**Disclaimer: This is a blog entry I've put together describing how I fell in love with our public lands and where I think we need to go with them. I don't claim to be an expert and this blog entry is strictly my opinion. My ideas are my own and are subject to change with conversations, education, and experience. Thank you.**
If we go back to my first National Park, it would be Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore or Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I am almost sure I went to both as a teenager, with my grandparents, because my parents never took us anywhere out of the county - because of work, money, and time. I grew up far away from the beauty that was Rainier, Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Rocky Mountain. I knew not of these places until high school, but really not until college and beyond. I've always had nature, just not public nature. We had a couple hundred acres to roam, ample state land in Michigan, and plenty of friends with land. I never really grasped the concept of National Parks, designated wilderness, or the like until college. I took a course in wildlife management, learned a lot, and within the next few years visited some national parks. I had student loan money, so I was invincible. Not really, but it paid the tuition/rent and I had a few bucks left over for a spring break road trip. I don't advise on having a few bucks left over - borrow only what is necessary. I do, however, advise saving hard-earned money for a spring break road trip that isn't to some beach somewhere. Traditional spring breaks did not appeal to me - but a road trip with my buds to places people weren't going sounded amazing.
In 2007, my two friends and I, set out on that spring break road trip driving from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Denver and through the Rockies and beyond. We went right past Rocky Mountain National Park and visited a friend in Grand Junction, Colorado. We drove down through Utah, right past the Arches and Canyonlands, and onward to Texas. We drove past EVERYTHING because we didn't know much about it and one of us wasn't into the outdoors. The next year, my outdoor friend and I insisted on a better, more thoughtful trip that included national parks. We went from Grand Rapids to Seattle, down to Redwoods NP, and onward to Death Valley. We saw two parks the entire trip - which was better than nothing for us; we had to compromise for time and interest of the parties involved. I mean, forget that we drove right by Badlands, North Cascades, Olympic, Crater Lake, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Petrified Forest. If 2017 me went back to 2008, I'd punch myself in the face for being so dumb. Anyway...
In 2009, my buddy and I drove out to Arches and camped - determined to see more of our public lands this year. We traveled onward to some BLM land in Nevada and then over to the Redwoods. Up the coast, we went to the Olympic Peninsula - which was pure magic. Saw more, stopped more, spent more time on public lands - really understanding what they were now and what they meant to me. This trip was the one that really cemented how important these places were. When 2010 came around, and we were half in college, half not sure what life was all about, half employed, we naturally decided to go to Vegas in the spring. Sin City was exciting, but I feel the real excitement was about the road trip to various national parks. We hiked in Death Valley, saw the sights from high to low, and I saw how big that place really was. From there, we went to Capitol Reef, Arches, and Zion before flying back to Michigan. If 2009 cemented it, 2010 sealed that cement. I was in love with our national parks.
In 2011, after moving to Texas I met a new friend and we went to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in October. It is hard to put into words how I felt about the views, the yellow leaves, and the crisp air. In love? Probably. 2012 brought a revival of the random road trip with my outdoor buddy (since he moved to Texas) and we ended up in Tucson at Saguaro NP. 2013 Included Carlsbad Caverns, Arches again, and the Grand Canyon South Rim. In 2014, we went to Big Bend in January and Rocky Mountain NP in August. In 2015, my other half and I took our friend on a road trip to Petrified Forest, Grand Canyon, and Zion. Later in 2015, we went to the Arch in St. Louis. In 2016 I made my return to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore with visits to Redwoods, Oregon Caves, Point Reyes, and Golden Gate. This year, we've visited Kenai Fjords, Redwoods again, and Sequoia/Kings Canyon. It's true love.
In the past few years, I've spent more time exploring public lands than I had my whole entire previous existence. I've hiked in national forests, visited the parks mentioned above, and have plans for so visiting so many more public lands. I was lucky to find the parks in 2008 and luckier now because I can afford to visit more frequently. The more I visit, the more I love these places and value their existence. The more I visit, the more I want to fight to keep them public. The more I visit, the more I see that they may be all of ours, but they're really not available to everyone. The more I visit, the more I want to use my privilege to open these parks to those who have never visited or can't visit due to distance, cost, or any combination of reasons. I can't imagine the level of passion and devotion I'd have if I'd been visiting these parks since I was a kid. It is absolutely VITAL that youth of all backgrounds, socioeconomic levels, and age groups be exposed to (and educated about) these places. Maybe these lands are not for everyone, but maybe a few of them will grow up to protect, love, and fight for them. We need to work to include everyone in the outdoor world. We need to diversify the DOI and hire people from all walks of life. We need to designate more parks/monuments/etc in more places representing the spectrum of Americans that exist.
I'm not sure quite how to accomplish the tasks at hand, but I've decided a vital step is to find a way to get more people involved and interested in our public lands. I need to immerse myself in projects, organizations, and maybe even a career shift to building a diverse following for our public lands. It may be a new love, but it's a true love. I feel as though I've finally found my place in this fight to make sure our public lands are open to all and I'm determined to make a difference.