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Oak Tree on John Gilbert Nature Trail, St. Simons, Georgia Photo: SSLT
Today would have been Stewart Udall’s 100th birthday — and while many Americans may not know his name — he was Secretary of Interior to President’s John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and led the birth of today’s conservation movement in the 1960’s — there are few Americans who have not benefitted from his legacy, parks large and small across the nation. He made parks an integral part of modern America.
The American Academy of Parks and Recreation Administration said of Udall, “He broadened the concept of conservation from a mere custodianship of individual resources to an understanding of the interrelationships of natural and human resources and to a concern for the health and beauty of the entire environment. No longer were conservation activities, the saving of a forest, park, or wildlife range peripheral actions, isolated from the mainstream of American life.”
Why This Matters: Today in our divided federal government, it is hard to create new National Parks much less maintain the ones we have. Land trusts are increasingly the manifestation of Udall’s vision — community parks, trails and protected areas around the corner, donated by local residents as a gift to their neighbors and future generations. These are places like the John Gilbert Nature Trail, a forty-acre marsh-front park situated along one of the main roads on St. Simons, Georgia right in the heart of this island community, donated to the St. Simons Land Trust by a local resident in memory of her husband. At almost anytime on any given day, there are cars and bikes parked at the entrance to the trail, with families walking the trail or just hanging out on one of the benches contemplating nature and the extraordinary beauty of the live oaks draped with Spanish moss. Similarly, the Santa Fe Conservation Trust has helped to create a network of more than 40,500 acres of natural, open lands in northern New Mexico by providing landowners with tools to place their lands into “conservation status” and sponsoring programs like “Vamanos” to get people out walking on public trails in the Santa Fe Community. Public-private conservation partnerships will be critical to reaching the goal of protecting 30% of the planet by 2030.
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