Renew your respect and passion for America's public lands. This inspiring editorial demands its readers to take personal ownership and pride in our national parks, national forests, historic sites, wilderness, state parks, and all other public land.

Author Cody Smith
San Juan Mountains, Colorad

Respect is something you give someone, or something, or somewhere because you appreciate it. Today I helped clean up what would’ve been a beautiful glade in the Mark Twain National Forest of southern Missouri, but was unfortunately the site of mass dumping. Shingles, toys, clothes, shoes, wood, concrete, glass, cans, shotgun shells, plastic bags, carpets, and numerous other items were scattered and piled all around and across this glade. In fact, there was so much garbage, that we had to use heavy equipment to get it all loaded. After five hours of picking up, scooping up, and scraping up nearly every last piece of garbage, we filled a large dump trailer to the brim – not to mention the big stack of tires we put on a flatbed. There was certainly no lack of garbage, but what I did see was an enormous lack of respect.

Respect is something you give someone, or something, or somewhere because you appreciate it. Sure, most, if not all, people would say they appreciate public lands such as state parks, national forests, national parks, wilderness, and historic sites. But when a need arises – the need of firewood, the need of somewhere to dump trash, the need of somewhere to do illegal activities such as making drugs – some people instantly take advantage of public lands.

Would you drive into a state park and dump a whole truckload of bottles on the ground? Absolutely not! Now, what about just throwing a cigarette on the ground? How about tossing an empty can out the window, or a bottle? Sure, one little bottle isn’t a huge deal – I mean, it’ll only take about a million years to decompose. But what if 500 people, which is a fairly low number considering the population in some areas, all throw just one meaningless bottle out the window? We have 500 bottles alongside the road. Now what if these 500 people only threw one bottle out the window every year – in 10 years we have 5,000 bottles alongside the road! In 20 years, 10,000 bottles! In 30 years, a disaster. Yes, 15,000 bottles is a lot, but one is too many.

Respect is something you give someone, or something, or somewhere because you appreciate it. People will quit dumping garbage and tossing trash on the ground when they begin to appreciate the land they’re dumping or tossing it on. And what’s the best way to learn to appreciate it?

Learn about it.

It’s hard to appreciate Martin Luther King Jr. until we know what he did. It’s hard to appreciate the Wright brothers until we know what they accomplished. It’s hard to appreciate the Statue of Liberty until we know what it stands for. And it’s hard to appreciate our public lands until we know what they are and what they’re there for.

“Who will gainsay that the parks contain the highest potentialities of national pride, national contentment, and national health? A visit inspires love of country; begets contentment; engenders pride of possession; contains the antidote for national restlessness.... He is a better citizen with a keener appreciation of the privilege of living here who has toured the national parks.”
-Stephen T. Mather, NPS Director, 1917-1929

“If more Americans could be induced to visit these scenic treasure houses the public will come to appreciate their value and stand firmly in their defense.”
-Allen Chamberlain, Appalachian Mountain Club, 1911

“So great is the value of national forest areas for recreation, and so certain is this value to increase with the growth of the country and the shrinkage of the wilderness, that even if the forest resources of wood and water were not to be required by the civilization of the future, many of the forests ought certainly to be preserved, in the interest of national health and well-being, for recreation use alone.”
-Treadwell Cleveland, National Forests as Recreation Grounds, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 35(2), 1910

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” 
-John Muir, US naturalist, 1838-1914

“Ability to see the cultural value of wilderness boils down, in the last analysis, to a question of intellectual humility.”
-Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1949

“In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world - the great fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off and the wounds heal ere we are aware.”
-John Muir, Alaska Fragment, 1890

“Without enough wilderness, America will change. Democracy, with its myriad personalities and increasing sophistication, must be fibred and vitalized by the regular contact with outdoor growths - animals, trees, sun warmth, and free skies - or it will dwindle and pale.”
-Walt Whitman, US poet, 1819-1892

“Wipe out wilderness and the world’s a cage.”
-David Brower, Executive Director, Sierra Club, 1952-1969