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Well…isn’t April –now that we’ve finally got some weather that resemble Spring—just the greenest month!

We’ve got Earth Day.  We’ve got Arbor Day.   We’ve got Happy Birthday for the National Park System (which will actually be running all year to mark the centennial of the founding of the NPS in 1916…by President Woodrow Wilson, no less—at the direction of Congress, of course).  The official date is August 25 but there will be events taking place all summer and fall at various locations across the nation.

After considerable agitation by two gentlemen—Stephen Mather and  Horace Albright—and public support and encouragement from the National Geographic Society, the Saturday Evening Post and other popular publications, legislation was approved establishing the Park Service  within the Department of the Interior and directing the service…”to conserve the scenery and natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”  Quite a tall order!

We’re through  National Park Week, which ran through April 24; park fees—where they are charged, not like our Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which is free all of the time—fees will be waived, as they will be on August 25-28, September 24 (National Public Lands Day) and Veterans Day, November 11 (Thanks vets, for defending and serving all of this land).   There will be things going on, like National Junior Ranger Day and Earth Day, when there will be special projects involving park clean-up and other activities.  The National Park Service is comprised of over 400 units, from Mt. Rainier and Yellowstone to the Capitol grounds and the United States Botanical Gardens, to  the Channel Islands and the David Berger National Memorial—the nation’s smallest—in Beachwood, OH.  Over 300 million visitors come to the parks every year.  We’re loving our parks to death!  Literally.

The budgets to maintain the parks and the Park Service have suffered greatly in recent years.  The Congress, in its wisdom (That’s a joke, son) has chosen to neglect and reduce the maintenance and development of many of our national treasures, building up a backlog of necessary upkeep and repairs that have forced the closures of some locations and sometimes even unsafe conditions for visitors and wildlife.  So far, just about the only propositions for dealing with these challenges seem to be linked to opening (and we’re talking WIDE open here) various locations to commercial development.  Doesn’t it remind you of the line from that Joni Mitchell song, “They’ve paved Paradise and put up a parking lot”?

Picture it : carnival rides and sno-cones by the Lincoln Memorial, Dodge-em cars next to Old Faithful in Yellowstone, a Small-mart on top of Old Smoky, a hot tub dealership in Death Valley—the possibilities are endless.  You want commercial?   Get some of the OFFICIAL NPS merchandise—the pin, the cap, the shirt, the sweatshirt, etc.—available on the website  At least you can be pretty sure that a percentage will go to the parks themselves.  In addition, a new IMAX film is coming out highlighting some of the most breath-taking views of our national treasures, the United States Postal Service (except from noon to one) will be bringing out 16 new stamps featuring scenes from national parks, the United States Mint will bring out three commemorative coins, there’s a special exhibit at the United States Botanical Gardens of rare and amazing plants found in various parks and there’s a new centennial logo for the park service—a variation on the original arrowhead design.  Go for it!

There’s even an official sponsor for the whole “Find Your Park” campaign; Subaru (a Japanese company, you may recall) has  brought the scenery into many of its new commercials.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the rest of us would “put our money where our mouths are”, so to speak?  Where’s Teddy Roosevelt when we need him? (Or for that matter, Ulysses S. Grant, who designated the first national park—in the world!— Yellowstone, 1872; followed by Yosemite in 1916)

And then there’s Arbor Day. Last Friday in April, this year observed on April 29.  Now here’s a holiday of sorts that has its own support foundation to promote the planting, care and benefits of trees.

This one was started by a chap named J. Sterling Morton in Nebraska.  He had moved there from the Detroit area and noticed that—Hey, there aren’t many trees out here on the prairie!  Trees can serve as windbreaks (plenty of that needed out on the plains), aid in soil stabilization (Dust Bowl , anyone?) and provide shade.  So he planted trees around his house and encouraged others to do so as well, even going to the  extent of offering prizes to those who planted and maintained the most trees.  He proposed in 1872 that there be a holiday to plant trees.  This observance became a state holiday in 1885 and has since spread across the country so that there are Arbor Days in nearly every state, usually at about the best time of the year to plant trees…though with some of the weather we’ve been having, that’s getting harder and harder to tell.

In Ohio, most, if not all, of the counties have individual Soil and Water Conservation District offices, where residents can  get information and help on growing whatever their little hearts desire, or advice on getting rid of those icky bugs that are devouring the rutabagas or information concerning the type of soil  in their back forty (remind me to talk about that expression some time), OR what kinds of trees and plants are native to the area and would attract birds, butterflies and other pollinators to their yards.  THEN…if you pay attention (always my weak spot) you can order your chosen vegetation at very reasonable prices, pick up your order and plant to your heart’s content.  I’m still waiting for my Paw-paw bushes to bear fruit but at least they grew and they are definitely colorful.  I’m going for greenery that will feed the birds in the winter, however, someday I want to taste a pawpaw.  Hope it’s worth the wait.

Get out and plant a tree…plant two while you’re at it.