Broadcast: August 25, 2003
Millions of people visit national parks in the United States, especially during summer. I'm Faith Lapidus.
And I’m Steve Ember. America’s National Park System is our report this week on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.
Last year, two-hundred-seventy-seven-million people visited America’s national parks. They went to walk, swim, climb, or just spend a few days in the open air. They went to enjoy the beauty and wonders of nature.
Visitors have a wide choice of national parks. The United States has almost four-hundred protected areas. These include parks, monuments, historic places, rivers, trails, seashores and lakeshores. They cover almost thirty-four-million hectares.
America’s first national park was Yellowstone, in the western state of Wyoming. It was the first national park in the world. Yellowstone was established in eighteen-seventy-two. But the idea of protecting areas from human development was proposed years earlier. American painter George Catlin offered the idea during the eighteen-thirties. Once Yellowstone opened, it became a place where wild animals and other natural resources could be protected.
The government said the park was for all the people to enjoy, then and in the future. Today three-million people each year visit Yellowstone National Park, most of them during summer.
Congress established the National Park service in nineteen-sixteen. A businessman from Chicago, Illinois, became the first director. He retired in nineteen-twenty-nine. This man, Stephen Mather, was very important to the success of the newborn Park Service.
He added ten more national parks and nine more national monuments. The parks covered more than two times as much land as when the Park Service began.
Other major expansions took place in the nineteen-thirties and around the middle of the twentieth century.
The National 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 with each other.
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. And the many visitors cause water and waste systems to have to work hard.
Some national parks cost money to enter, but not very much. And 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.
For years the Park Service has said it does not have enough money to operate at its best. Sometimes visitors protest about conditions in the parks. For example, they say some roads and places to sleep have not been repaired as needed. Critics of the system say many parks lack enough employees.
The National Park Service is part of the United States Department of the Interior. Last month, Interior Secretary Gale Norton reported to President Bush that the department has made progress in its work.
Her report says America's national parks need almost five-thousand-million dollars worth of repairs and improvements. It says the president’s budgets have provided almost three-thousand-million dollars from last year through next year.
The National Parks Conservation Association is a private group formed in nineteen-nineteen to help protect the park system. It attacked the report by Secretary Norton. The organization says President Bush has failed to keep his promise to restore and renew the national parks.
It also denounced what it called an "aggressive push" to replace government employees in the Park Service with private workers.
Money to support America's national parks comes from the federal government and visitors. It also comes from businesses and individuals 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.
In the nation’s capital, for instance, the Target Corporation provided money to help restore the Washington Monument. Another example is Kodak. That company supports photo competitions at national parks. And there is much to photograph.
The national park system contains beautiful areas of nature. Visitors also can see American 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 in the East, in the state of Massachusetts, at the Cape Cod National Seashore.
This protected area is sixty-four kilometers long. It became part of the national park system in nineteen-sixty-one. Visitors can enjoy a peaceful ocean environment. There are no stores or other businesses. Visitors can study the plants and animals in the area. They can swim at many beaches.
One beach is close to where Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi built radio towers in the early nineteen-hundreds. With this equipment, Marconi was able to send and receive radio signals across the Atlantic Ocean.
Next we travel all the way down along the East Coast, to Florida. That state is home to the swamps of the Everglades. The Everglades National Park covers about six-hundred-thousand hectares. That is about one-fifth of the total area of wetlands.
Saw grass grows in some of the park. Be careful -- it's very sharp, with teeth just like a saw. And it grows almost four meters tall!
Look around and you also see raised areas, called tree islands. These support many different kinds of trees, including royal palms.
A number of animals live in the Everglades National Park. Some, like deer and fish, also live in many other parks. But this is one of the places where you can also see alligators and crocodiles. These big, lizard-like creatures often look asleep. But they can move very suddenly and have many teeth. So better keep an eye on them!
Florida panthers are also fast. This large, light brown cat hunts other animals. But Florida panthers are endangered. Very few remain in the Everglades. Scientists are working to save them.
From Florida we travel to the Midwest. People from all over the world visit the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. These hills of sand line the shores of Lake Michigan, near Chicago.
Lake Michigan is one of North America's five Great Lakes. The winds along the water built some of these dunes in ancient times. Others may be forming right now.
Dunes are created when the winds drop loose sand along the shore. Some take the form of long, narrow hills.
The smooth sands of the dunes and lakeshore make music when people walk on them. Some of these sounds can be heard ten meters away. Visitors often say that the sand dunes "sing."
People have fun climbing the dunes. They also like to swim and sail in Lake Michigan. But now, it's time to shake off this sand and head to the desert, in the American Southwest.
(GRAND CANYON SUITE)
Of all the national parks in America, one of the most famous and most beautiful is a huge hole in the ground. The Grand Canyon is in the state of Arizona. It extends four-hundred-fifty kilometers along the Colorado River.
Visitors can stand on top and look over the edge. They can walk down into the canyon, or ride a mule. Visitors can also fly over in helicopters or small airplanes. And they can ride boats in the sometimes fast-moving waters of the Colorado River.
Birdwatchers have about three-hundred kinds to watch for in the Grand Canyon. On the ground are beavers, sheep, elk, lizards, mountain lions, deer and -- yes -- snakes. So be sure to shake out your cowboy boots before you put them back on in the morning!
The Grand Canyon is a world in itself. Colorful and silent. Peaceful. American composer Ferde Grofe captured this world. We leave you now with “Cloud Burst” from Grofe’s "Grand Canyon Suite.”
(GRAND CANYON SUITE)
Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.