By Susan Hoffman
Edge Managing Editor
Parks serve a variety of purposes for different people. They can be used for education, recreation, conservation of flora and fauna, tourism, and the preservation of lands and buildings where historic events occurred.
For me and many others, parks are also a source of relaxation, improved mental health and priceless memories. When I was a child, my family would regularly visit Pohick Bay Regional Park to go swimming or to have picnics by the side of the bay while watching the boats go by. We also went camping in places like Sherando Lake.
My elementary school principal and teachers would take the fifth and sixth grade students on a camping trip at Bull Run Regional Park in the fall. We cooked over campfires (under chaperone supervision), learned about local plants, went orienteering and learned other useful knowledge you couldn’t always teach in a classroom.
As a teen, I belonged to a youth group at church. This youth group did a camping trip up at the Big Meadows campground in Shenandoah National Park. We had enormous fun, including hilarious cutthroat games of Uno around the picnic table at our campsite.
One evening, a bear decided to join our Uno game. (Luckily for us, something else caught his attention and he changed his mind.)
Earth Day is April 22! Here are some ways to celebrate it.
Climate Change Is Having a Detrimental Effect on Our Parks
But sadly, climate change is taking an increasing toll on our parks. According to the National Park Service, “In some parks, the melting of glaciers and thawing of permafrost are visible. Along the coast, many parks grapple with sea level rise. And in many Western parks, tree mortality and wildfire activity are on the rise.”
The National Park Service also notes that some parks are experiencing higher temperatures and drier conditions, especially those parks in Alaska and in the western states. These higher temperatures and drier conditions are largely due to carbon emissions from vehicles, power plants, and other human sources.
Similarly, warmer temperatures are causing lakes and rivers to shrink, which is affecting our energy and water supplies. For instance, the Colorado River has shrunk over time, affecting water supplies to southwestern states and northern Mexico, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Acid rain is also having an effect. For example, the National Park Service says that “years of acid rain has negatively affected soil and water quality in the Meadow Run watershed, resulting in impacts to overall forest health.”
Now Is the Time to Change the Future of Our Parks and Environment
Although climate change is too big a problem to resolve quickly, there are many small actions you can take to help our parks and preserve their wonders for future generations. Inhabitat recommends these tips for being a responsible park visitor:
- Understand the history behind national parks, especially if those sites were once sacred places to indigenous people.
- Bring a water bottle and use refilling stations rather than buying plastic bottles.
- Avoid littering.
- Take photographs rather than picking flowers.
- Follow fire safety rules to help prevent wildfires.
- Don’t feed wild animals.
- Obey signs and do not walk in areas where walking is forbidden.
- Get permits for activities such as backpacking.
- Use official guides for canyoneering and whitewater rafting.
- Avoid the temptation to vandalize monuments, trees, benches or other objects.
If you think you won’t be affected by climate change, think again. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “The impacts of climate change on different sectors of society are interrelated. Drought can harm food production and human health. Flooding can lead to disease spread and damages to ecosystems and infrastructure. Human health issues can increase mortality, impact food availability, and limit worker productivity. Climate change impacts are seen throughout every aspect of the world we live in.”
But we can still reverse the worst effects of climate change. NOAA adds, “The projections of a climate change-impacted future are not inevitable. Many of the problems and solutions are known to us now, and ongoing research continues to provide new ones.
“Experts believe there is still time to avoid the most negative of outcomes by limiting warming and reducing emissions to zero as quickly as possible. Reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases will require investment in new technology and infrastructure, which will spur job growth. Additionally, lowering emissions will lessen harmful impacts to human health, saving countless lives and billions of dollars in health-related expenses.”
U.S. historian Howard Zinn once said, “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” This Earth Day, what act will you perform to help solve climate change and preserve the beauty of our environment?