Monuments tell the story of our nation
By Camilla Simon / Director, Hecho – Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors and Rock Ulibarri / San Miguel County Commissioner, Hecho Board Member
A few weeks ago, our new president issued an executive order instructing the Department of the Interior to review our recent national monuments and make recommendations to change or revoke them. Through this action, the review targets many special places that Americans not only support and treasure, but that are also tied to familial and cultural outdoor traditions. … These are the places that represent us and tell our stories, the stories of all Americans, and they are our heritage.
Remarkably, it was only a few days before that the nation was celebrating National Park Week to commemorate the public lands that we have protected “for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations,” as specified by the National Park Service mission. We celebrate these lands for the value they bring to us in preserving our rich history, culture, heritage and natural resources. It’s a wonderful compensation that our national park sites also helped to grow the U.S. economy by an additional $35 billion last year.
Our national monument system was established through a well-conceived process to protect special places through presidential proclamations authorized by the Antiquities Act of 1906. … Many of our most popular national parks were originally designated as national monuments, including Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Tetons National Park, Zion National Park, Acadia National Park and Olympic National Park. In recent years, in addition to protecting our most breathtaking landscapes, the Antiquities Act has been used to designate an increasing number of monuments that celebrate the contributions of previously unrecognized peoples to America’s history and development as a nation. For example, both the recently designated Rio Grande del Norte and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monuments reflect the rich heritage of New Mexico’s diverse Hispanic and Native American communities.
Bears Ears National Monument, at the center of Interior’s review, and Gold Butte National Monument are areas rich with prehistoric dwellings, petroglyph, and other cultural assets. Also among the newer monuments that may be in jeopardy are the César Chávez National Monument in California, proudly honoring one of our country’s most important Latino leaders; the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park that marks where a former slave helped to rescue 70 enslaved families; Stonewall National Monument, the first national park focused on LGBT history; Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument commemorating a prime hub for the women’s suffrage and equal rights movements; and Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers Monument, honoring the military leadership of the first African American to reach the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army and the distinguished service of his all-black regiments.
Through these monuments, the American people benefit from a more complete range of the stories that have and continue to shape our nation. We need more of them, not less. … A large majority of Americans love and enjoy our diverse array of national monument designations. In a recent poll conducted by Colorado College, eight out of 10 Western voters supported keeping protections in place for existing monuments. Meanwhile, Interior just announced that 2016 was a record year for visitation, with 331 million visitors to national park sites – contributing $34.9 billion to the economy…..
Most astounding, the Outdoor Industry Association reports the outdoor industry contributes $887 billion to the economy while supporting 7.6 million jobs – more jobs than the computer technology industry. As this review moves forward, we must voice our concerns and speak consistently and loudly about the importance of these special places and our outdoor heritage. We must urge our elected and appointed leaders to support our national monuments, not eliminate or shrink these lands that are essential cultural and historical touchstones for a variety of people and communities. We must do all that we can to protect our public lands for this and future generations.