Yosemite National Park: the best of good government

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

We have previously touted the benefits of “good government,” from Social Security to Superstorm Sandy relief. But perhaps no result of good government is more beloved than America’s fabulous national parks. And the first park land set aside in America by the federal government for public use — by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864 — was the land that is now Yosemite National Park.

A visit to Yosemite is a spectacular and wondrous experience. Famous sites such as El Capitan, Half Dome and the giant Sequoia trees live up to the many decades of hype. Amazingly, the nearly 1,200 square mile Yosemite is also meticulously maintained, including the smooth roads with their stone walls, the wooden fence posts, the bridges and walkways, etc. Many of the park’s roads (some over 9,000 feet in elevation), moreover, are engineering marvels, especially given the technology available at the time they were built. Yet, considering the vast number of people and vehicles that visit Yosemite, it seems incredibly unspoiled. Even the man-made structures in the park (Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, the restaurants and gift shops, etc.) blend into their natural surroundings.

Perhaps this is why Yosemite attracts some four million visitors per year, many of them from foreign countries. Visitors to Yosemite are undertaking the very “pursuit of happiness” which our Declaration of Independence set out to protect, but which conservatives seem to ignore. Ironically, America’s stunningly unique national parks like Yosemite also constitute the essence of “American exceptionalism” that conservatives like to utter, as they look for ways to take away our national parks.

Indeed, national parks like Yosemite demonstrate the grand canyon between conservatives and liberals (and most everyone else) when it comes to the role of government. Our national parks didn’t crop up by accident. Dedicated public officials, including presidents and members of Congress as well as naturalists such as John Muir, had to push them through to creation. These individuals had the foresight to know that, while America still had many natural lands and many fewer people at the time, such lands would not remain pristine unless they were protected by the federal government.

One shudders to think what Yosemite would look like had it not been set aside by visionary public officials for future generations to enjoy. Today’s conservatives would be granting permission to their big corporate overlords to drill, mine, log and develop all over the park. The place might resemble a shopping mall just like one sees all up and down America’s highways. There might even be a Yosemite Amusement Park with fake trees and fake granite walls to replace the real ones that the bulldozers and dynamite took away.

But conservatives seem to miss that America’s spectacular national parks like Yosemite are also beneficial to the economy. Park fees (though quite reasonable), hotels and lodging, concessions such as food and gifts, all contribute back to the American taxpayer. Contractors also reap revenues from providing construction and other services at parks like Yosemite (note how conservatives don’t have a problem with companies such as Haliburton and Bechtel earning billions from government contracts when it comes to the military). And that’s just inside the park. Ask the many small business owners within, say, a 30-mile radius of Yosemite how they like the private sector profits generated from travelers to the park. Multiply that by all of America’s national parks, and you get quite an economic machine along with your recreation, relaxation and even meditation. This kind of win-win situation is the essence of good government. May it continue for many years to come.

Photo by Messaging Matters. Copyright 2015 Messaging Matters — all rights reserved.

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