First Line

I’ve had a pin attached to my bag since last summer. The pin commemorates the centennial of the National Park Service, which was founded in 1916. Rightly, the NPS filled 2016 with much celebration and our family delighted in exploring new parks and participating in some of the special events taking place during such a special year.

My discovery of the National Parks really began when I moved to Washington D.C. in my twenties and embarked on a job in the city. I spent many lunch breaks strolling the National Mall, weaving in and out of tourists visiting the various memorials and monuments. Witnessing the construction of the National World War II Memorial was especially moving. After Henry arrived, he became my constant companion on these walks. I would swing by his daycare, two floors down, sweep him up, plop him in the stroller and off we would go.

As our children have grown older and with our move to Richmond and now Northwest Virginia, our National Parks exploration has expanded. I will forever refer to this time of our lives as The Battlefield Years. We’ve hit a lot of them. Like, a lot-a lot. In our various visits to Gettysburg and Antietam and Appomattox and Cedar Creek and Harpers Ferry and Petersburg and Yorktown, we’ve never – not once – had a negative experience. We have always been met by extremely competent and friendly park employees excited to share their knowledge with us, with our children.

I’m always left in sort of a state of awe after a visit to one of our national parks. It’s hard to believe that such an opportunity exists for us. To revisit so easily a part of our country’s past that’s preserved and protected solely for our enjoyment. That people work so enthusiastically and doggedly to fulfill that mission. That for $20 (and a musket for Charlie from the gift shop) we get to see, and get to show our children, what it was like to live, to fight, to survive in an era when this country was filled with so much turmoil. (There’s also ALWAYS nice potties and access to snacks in a national park. I won’t downplay how important bathrooms and a constant stream of sustenance is to a successful family outing.)

Charlie’s biggest dream is to become a park ranger and I’m pretty sure nothing Henry and Millie could ever do could top that. Sorry, you two! It’s really impressive how you became Secretary of State, Millie, and how you became President of The Lego Group, Henry, but Charlie’s a National Parks employee living in a tent on a fire tower in Wyoming with only his binoculars, a typewriter and some CLIF bars so he wins. You’ll both just have to try harder!

We’ve barely even tapped the breadth of the National Park system either. That’s one of the driving reasons for my camper obsession – so we can head west and visit as many parks as possible with the kids. There is so much to see! and to do! I want to go to ALL THE PARKS. (But, I definitely need the camper to make that happen, Bob.)

That these parks are so accessible in an era of budget cuts and funding issues is amazing. That large swaths of pristine land is preserved and prevails in an era of destructive environmental practices is amazing. That a staff of dedicated park service employees are such champions for their landscapes is amazing.

I’m a big fan, is my point. I’m like a National Parks groupie. I’m John Cusack, standing outside their gates with a stereo held above my head blaring, “In Your Eyes.”

So, it was with profound disappointment that I read about our new administration’s gag order, to include all social media posting, covering the Department of Interior and, thus, the National Park Service. Although such orders are not necessarily unprecedented and will hopefully be lifted, the focus of the orders on climate change information amounted to a blackout of scientific data. (You can read about the details from a reputable outlet here.)

This seemed retaliatory in nature and was instantly met with subversive tweets from social media managers at a variety of national and state parks and agencies in direct defiance of the gag order.

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I mean, come on. This is fantastic! These park rangers are not having any of this. They are amazing. Especially that last one. I like the cut of your jib, US Fish & Wildlife.

Additionally, several alt-Twitter accounts have popped up recently to better disseminate information about legislation and actions that may negatively affect the parks but which the parks are no longer allowed to report on.

The response from everyday Americans to the assorted National Parks’ Twitter accounts was extraordinary. I followed all week as tributes popped up to the work the NPS was rather slyly engaged in. I was delighted to see a spotlight shone on the parks and people that I consider to be such treasures. Also, some people are really, really funny.

Some of my favorite tweets from the past 10 days:

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(A reference to Mirriam Webster and Teen Vogue’s coverage since the election.)

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(#leslieknopeforpresident)

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Image: Captain RibMan / John Sprengelmeyer

I’m going to need that last one on a t-shirt. And, a tote bag. Also, a commemorative pin. Quite possibly, a tattoo.