National Parks and the Pursuit of Happiness

As president and CEO of the National Park Foundation, it is Will Shafroth’s job to help manifest our constututional right to the pursuit of happiness. Think about when and how our national parks have impacted your life, and the memories you have made on their roads, trails, mountains, lakes, plains, beaches, and rivers. It is impossible to divest our societal identify from the role and significance of these treasured landscapes. They present opportunities to learn, to explore, to connect, to come together, and to discover. Their benefit is more than ecological. It is personal. In a world that insists on overstimulating us with information and demands, the parks connect us to history, equality, and self.

[Music] good morning everybody great to be here Thank You Tyler and thank you too Randy antic Randy does an amazing job I think we could give Randy his own pause here thank you and thank you for the opportunity to speak today about America's national parks now as I was thinking about today and the program and the kind of the big themes I thought about our Declaration of Independence if you think about it there's a famous clause in there which says life liberty and the pursuit of happiness later this morning you're in here from a great medical panel they're gonna talk about life after lunch you're gonna hear from an amazing panel of military leaders and they're gonna who help protect our Liberty it's my job to talk about the one function in the federal government which is about the pursuit of happiness think about that our national parks really are a way that we manifest our happiness and I'm gonna tell you some important things that I've learned and
that you may not know about our national parks I want to begin by asking you to think back to your own lives to your own families your own childhoods your parents packing up the car maybe one like this the station wagon you probably recognize the style the road trip along highways and open plains that gave way to narrow winding roads leading perhaps to a moment of our discovery that you still carry with you today That moment when you first discovered and encountered the beauty and majesty of America's national parks maybe it was one of the first your first was at one of the iconic parks standing there on the rim gazing out and wonder at the vistas of the Grand Canyon walking through Mariposa Grove looking up at the falls in Yosemite or getting sprayed by Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park long before I arrived at the National Park Foundation I too was a kid in a crowded car on similar journeys
to Mesa Verde National Park at Cape Cod National Seashore in our station wagon there were multiple smokers in the front seat and the windows were generally closed in the backseat there were a lot of sharp elbows being exchanged among the six kids you remember that it wasn't until years later as a recent college graduate that I really began to find myself in parks I discovered Point Reyes National Seashore which happens to be my favorite national park back in 1981 I was 23 years old I spent 48 out of 50 two weekends in point raised in the beaches and headlands of this beautiful place just an hour north of San Francisco hiking biking body surfing kayaking fishing digging clams gathering berries and wild mushrooms there was so much to do and to discover I couldn't wait to get there every weekend and it was here that I started to become my own
person to find myself and deepen my love of the outdoors I shared that year with a college sweetheart and I learned a little bit about love too alas that romance didn't last but it I never stopped going to Point Reyes it became a bit of a rite of passage for the women I dated during that time well they passed the point raised test as my friend Charlie used to say and it was ultimately where I proposed to my wife at sunset on a cold day in November with the seals watching me awkwardly posed the question they were my witness as we raised our kids it became our go-to place for our vacation week the kids opened up on the hikes who the douglas-fir grows spend hours on the beach building sandcastles and learn how to body surf as the pelicans flew by in formation there's never been a better place for us to connect as a family for me our national
parks are about family about connecting with nature about exploration and discovery and having fun it turns out that in national parks you can experience nature as wild as you want it up close and personal what you may not know is that 50 national parks have designated wilderness areas this is the highest level of protection afforded public lands it means the lands are managed for their wild qualities so that no activities like grazing timber harvesting mining oil and gas extraction or motorized recreation can happen these lands these lands are for wildness and quiet so a total of 67 million of the 84 million acres that are in our National Park System are managed as wilderness or more than 80 percent of all of our park lands the voyagers National Park in northern Minnesota where I go is where I go to reconnect an experience with
wilderness get off the grid and to recharge my batteries I make time every year for a week-long pilgrimage to voyagers with a my with Jeff Risberg when I'm a oldest and best friends and I'll just tell you that you have to be really good friends to spend a whole week in the wilderness with somebody and Jeff and I have an amazing time together as it turns out it takes a long time to get to the wilderness first we drive five hours from the Twin Cities to Lake Cabot Oguma from there we get a ride seven miles across the lake and pack in our gear 60 pound packs of it three and a half miles across a trail called a locator trail and then we load up our canoe and paddle another 12 miles to our campsite is during our time gliding across locater war-club and quill lakes that the layers of stress and bombardment of technology give way to the silence stunning beauty and sweet smells of the wild then there is the
