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For Everybody and for All Time: National Parks @ 100

Wed Jul 6, 2016

National Park They’ve been called our country’s best idea, a space to connect with each other and something bigger than ourselves, a remarkable expression of democracy, preserving for everybody and for all time some of the earth’s most breathtakingly beautiful wilderness. And this year our national parks are being celebrated for a major milestone: The 100th anniversary of the U.S. national park system.

Formally, the National Park Service came into being with legislation signed by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916. But the roots that nurtured the birth of the NPS reach much deeper into U.S. cultural history, fed by earlier legislation (such as the 1864 act signed by Abraham Lincoln to protect Yosemite Valley) and values and visions shaped by generations of thinkers, writers, scientists, and artists–James Fenimore Cooper, George Catlin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir, Ferdinand Hayden, Fredrick Law Olmsted, to name a few.

As with any big idea, the story of America’s national park system has many perspectives, some inspiring, some that conflict with each other, some that have yet to be told. A new summer book display at Mann Library puts a spotlight on this multi-faceted history. As the life sciences library at Cornell, Mann’s collection in the areas of conservation, natural resources, and park management is particularly strong. We invite you come browse and explore a little of the philosophies, social and political forces, struggles, achievements, and hard, slogging work that brought America’s national parks into being. In line with the National Park’s Service celebration theme this year, we hope the browse will inspire our audience to go “find your park.” And maybe we’ll take it even a little further by invoking the words of Ken Burns, who observes in his acclaimed 6-part documentary: Through the national parks of this country, Americans are all “co-owners of some of the most spectacular scenery on earth.” As the filmmaker reminds, it behooves us all to take care of our property and be mindful of what needs to be done to safeguard its availability for our future generations.

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