The 4th of July is a day filled with friends, family, parades, fireworks, cookouts, and flags – all in celebration of American Independence! It’s an important day to celebrate our history, our culture and our freedoms.
This 4th of July, I’d like to highlight our natural wonders, cultural treasures and the determination of the men and women that made sure they were protected and available to everyone. During the time when westward expansion was at its height, there was also a growing recognition that the young United States held some amazing landscapes, worthy of preservation.
Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872 and “Americas Best Idea” was born. In 1903, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge was created. It was an important step forward in also preserving vital habitat for wildlife.
One of every three acres of land in the United States—nearly 600 million acres—belongs to the public. These lands are the country’s special, one-of-a-kind natural resources. These are the national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, coastal preserves, forests, grasslands, marine sanctuaries, lakes and reservoirs that all of us use to hike, bike, climb, swim, explore, picnic or just simply relax.
Here in Maryland, there are 16 National Parks and 5 National Wildlife Refuges. Together, they boast more than 6 million visitors a year – deservedly so. Bald Eagles and Osprey take their turn nesting on these undeveloped sites. Snow geese, black ducks, tundra swan and other waterfowl by the tens of thousands visit our refuges each winter as they migrate along the Atlantic Flyway. Endangered species like the piping plover and loggerhead sea turtle use the Assateague coast for nesting.
These parks, along with other protected areas like National Marine Sanctuaries and Marine Protected Areas, are often well managed and are less influenced by outside stressors, such as development, overfishing and habitat degradations, that strain the health of our natural ecosystems. Protected areas such as these are national treasures, and we must all do our part to ensure their long-term survival and sustainability.
The National Aquarium’s Conservation Team (ACT!) has partnered with the National Park Service, National Parks Conservation Association and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore vital habitats at places like Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, and Eastern Neck and Blackwater National Wildlife Refuges. Over the past 14 years, with the help of community volunteers, we have planted more than 1.5 million native plants and restored more than 170 acres of vital habitat on protected lands.
Now, more than ever, is the time to advocate for more areas, aquatic and terrestrial, under protection. The world does not need one more shopping mall. We DO need clean water, clean air, and places to fish, kayak, hike, bike and sail.