RANGER KEVIN: Why it’s important to preserve ‘America’s special places’ including Colo. Nat’l Monument | PostIndependent.com

RANGER KEVIN: Why it’s important to preserve ‘America’s special places’ including Colo. Nat’l Monument

Courtesy / Ranger Kevin
Staff Photo |

Editor’s note: Kevin Hardy, fourth grade teacher at Broadway Elementary, was accepted into the Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program at Colorado National Monument for six weeks this summer. Each week, he will share his experience with Free Press readers.

In 2016 the National Park Service will mark its centennial. They have developed four themes: Connecting people to parks, advancing the NPS education mission, preserving America’s special places, and enhancing professional and organizational excellence as a call to action carrying them into their second hundred years. In the coming weeks, I hope to write about several programs the Monument has implemented in response.

Since created, its mission, “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations,” hasn’t changed, but as our knowledge of healthy ecosystems evolves, management practices advance. Because of this, today we have wolves in Yellowstone and closer to home we hike the canyons of the Monument with desert bighorn.

This week, roving Liberty Cap trail, I was reminded how park experiences have changed. It was hot going up and when I reached the top there was a nice breeze coming down Ute Canyon, so I thought I would take the opportunity to cool off by climbing the sandstone knob from which the trail gets its name. It was a great morning on this prominent rock that can be seen from throughout our city. When I reached the top, the breeze had grown into a strong wind and white-throated swifts nimbly soared around me as I found a place I could lean into the wind so far out that if it stopped I would have fallen face first into the rock I was standing on. I don’t know if Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio had anything over me when they leaned out over the bow of the Titanic, but I’ll guarantee, my view was better.

I found a perch and gazed out over the city. As I looked around, my eyes returned to the rock and I saw all sorts of messages carved into the soft sandstone by past visitors. Looking at this graffiti made me think of hikes on which I had seen similar vandalism and of learning that only one of the 13 known rock art panels on the Monument hasn’t been defaced.

My mind turned to the article I saw last week about the citation issued to someone for harassing lizards. Many people probably laughed this off wondering if rangers don’t have better ways to spend their time than harassing people having “innocent” fun. Heck, I remember visiting Rocky Mountain National Park years ago and having stellar jays land on my hand as I offered them crackers, and who hasn’t seen the cute pictures of Yellowstone bears looking for handouts from passing cars? Today, trails are closed when certain birds build nests too close. Yes, that was then and this is now.

Part of the thrill of seeing animals in National Park Service areas today is that they are wild. Seeing these wild animals often reflect a healthy ecosystem. This includes the Monument’s lizards.

It is important to understand when we visit national park sites we are entering the homes of these wild animals. Resisting the urge to squash it, I recognized this years ago when I shared a black widow’s overhang during an afternoon thunderstorm. Survival is a struggle, especially in our arid desert environment. Putting stress on the flora and fauna could mean the difference between life and death. We should never approach a wild animal close enough to make it nervous and every student that has been on a ranger-led field trip knows the phrase, “Don’t bust the crust.”

Perhaps our actions are influenced by our own impermanence. “Only the rocks live forever,” a quote from “Centennial,” James Michener’s classic book about Colorado, might explain why someone would carve their name into a rock. But our Monument is an example that Michener’s quote is inaccurate. These canyons were created over centuries through erosion, the process of breaking rock down. There isn’t a trail or roadside overlook that the evidence of this process can’t be viewed. Hopefully it lasts longer than the emotions of the one who wrote it, but eventually “Danny Loves Sandy” will be gone. A better way to gain immortality is to join the call to action that will carry the National Park Service into its next hundred years and support its work by treating our natural wonders with care so our future generations will still be able to visit the “scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein.”

Kevin Hardy has been a teacher with School District 51 for 27 years. Equaling his passion for education is his love of the outdoors. For more information about hiking in our area, contact him at rangerforasummer@gmail.com or follow his daily blog at rangerforasummer@wordpress.com.

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