Sunday, March 20, 2011

Use without Abuse

What would we do without our national, state, provincial, district parks and forests? On our latest trip we enjoyed several of Florida's state parks and national preserves where nature is largely left alone to flourish. (Last fall my wife and I visited 16 of the western national parks in the U.S.)

This year Canada, with its extensive parks infrastructure, is celebrating its national parks centennial . A survey has placed national parks alongside health care, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our flag as the top four symbols of Canadian identity.

“Parks Canada oversees one of the most extensive, best managed, and highly respected park systems in the world,” said the former president of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and co-founder of the Yellowstone to Yukon conservation project. “It should be a fantastic source of pride for all Canadians.”

The parks initiative in Canada started in 1885, when John A. Macdonald, Canada's first Prime Minister, set aside 26 square kilometres near Banff Hot Springs to protect the area from “sale, settlement or squatting,” no one had a clear idea of what a national park was, or how one should be managed.

The first administrator for the national parks, J.B. Harkin, was a visionary. "His deeply held faith that wilderness could rejuvenate the human spirit changed the face of parks worldwide." His term 'Use without abuse' has become a mantra.

Bruce Kirby writes of several national parks including one in Canada's far north:

"A rink-size slab of limestone gently slopes into the waves of Sluice Box Rapids, atop Virginia Falls in the Northwest Territories. If you scramble down nearby gravel cliffs, following a faint trail through scrappy stands of black spruce and soapberry, you can tiptoe out to its slippery edge and trail your fingers in the surging froth. At your feet, the entire Nahanni River plunges into the abyss of First Canyon. Quickly drenched by monsoon-like mists, it is not the chill that leaves one trembling. It is the proximity to nature, raw and elemental."

Most of us probably have at least one park which has left indelible memories.