Editor’s Letter

Enduring Vision: Taking in the Rio Grande Del Norte. Photo by Doug Schnitzspahn

When some folks with dollar signs in their eyes wanted to profit off the Grand Canyon, to develop it, change it, Teddy Roosevelt would not stand for it.

“I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is,” he said. “I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

It took more than rousing quotes to save the canyon, however. The Republican president needed to revert to his famed big stick and find a law that would ensure no one would mar this place. The law turned out to be the Antiquities Act  of 1906, a bill that, on the surface, was passed to give Congress and the President the power to preserve ruins and other archaeological wonders—but the cultural, historical and scientific sites that could be protected as monuments were not limited to ruins. At least that was how T.R. saw it when he declared 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon a national monument in 1908, claiming the whole damn thing was an object of scientific, historical and cultural importance. History would prove him right and the canyon would eventually be further protected as a national park in 1919 by Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

In the century since, Republican and Democrat Presidents have declared 142 national monuments and enlarged many existing ones to better preserve their wonders. Like the Grand Canyon, many of those such as Great Sand Dunes National Monument, created by Herbert Hoover, have also been turned into national parks. But many others, such as New Mexico’s Bandelier, created by Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante, created by Bill Clinton, have endured just fine as monuments. While national forests Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands are managed for their resources and national parks require very stringent guidelines, monuments exist somewhere in between, and they can be found on both national forests and BLM lands. Protecting the “objects of interest” within them is paramount, but they are more open to visitation, to free wandering, to persevering as part of the landscape that is so quickly disappearing in once wild places that industry and developers now want to own.

Currently, the Obama Administration is busy wielding its own big stick and creating new national monuments across the country. With our political system deadlocked and powerful lobby interests in Congress looking to sell off public land and cripple conservation laws, preserving as much land as possible is the only defense. Here in Colorado, Browns Canyon National Monument became a reality this year thanks to strong support from Salida locals.

Last month, I had the chance to visit New Mexico’s new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, created in 2013. And gazing out across the deep gorges with my family, taking in the silence and the sunset, I was glad for our rarely heralded national monuments and for Teddy Roosevelt. Without his vision, we might not have these views.

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