Robert Keiter talks about the evolution of the National Parks idea | ParkRecord.com

Robert Keiter talks about the evolution of the National Parks idea

Part of the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter's mission is to share information about the natural world.

The nonprofit does this in a variety of ways — educational programs, walks, geocaching, exhibits and speaker presentations.

The next presentation will be by Robert Keiter from 7:30-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 9.

Keiter is Wallace Stegner Professor of Law, University Distinguished Professor, and founding Director of the Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment at the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law. 

He is also the author of the book "To Conserve Unimpaired: The Evolution of the National Park Idea," which was published in 2014.  

The presentation will cover some issues addressed in the book, which is available online at amazon.com and at King's English Bookstore in Salt Lake City.

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"I've been focused generally on public lands, particularly on National Parks and endangered species, for 30 years with the writing and research, including several books," Keiter told The Park Record. "Recognizing the National Park centennial was in 2016, I thought taking a look at what transpired over the last century and how the idea has grown and changed made sense."

The biggest change surrounded the National Park concept.

"When we first set up our first National Park, we envisioned them as a complete nature enclaves that would be sufficient to protect both the scenic objects, the wildlife and historic objects we were interested in preserving," Keiter said. "Well, it became evident that these parks weren't evident as enclaves and that they were connected to the surrounding landscape. So, I suggested in the book that one of the most important ideas that has emerged is that our parks are vital cores of larger ecosystems."

Part of Keiter's presentation will examine the future of the National Park system.

"It will address how we should think about it as part of the larger commitment in this country to nature conservation," he said. "That commitment is reflected in laws and policies, ranging from more than 110 million acres that have been put in wilderness status to wildlife refuge system to the Bureau of Land Management Landscape Conservation System and the Endangered Species Act."

Of the United States' 58 national parks, five of them — Arches, Bryce Canyon,
Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion — are in Utah.

"[Author and historian] Wallace Stegner said that National Parks are 'the best idea we ever had,' and it's important for us to connect people, especially kids, from all backgrounds with these places," Keiter said. "These areas are things that make this country unique. Europe has its cathedrals and castles, and we have our National Parks."

The biggest challenge facing the future of these areas can be divided into three parts, Keiter said.

"One is pressure from the outside, which can be in the form of air pollution from distant sources that obscures visibility and hinders not only visitor experiences, but the local resources itself including soil composition and water composition," he said.

The second is on the same line — climate change, which is is already having an impact on our parks and protected lands."

The third is education.

"We need to make sure the public in all of its diversity can learn to understand these places and connect with them," Keiter said. "These places have been set aside as protected areas by political decisions that were made by congress and have the support of the broader communities.

"I would also add that these places are part of our national heritage of pioneering and frontiering."

The key to ensure the preservation of these areas is money.

"They need to be funded at adequate levels, which they aren't currently, so the future generations can experience wild nature as earlier generations did," Keiter said.

Nell Larson, Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter executive director, said Keiter's presentation dovetails nicely with her nonprofit's mission and Rick Braveheart's "Endangered Landscapes" exhibit that is on display through Nov. 27.

"I see the National Parks facing the same challenges we do at the Swaner Preserve," she said. "It sounds simple to say we want to protect and preserve an area, but in reality you have to deal with wildlife conservation, as well as tourism and recreational pressure, in addition to changing climates and changing demographics.

"Many people who live on Park City and Summit County are passionate about our open space and these experiences help us learn about what we need to do in order to protect these areas," Larson said. "We are lucky to have someone like Bob with his expertise in Utah, and we're looking forward to having him come up to the EcoCenter."

University of Utah's Robert Keiter will speak from 7:30-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 9, at p.m. at the Swaner EcoCenter, 1258 Center Drive at Kimball Junction. The event is $5 for the general public and free for EcoCenter members. To RSVP or for more information, visit http://www.swanerecocenter.org.

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