The following is a transcript of the remarks I prepared for this morning’s Constitution Cafe event about green space in American life at East Central High School:
I know that many of you- in your Social Studies classes- have learned about “Manifest Destiny.” At the founding of the American republic, our ancestors believed that it was America’s destiny to settle the entire continent- from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. At the time, our natural resources seemed inexhaustible.
But over 100 years later- after explorers settled the west and our economy underwent an Industrial Revolution- it was becoming more and more clear that a commitment to conservation would be necessary to protect not only our natural resources, but some of our national treasures.
By the time he took office at the beginning of the 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt was a committed conservationist. He wanted to leave pristine American land for posterity. So during his presidency, he protected more than 200 million acres of public land and dedicated or expanded six national parks.
In 1916- one hundred years ago this August- President Wilson created the National Park Service when he signed the National Park Service Organic Act.
I understand that a group of students was able to see the wonder of Big Bend National Park for the first time just last month. And there are many many other natural treasures I would encourage you to visit: from Shenandoah to Yellowstone to Yosemite to Redwood.
The National Park Service oversees 59 national parks, which will be preserved in their natural beauty forever. And I hope that each of you has the opportunity to enjoy one or more of them in the coming years.
I know that- at times- it seems like politicians can’t get much done. But protecting our green spaces is a priority for officeholders at all levels. And we are actually making a lot of progress.
The Let’s Move Outside campaign over at the U.S. Department of the Interior is committed to ensuring that all of our youth has an opportunity to play, learn, serve, and work outside. I know that there are some representatives from Let’s Move Outside here and hope each of you can get engaged with this worthy effort.
At the state level- just this past year- the Texas Legislature passed a bill sponsored by Bexar County State Rep. Lyle Larson that will increase funding at state parks.
And here locally there is a whole lot going on. Over the past decade, Bexar County, the San Antonio River Authority, and others came together and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the Riverwalk’s reach for miles to the north and to the south. This year, the City of San Antonio is spending $100 million on its Parks and Recreation Department. And last May, San Antonio residents approved $80 million to expand our citywide trail system by dozens of miles.
Why are we doing this? What makes citizens and representatives at each level of government so eager to invest heavily in stewardship and our park infrastructure?
One reason could be to improve our quality of life. Who among us doesn’t feel more at peace emotionally, intellectually and spiritually when we are with nature? I am sure that the students who visited Big Bend know what I am talking about.
Another reason could be to improve our health. In the past four years, I have been fortunate to lose a significant amount of weight. I attribute this weight loss to the investment our community has made in the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails and Riverwalk expansion projects.
Mayor Taylor is committed to the SA2020 goal of San Antonio being one of the healthiest communities in the nation and it now leading “Walk with the Mayor” events as part of her Fit City SA initiative. My boss, Councilman Nirenberg, shares her commitment.
But aside from improving quality of life and public health, there seems to be something deeply ingrained in us as humans. Do we feel a connection to the land around us? Do we feel that we have a responsibility to leave the natural wonders around us pristine for the generations that follow?
And this leads to even more questions. What is the role of stewardship? What can young people do to get involved?
There are no right answers to these questions. And before we get started on our conversations, I want to close with President Roosevelt’s observation that our “great central task” is leaving this land even better for our descendants than it is for us.”