Patriotic Message from Mount Rushmore and

A Lotus/Lily Extravaganza 


Hello from Audrey Peterman! 


In South Dakota last week attending a meeting of the Board of the National Parks Conservation Association ( I felt reborn. In the space of three short days, I got to descend almost 40 stories deep into the crystalline body of Mother Earth at Jewel Cave National Monument, soar visually to the heights of 300-foot cliffs in Badlands National Park and participate in an incredibly patriotic event at Mount Rushmore National Memorial.



The nightly ceremonial lighting of the Presidents' faces on Mt. Rushmore is rich with patriotism and symbolism.


With four American presidents looking down at us from their improbable height, their voices boomed through the night:


"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..." Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.


"A house divided against itself cannot stand....I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. ...I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other." Abraham Lincoln, June 16, 1858.



Scores of veterans walked down to the stage to be part of the flag lowering ceremony.


I was caught between a sob and a guffaw as the irony hit me: WHY are we still fighting this same battle 239 years after it was settled in the Declaration of Independence? Why are some of our fellow citizens stuck in the murderous rage against their fellow humans that our leaders warned would lead to ruination?


Seated in the amphitheater among 2,000 of my countrymen, patriotic music and statements flowing over me in waves, and the sudden breathtaking sight of the Presidents bathed in light on the mountain, I felt a sudden chill: It struck me forcibly that somewhere in the South and elsewhere some of my countrymen and women were at that very moment plotting to burn a black church and to kill me if they could, for the sole reason that I am black.




One of the best things about being part of the National Parks family is running into old friends in all corners of the country. Our longtime friend Ranger Maureen McGee-Ballenger last seen in Everglades NP is now Chief of Interpretation in Mt. Rushmore and gave us a splendid tour. LeAaron  Foley looks on.


I must be living in parallel worlds, I thought. Because even as the patriotism rolled off the stage, no effort was made to connect it to the actions that are killing and terrorizing Americans of color across the country. Edmund Burke's warning rang through my mind with an ominous tilt:

"All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing."


The monument lighting ceremony ended with the beautiful young female ranger calling all veterans down to the stage to take part in the ceremony lowering the American flag. More than 50 people answered the call.


  Such a pleasure to spend time with LeAaron Foley, NPCA's Midwest Senior Outwest Coordinator who was instrumental in helping build support for Pullman National Monument, shown here meeting President Obama as he designate the monument last February.


If influential white Americans responsible for the fate of our public lands carry on with business as usual and treat these insults to our democracy as a problem for Black Americans, I shudder to think where we will end up. Because the parks and forests and other public lands remind us who we really are.


 So I'm relieved that my National Park Service family is not sitting on the sidelines and has affirmatively entered the fray. Besides sending messages of solace to the Park Service employees in Charleston and environs, Director Jon Jarvis has ordered the removal of all confederate flags and standalone confederate memorabilia from our national parks, gift shops and bookstores, with exceptions made for specific battlefield-related events. Thank you, Director Jarvis, for taking this principled and pro-active step.



Would you believe you can see these intriguing natural formations from the highway driving through Badlands National Park? They look like ancient cities except they were not built by man.


From South Dakota I went to Franklin, TN, where my hosts included the leaders of our National Trails System, and specifically the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail, The Trail of Tears and the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. I was entranced by what I learned from these units of the Park System:


The Natchez Trace trail, worn 444 miles into the forests over 10,000 years by the feet of the Natchez, Chickasaw and Choctaw was the route that European settlers took westward over the mountains while wiping out native populations.


I met several proud descendants of the Cherokee nation whose ancestors were marched in chains on the Trail of Tears from their homelands to Oklahoma, thousands of them dying en route. (In 1830 - the same year the Indian Removal Act was passed - gold was found on Cherokee lands; Georgia held lotteries to give Cherokee land and gold rights to whites. Cherokees were not allowed to conduct tribal business, contract, testify in courts against whites, or mine for gold, illustrating the embedded roots of inequality.)


These young leaders I met at the National Trails Conference are passionate about their role in the public lands system and reported on their participation in the march from Selma to Montgomery along the National Historic Trail. Lamar at right says he plans to be President in 2032 and I've signed on to his campaign.


Though I've thought for 15 years that Valley Forge National Historical Park outside Philadelphia marked the turning point in the Revolutionary War, I learned that Thomas Jefferson gave that honor to the Overmountain Trail, the route that patriot fighters took to rally to Kings Mountain and win the battle against the British.


I met a young man who told us he was born with a mild form of cerebral palsy and tested himself against the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail hiking 1200 miles from the Continental Divide and continuing to the Pacific Ocean, even after falling into a raging river and becoming hypothermic. I found him the perfect balance of technology and the outdoors, and now that I have a new appreciation of how millennials use technology to include their peers in their experience. I will no longer think of technology as a barrier preventing millennials from enjoying the outdoors.


My experiences in these very different public lands units over the course of a week makes me more convinced than ever of the need for a public information campaign connecting Americans with our shared history. As the Park Service prepares for its 2016 Centennial with the Find Your Park campaign, I hope this is what they have in mind, and that what we "find" is not a superficial treatment.


This Independence Day if you can't be in one of the parks I mentioned, I encourage you to visit Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington DC where the lotus and lilies are in full bloom across acres of ponds dug by a one-armed Civil War veteran and carried on by his daughter. The annual Lotus & Water Lily Festival which draws thousands of people including from Asia, takes place at the park July 11, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m.


Whatever you do, remember that the American dream, the democratic ideal will not survive a nation of ignorant or detached citizens. Resolve to play your part wherever you are and do whatever you are impelled to do in love.

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