almost spiritually significant ritual of cracking open a fine craft beer when we arrive at our campsite there is that too our view is of open water red pine white pine and Cedars and open skies our senses are awakened in this land and water escape we are surrounded by wildlife loons bald eagles otters beavers coyotes and moose imagine the daily call of the Loon a cool breeze the big blue sky on the lakes Voyager's national park draws me in like few places I've ever experienced there's also a great lesson in taking a break from the modern conveniences and fending for yourself you begin to see the world in a whole new way you become more resourceful better connected to yourself Voyager's National Park feeds my soul
and parks are more than wild and scenic places our national parks not only connect us to nature they also connect us to ourselves and our shared history and culture parks tell the story of who we are in all its glory and its imperfections I like to say parks tell the good the bad and the ugly during my time serving under Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar I happen to be with him in Little Rock Arkansas and decided to visit Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site I had only recently become aware of the historic significance of this place and its role as the first test case in the desegregation of public schools in the post brand Brown versus Board of Education world but I have to admit I didn't know how much I didn't know much about the Little Rock Nine with the nine black students who wanted to go to Little Rock Central High the secretary
never met that day by a woman named Minnie Jean Brown one of the Little Rock Nine who one September 25th 1957 under the watchful eye of 1,200 mahram soldiers faced down an angry mob of protesters too helped desegregate Little Rock Central High what followed was having an incredible privilege of witnessing history through a woman who made history as Minnie Jean walked with us down the long sidewalk to the front door of the school telling us about what it was like to run the gauntlet of people yelling and screaming at her who wanted to deny her the opportunity of to attend a public school I got goose bumps it was an amazing experience to be there I had a whole window open to me by this woman just driving that day when she was a spindly 16 year old girl full of fear and confusion as a relatively privileged
white kid from suburban Denver I had taken for granted that the public schools I attended and would attend would always be there for me no question I was only three months old that day in 1957 but on that day in 2011 when I was there with two minnijean I experienced him deep gratitude for what she and her fellow classmates braved so that our society could take a step in the direction of equality this notion of equality is something that also pertains to our national parks and you saw in that last slide that Franklin Roosevelt said it well and I like to think of national parks as a great leveler all 418 of these national parks belong to all of us and what's more democratic and what could be a more
eloquent expression of our democracy than giving every American that the equal opportunity to share in the beauty and majesty of these sacred places they are really the physical manifestation of our democracy and our parks are also a source of unity they are our common ground as I've shared experience I've had in parks that have inspired me opened me to new possibilities and grounded me in ways that no other places have and it has helped me informed my now 38 year career in conservation preservation and public service it's now my job to inspire all people to connect with these places and protect our unique national parks what Wallace Stegner called America's best idea my Park experiences your park experiences are all part of a shared American inheritance places that belong to all of us the living legacy that each generation passes to the next as we look
to the future the public capturing the public's imagination and commitment to the success of parks is as important now as it was more than a century ago when the National Park System was system was created we follow in the footsteps of great innovators Park founders and early park supporters who understood that these places hold a special place in the American heart conservation icons John Muir and President Teddy Roosevelt provided vision and leadership to help establish national parks recognizing the generational commitment that was required for their success philanthropists like john d rockefeller and the Mellon family set the standard for the catalytic role that private philanthropy could play to both support our parks to play to support our part is contributing both land and dollars to create national parks for future
generations and the National Park Service under the leadership of its first director Stephen Mather invited Americans to explore these immense cathedrals of natural beauty and wonder today more than a century later our National Park System encompasses vast landscapes seashores mountains rivers and deserts and hundreds of historical and cultural sites 418 park units to be exact set in both rural and urban areas across all 50 states and US territories an incredibly rich resource national parks evoke the very essence of America the spirit of innovation and in Discovery that same spirit that propelled the Wright brothers first flight and that produced the uniquely American sound of jazz from New Orleans I believe America's national parks are not only America's best idea but one of the best investments we can make in each
