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Finding Nature in America's National Park System 


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VOICE ONE:

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Doug Johnson.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Faith Lapidus. This week on our show, we explore America's national parks.

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The National Park Service began in nineteen sixteen. That year, three hundred fifty-eight thousand people went to national parks. In two thousand four, the National Park System had two hundred seventy-six million visitors.

Visitors have a wide choice of places. The National Park System has about four hundred protected areas. These include parks, monuments, historic places, rivers, trails, seashores and lakeshores. They cover about thirty four-million hectares.

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Yellowstone was the first national park in the world. Most of it is in the state of Wyoming, in the West.

Yellowstone was established in eighteen seventy-two. But the idea of protecting areas from development was proposed years earlier. American painter George Catlin offered the idea during the eighteen thirties.

Once Yellowstone opened, it became a place where animals and other natural resources could be protected. Today millions of people visit Yellowstone National Park, most of them during summer.

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A businessman from Chicago, Illinois, became the first director of the National Park Service in nineteen sixteen. Stephen Mather was very important to the success of the agency. He retired in nineteen twenty nine. At that time, national parks covered more than two times as much land as they had when the park service began.

Other major expansions took place in the nineteen thirties and around the middle of the twentieth century.

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The National Park Service is part of the United States Department of the Interior. The park service has two main jobs. One is to protect America’s national parks. The other is to help visitors enjoy them. Some people think these two jobs conflict.

They say some of the problems of the parks are the result of too many people visiting them. For example, the many vehicles in national parks cause pollution and road damage.

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Some national parks cost money to enter, but not very much. Parks that charge entry fees must share the money with parks that do not. That means they cannot keep all the money for things like repairs and improvements.

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Private groups help support the National Park System. So do individuals and businesses that give money to the parks through the National Park Foundation. Congress established this organization in nineteen sixty-seven. The job of the foundation is to gather private support for America's national parks.

There is also the National Parks Conservation Association. This private group wants Congress to provide millions more dollars to improve conditions in parks. The association also tries to protect parks from what it sees as threats. For example, its electronic newsletter recently warned against a proposal for exploratory drilling for oil and gas.

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The proposed drilling would take place in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Arizona and Utah. The newsletter said the drilling would harm the red rocks of the Glen Canyon area and could harm its bighorn sheep. The newsletter suggested that people study the issue and offer comments to officials about the proposal.

Another concern is dirty air in some parks, such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That park is on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. The association points out that sixty percent of people say they do not want to visit parks with air pollution.

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The National Park System includes beautiful areas of nature. Visitors also can see monuments and historic areas like battlefields. They can take part in open-air sports and other activities at the parks.

Now, let us take you to a few of America's national parks. We begin at some islands in the Midwestern state of Wisconsin.

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Your tour boat takes you over the waves of Lake Superior to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The islands are known for their rocky coastlines and, especially, for their lighthouses. The Apostle Islands were named a national lakeshore in nineteen seventy.

The Ojibwe Indians believe they were the first settlers of this area. Some still live there. Over the years they fished, killed game and worked the land. Later, white settlers also fished and farmed on the islands. And they dug and processed stone from the earth.

In the middle and late eighteen hundreds, lighthouses began guiding sailors on the dangerous waters of Lake Superior. Lighthouse keepers operated the signals. Today, three of the lighthouses still guide and warn sailors. But machines do the signaling.

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You might like to sail in a small kayak while visiting the Apostle Islands. Swimming and fishing are other activities. Or you might want to explore the thick forests of pine and other trees on the islands. There is a lot of wildlife to see. You might even get a look at a black bear. It probably should be a quick look, though.

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From the Midwest we travel to the middle of the Atlantic coast to a big home in Arlington, Virginia. Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial, is near Washington, D.C. General Lee commanded the armies of the South against the Union during the Civil War in the eighteen sixties.

Arlington House is on a hill overlooking the national burial grounds at Arlington Cemetery.

Walking through Arlington House, you can see the room where Lee wrote his letter of resignation from the United States Army. After joining the cause of the South, Lee took command of its armies. After the South lost the war, Robert E. Lee tried to help heal the bitterness felt by both sides.

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The portico of the huge home looks like a Greek temple. Tall columns of brick mark the entrance. If you stand on the portico and look east, you can get a fine look at the Potomac River and the Washington skyline.

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Now we travel to a very different kind of protected land. In nineteen seventy-two, the government created a new kind of recreation area. It is not a wilderness area. Nor is it a single place. Instead, the Gateway National Recreation Area covers a huge area of New York City and northern New Jersey.

The Gateway National Recreation Area contains more than ten thousand hectares. It offers many activities for people to enjoy in their free time.

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You can watch professional sports teams or attend music concerts and plays in busy cities in the Gateway area. Or you can spend peaceful hours on the shores of Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Its beaches on the Atlantic Ocean are a thirty-minute boat ride from Manhattan island.

Sandy Hook is a good place to watch birds. The New Jersey Audubon Society established a bird observation center there in two thousand one. Hundreds of different kinds of birds and butterflies have been recorded from the Sandy Hook Bird Observatory.

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For our last stop, we return to the West to see the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It extends four hundred forty-six kilometers along the Colorado River.

You can stand at the top of the Grand Canyon and look over the edge. The huge opening in the earth is more than one and one-half kilometers deep. People walk down or ride a mule into the canyon.

If you like action, consider a rafting trip on the fast-moving waters of the Colorado River. The Grand Canyon also has wildlife to enjoy.

It is a world in itself. American composer Ferde Grofe captured this world in the "Grand Canyon Suite." We leave you with "Cloud Burst."

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VOICE TWO:

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Faith Lapidus.

VOICE ONE:

And I’m Doug Johnson. Please join us again next week for another THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.

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