This article is brought to you by the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). Read our other articles on the National Geographic Voices blog featuring the work of our iLCP Fellow Photographers all around the world.
Today marks the centennial anniversary of the founding of the National Parks Service by President Woodrow Wilson. As we celebrate this milestone in conservation history, we take this chance to look at how not only the United States National Parks Service, but parks and protected areas worldwide, have inspired people around the world to enjoy, learn from, and protect the natural world.
Parks and protected lands have had profound impact on citizens concerned with the well-being of the natural world. What is it about the parks that make one feel so inspired to spend more time outside, read books about environmentalism, or even change their lives altogether? There is not any one thing that an experience at parks and protected land provides, but there is an overwhelming feeling that one experiences at the parks. What is the feeling? Awe? Wonder? Joy? There isn’t one feeling, and there isn’t any best way to capture the experience.
The beauty of the parks and protected areas around the world lay in the variety of landscapes, the sheer grandeur of the mountains, the smell of the river. The beauty and inspiration of parks and protected areas around the world are seen in the wildlife, the striking diversity, and heard in the sounds of nature. John Muir, one of the earliest advocates of protecting lands in the United States, wrote during his early explorations of Yosemite, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn.”
Today, the lands that Muir fought so hard to protect are visited by millions of people each year. These people from all over the world are able to stand under the giant granite walls where Muir once stood, beneath the Tetons that rise high about the floor of Wyoming, and dip their feet in the flowing waters of the Yellowstone River. In parks and protected areas like these, visitors can experience the power of nature. Nature’s sheer size, grandeur, and majesty. Visitors to parks and protected lands are able to stand side-by-side with awe-inspiring natural wonders which entice them to explore, study, and enjoy the natural world.
Countless children have spent their days walking through the woods of their backyards, building tree-houses, and following rabbits, squirrels, and foxes, through the streams and trails of their local forested areas. How many children have wanted to grow up to live among wolves, to sleep under the stars, and to drink from the cool waters of mountain rivers? Fortunately for the adults and children who have an itching for adventure, protected lands and parks around the world allow them to experience wildlife and biodiversity in their most natural state. Without protected lands, there would be no place to watch wolves and cheetah roam, few places to drink from clear and crisp fresh waters, and few places to gaze at the stars.
It might seem strange to place wolf and cheetah conservation and viewing in the same sentence, but this stark difference is exactly why protected lands and parks are so important around the world today. Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, and Serengeti National Park on the eastern banks of Lake Victoria in Tanzania might seem a world apart. Physically, perhaps, they are a world apart. Yet, the similarities of these two seemingly opposite parks lay in each us, in each and every visitor that enjoys their biology and receives its good tidings.
The differences of protected lands around the world are vast. From the depth of Grand Canyon National Park to the mountains of Cevennes National Park in Southern France, from the old-growth forests of Olympic National Park to Amboseli National Park at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, protected areas around the world guard a full-spectrum of ecosystems and species.
What else could vary so much as the natural environment? What else on this planet could be as diverse as the earth’s ecosystems, from the depths of the ocean to the peaks of the mountain? Only, perhaps, the lives of people. The lives of people around the world encompass a full-spectrum of experiences. Places like these protected areas allow people around the world to share a similar experience, though they may be a world apart. Though people separated by miles may lead different lives, though they may have different experiences, engaging with the majesty of the natural world gives those same physically separated people a feeling of connectedness. John Muir once wrote about what’s found in nature, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”
As we celebrate the centennial anniversary of the National Parks Service and look at the affect that protected lands and parks around the world have had on those who visit them, we see that protected lands are far more valuable than simply providing a place for a camping trip. The protected lands around the world enable people to wonder, to study, and to share their experiences with others through conservation and inspiration, though they may be a world apart.
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Photos by iLCP Fellows