps and learning about the big parks. I had spent 20+ years before not really caring much about national public lands because I was low income, in a state without many spots, and in a state hundreds of miles away. The trip led more trips, endless trips actually, and lit a burning desire to see the land that belonged to all citizens.
In 2008, after almost seeing a handful of public land hot spots in 2007, I took another trip that included plans to see Redwood National & State Parks as well as Death Valley National Park. Along the way, I saw plenty of state and local parks along the Pacific Coast as well as a few national forests. The west is best, and I loved it so much, I went back in 2009, 2010, and 2011.
They say you don’t realize what you had until it is gone, and I feel that way about Michigan’s natural beauty since moving to Texas in 2011. I took advantage of a lot when I was there, but there are endless places to see and I have a lot on the list of public lands I wish I had visited. Since being in Texas, I’ve had more opportunities to enjoy life due to a little bit of job security, so I’ve used that to explore public lands even more. I now have the means to visit public land locations in other states and I take full advantage when I can. Dallas-Fort Worth is a big airport that offers affordable flights to many great places that allow me to plan a trip, see multiple public land locations, and get home all in a long weekend and for very few dollars in the grand scheme of life.
I’m not quite public lands obsessed, but my desire to explore them has greatly increased in the past seven years. With more exploration comes more knowledge which has taught me the value of the land and what it takes to preserve them for future generations. Fifteen years ago I had no idea people didn’t like public lands nor did I know the constant battle in place to protect and designate these treasured places. I had no idea how these lands tied into Indigenous culture nor did I know much about the history of any specific act or designated parcel. I’m so thankful to know people who have so much knowledge about public lands and are willing to share. I’m thankful to have a better understanding of how challenging it can be to find a balance with public lands - in management, designation, visitation, and preservation. I’m proud to say I’m part of the current public lands conversation and I can only hope that as other people become aware and involved they are too. Public lands involvement has changed my life, steered my path for what I want in life, and influenced almost every non-family visit vacation plan I make. If you can get out there, get out there - to your city park, state park, national park, national forest, state forest, whatever! Go find the land that belongs to all of us and enjoy it within your legal rights!