In Nature We Trust

National Parks Offer Some Common Ground in American Swing States

Fall foliage covers the landscape in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park straddles the Tennessee and North Carolina border, is home to some of the tallest mountains in the Eastern United States, and is bisected by the Appalachian Trail. / Source imagery from Maxar

Words by Kade Krichko

Imagery by Benjamin Grant

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The 2020 US Presidential race in America has been a divisive one, full of hot button topics that have deepened societal divides and polarized communities nationwide. But while differences have taken center stage in today’s political climate, there remains an underlying solidarity when it comes to some of the tenants upon which the United States is built. Interestingly, nowhere is this clearer than the near-universal American support of its National Park Service.

Believe it or not, the White House and its surrounding grounds are considered a national park—or rather as a unit of the National Park Service. Historically, the White House is opened periodically to the public for tours and the grounds are accessible as part of President’s Park. / Source imagery from Nearmap

The public’s satisfaction rate with the government’s job in creating and maintaining the park system has hovered around 75% since it was first polled in 1983, and a 2019 Pew Charitable Trust poll found that 82% of Americans felt that Congress needed to pass legislation to invest billions of dollars to rehabilitate National Parks across the country. In 2020, amid a pandemic and Presidential race, Congress followed through on that public call, passing the Great American Outdoors Act.

Resting just off the coast of Canada in the northern reaches of Lake Superior, Michigan’s Isle Royal National Park is made up of over 400 islands, the remnants of receding glaciers during the last Ice Age. These glacial deposits form a unique topography of mineral-rich ridges and near-straight island chains. / Source imagery from Maxar

The bill will provide $9.5 billion to the National Park Service over the next five years for park maintenance and $900 million a year to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program dedicated to protecting forest, wildlife, and recreation areas. A noteworthy element of this legislation is that the bill will be funded by revenue created by the production of energy on federal lands and water. This includes revenue generated by oil and natural gas companies, which, in a way, creates its own climate change and conservation conundrum – a national dependence on fossil fuels to fund our parks and open spaces. Still, the bill passed this July with bipartisan support in the Senate, with 73 votes for the motion, and just 25 against.

Grand Canyon National Park turned 100 a little over a year ago, and continues to be one of the crown jewels of the National Park Service. That type of popularity has taken its toll on the Arizona landmark however, as the NPS estimates that the park needs over $313 million in upgrades and repairs to stay up and running. / Source imagery from Planet

The National Park Service received over 327.5 million visits in 2019 alone, a 2.9% increase from 2018 and the third highest tally since the beginning of the National Park Service in 1916. Many of those visits were to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Grand Canyon National Park, the two most trafficked national parks (accounting for 12.5 million and 5.97 million annual visits, respectively). Both parks are located in 2020 swing states (Grand Canyon in Arizona and Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina), the highly-contested areas that often determine the Presidential elections every four years.

Most national parks in the United States preserve unique geographic features, but Florida’s Everglades National Park, founded in 1934, was the first created to protect a fragile ecosystem. The park is currently home to 36 threatened or protected species including the Florida panther and West Indian manatee. / Source imagery from Maxar

In 2020, many political commentators consider Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to be the swing states that could push the needle on this year’s election. These states are typically at odds on major issues concerning the economy, immigration, and climate change, but there seems to be little room for argument when it comes to the importance of national parks. A 2018 National Park Service report stated that park visitors spent an estimated $21 billion in local communities just outside park boundaries, propping up rural economies and supporting over 340,000 jobs. With nine national parks and 92 national park sites between them, swing states received a large chunk of these benefits, and state and federal governments often work cooperatively to ensure these economic engines continue operating smoothly. From Everglades National Park in Florida to Isle Royale National Park in Michigan, these lands offer stability and opportunity for local economies, and a chance for visitors from around the world to safely enjoy the outdoors.

Yellowstone National Park was established on March 1, 1872. At the Grand Prismatic Spring, visitors can get a close-up view on a series of elevated boardwalks. The hot spring gets its vivid color from pigmented bacteria that grow around the edge of the mineral-rich water. / Source imagery from Maxar

The latest federal legislation echoes a positive public sentiment that has endured two World Wars, economic collapse, cultural revolution, and over 100 years of dynamic history. In that time, America’s national parks have transformed into one of our country’s greatest rallying points, a legacy that—blue, red, or otherwise—we can all support for generations to come.

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