Saturday, June 20, 2009

Public Lands: An Owner’s Manual

Guest Author: Kimberlee Riley of the Jefferson National Parks Association

In 1803 Thomas Jefferson sent instructions to Lewis and Clark advising them that the object of their mission was to ‘explore’. The purpose for the exploration was to learn about the lands and rivers to the west which for the most part had been unseen by American citizens. The information gathered about the plants, the animals, the peoples and the accessibility of this uncharted territory was to be used for the growth and development of our country. The growth envisioned was beyond just possessing the territory but growth through the inhabiting and development of commerce in this territory.

As we know today, Lewis and Clark explored this territory and found an abundance of lush lands and natural resources. The journey was a difficult and challenging one, with natural threats as well as threats from the tribes they would encounter. Thomas Jefferson knew the challenges and the risks involved, and he advised Captain Lewis to measure their risks and to abandon the mission should they be too great. Thomas Jefferson noted “… in the loss of yourselves, we should lose also the information you will have acquired…”

After the successful return from this exploration, with the incredible information detailed, this territory was used for our country’s growth and development. The opportunities to inhabit this territory and the new commerce increased American citizens’ prosperity as well as our country’s prosperity. In the late 1800’s our government began to recognize that in order to sustain this territory for future generations and for our country -- the use of the territory would have to managed properly. In 1872 America’s first national park was established in Yellowstone. This lush land and abundance of natural resources now was reserved for the benefit and enjoyment of the public. The natural resources would be managed appropriately and by 1916 the National Park Service was established for this purpose.

Today there are hundreds of national and state parks with millions of acres along the Lewis and Clark trail, public lands reserved just for you. Just as Lewis and Clark were instructed by Thomas Jefferson, these lands are there for you to explore. Fortunately today, because of the management of public land agencies and the support of non-profit organizations and their donors, these lands are maintained for accessibility and have educational exhibits and programs to help you explore and enjoy them and to benefit from them.

While the variety of ways we enjoy our public lands may be obvious, the benefits are not always as obvious. Public lands provide educational programs and healthy lifestyles. In addition to the physical activities we do on our public lands research shows that a connection with nature can have physical and psychological benefits. For some of us public lands provide inspiration. Public lands provide environmental benefits such as pollution control. There are economic benefits to public lands – they can positively impact residential and commercial property values. Public lands attract visitors and business to local areas, too. So, with all these benefits and the enjoyment we have when we do visit our public lands – is there any action we need to take for our public lands?

We do need to guard against their loss just as Thomas Jefferson advised Captain Lewis in 1803 to guard against the loss of information about the uncharted territory. Public lands today help us to explore our country’s natural and historical treasures. These are now our lands. However, they do not come with an owner’s manual. If we had an owner’s manual it would tell us what actions to take for the general care and growth and development of our public lands, actions such as these:

1) Access your public lands and explore them often so that you may reap the fullest benefits from them.

2) Exercise the seven Leave No Trace principles so that others may find our public lands in the same conditions you have.

3) Contact the agency caring for your land for more information. There are a variety of national, state, and city agencies that conserve and manage our public lands.

4) Communicate and collaborate with your fellow land owners and exercise your democratic privileges to provide direction for your public lands in public sessions or on voting ballots.

5) Participate in the management of your public lands by volunteering and working with the land management agencies or their non-profit partners.

6) Engage youth with their public lands, so that they receive the same benefits as you. Also, instill in them the details of this owner’s manual in order to prepare them to be good land owners.

7) Reinvest in the maintenance needs of your public lands to ensure that future generations will continue to benefit from them.

Non-profit partners like Jefferson National Parks Association provide support for the land management agencies that care for and improve our public lands. Lewis and Clark Visitor Center in Yankton, SD is one of our partner sites. Learn more about Lewis and Clark and the natural resources along the trail with books and products from our store.

Your invaluable support is critical to the future of these, our most treasured places.

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