federal government shutdown recedes in the public’s memory, the extraordinary American national park system beckons visitors. It’s appropriate therefore to contemplate what the system holds for visitors as well as the future it confronts. My work and travels have recently taken me—figuratively and literally—to several iconic national park sites that speak to the system’s remarkable diversity and attraction. This summer Yosemite celebrates its 150th anniversary as the first large natural area set aside by Congress in 1864 for the purpose of “public use, resort, and recreation,” albeit as a state not federal park site. In this era of political paralysis, it is heartening to recall that Congress and President Abraham Lincoln, without opposition or even much debate, had the foresight and will in the midst of the Civil War to ensure that this scenic landscape was preserved for everyone to enjoy. Yosemite will be offering visitors a special exhibit in the Park Museum that recounts the park’s early history, including classic photographs that helped convince Congress to protect the Valley and the initial documents creating the park.
Bison in Yellowstone National Park's Lamar Valley. Photo by Kim Seng used under Creative Commons licensing.In Yellowstone, we found frozen lakes and a couple feet of snow still covering much of the park, but the wildlife was out and about, along with a throng of early season visitors enjoying the spring-like weather. More distant encounters with grizzly bears prowling Hayden Valley, along with numerous bison, all foraging for food on the grassy plains that were emerging from the winter snow cover.Many more bison in the Lamar Valley, where the snow had receded from the lower elevations, including the first smattering of bison calves wrapped in their distinctive cinnamon colored coats that contrasted sharply with their mamas’ deep brown coats. No wolves on this trip, although other visitors had seen one the day before when it boldly crossed the road in quest of food for the suspected pups waiting hungrily in a den situated on a distant hillside.