Friday, October 02, 2009

America's Greatest Idea

With the Ken Burns documentary on the National Park System running this week on PBS, it is a great time to reflect on parks. One point that comes through is the politics of parks, that these are common lands owned by and open to all people to enjoy.

Historically wealth meant land ownership. To provide large areas of land that is owned by the people and for the people is one way we demonstrate our democratic values.

Our National Park System is truely a national treasure.

Recently at the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority we have been in the process of acquireing several sites with significant Civil War history. One is the site of the opening shots of the Battle of Aldie near Gilbert's Corner, across Rt 50 from this site is Mt. Zion Historic Church (pictured above) that served as a hospital after the battle. Another is White's Ford property on the Potomac where Confederate forces crossed the river on their way to Antiedam. These are important places in American history, and important to our common heritage as Americans.

Not just National Parks, but parks in general, the common lands we all share, is the great idea. It comes from Medieval Europe where some land was set aside as "the commons" to be used by anybody to graze animals. Teddy Rosevelt took this ancient idea of open land that we all have a claim to and used it to create the National Park System. City parks had existed before that.

At their core, parks serve much the same purpose today that they did 100 years ago, a place where people can go to relax, explore, and play.

This summer that has just ended saw great use of parks. Our family campgrounds at Pohick Bay and Bull Run witnessed their best and busiest years in decades. Boat rental were up, picnic pavilions were booked, waterparks saw record turnouts, and our trails were heavily used.

When people spend time in parks, they value parks. You can not gain a deep connection with nature or history if you do not experience these things first hand, and parks is where this happens.

National Park, State Parks, Regional Parks and Local Parks, they are all part of the "greatest idea" and part of what makes America great!

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