of the last two years as we heard more than 330 million people visited our national parks so think about that that's we saw the big picture of the stadium right from Michigan that's one hundred and seven thousand people but three hundred and thirty million people is more than go to every single Disney Park major league football baseball hockey and basketball and NASCAR rage race each year combined think about that that's kind of an amazing statistic that's how much people love their national parks today however disinheritance is increasingly at risk our parks face a number of important challenges some of which are born out of being loved too much record visitation in recent years has put significant stress on the park system especially those parks that have shoulders so much of the increase in
visitation each year the top 25 most visited parks out of 418 that received fully half of the 60 million new annual visitors since 2014 yeah we were at 270 million in 2014 we're now at 330 million this has led to the damage to National Park resources and diminish the park experience of visitors who face long interest lines and crowded trails and visitor centers funding levels for parks have also not kept pace which is further diminished to possibilities for Park Rangers to have a decent life and a real living in the in the parks all told the current backlog of deferred maintenance in our National Park System exceeds 12 billion dollars that's not on the annual operating budget of 3 billion so you get a sense of the scale of the impact that's going on right now underlying all these issues the impact of a changing climate on our national parks and the communities and economies datums they
support from Glacier National Park in Montana to Denali in Alaska glaciers are melting faster than ever pretty soon there will be no glaciers in Glacier National Park rising sea levels endanger the Everglades and other coastal parks increased drought and wildfires threaten parks all over the place and while Congress the administration need to focus on addressing these and other challenges protecting our national parks has never been the work of government alone our parks are a shared responsibility that requires support and collaboration of government citizens private philanthropy and corporations we each have a role to play and I'm happy to report that this collaboration is alive and well and growing volunteerism is thriving in 2018
more than 300,000 people volunteered in our parks across the country contributing well over 7 million hours of labour evaluated a whopping 178 million dollars private philanthropy has also been an instrumental part of National Park story and its success some of the most beautiful parks were made accessible to us all as a result of individuals who've stepped up to support and protect parks in a big way from the Rockefeller families can you go back for me you're a little faster thank you from the Rockefeller family's contributions to establish Grand Teton National Park and Acadia national parks to rocks and Quimby's donation of land to create Katahdin woods and waters National Monument in Maine and David Rubenstein's patriotic philanthropy to restore the Lincoln Memorial in Washington Monument and recently Robert Smith's commitment to tell a fuller story of the African American experience it places honoring Harriet Tubman and dr. Martin Luther King jr. and millions more Americans who
contribute more than two hundred and fifty million dollars a year to our porks as people love their parks it's not surprising that they are generous with their time and money to support them with it we're engaging who will be the first the future stewards of our parks giving economically disadvantaged kids the opportunity to experience the on wonder of a place like Everglades or our rich history on the National Mall our goal is to get all 1 million title 1 4th graders into a national park each year we're giving even more kids an opportunity to do work in conservation cores learning life skills and connecting to these great places hopefully developing an ethic and a value for a lifetime the corporate sectors also played an important role in supporting our parks roughly each year roughly 20 percent or about 20 million dollars of our budget funding comes from corporate partners that is compared to
the average of nonprofit organizations of only 5% this tells me how much corporate America values the national parks brand and how well parks align with an American's values now while the lion's share of funding should and will continue to come from the federal government there is something for all of us to do and we think that this is the difference the real tangible investments that we can make right now when we do our part together as Americans looking ahead to the next century of park stewardship protecting them is more important than ever what national parks need now is our best most innovative ideas bold initiatives and a clear vision for the future we must reimagine what is possible for parks and we've never been a better position protect our parks as as Wallace Stegner said national parks
are the best idea we ever had absolutely American absolutely democratic they reflect us at our best rather than our worst thank you very much [Applause]