Heather White EBS CONTRIBUTOR
This year Earth Day has me thinking about nature’s gifts, and the beauty that surrounds us here in Montana—one of the most extraordinary places in the world.
For nearly 50 years, Earth Day has energized people across the world to address a host of environmental concerns. But for many of us, Earth Day is celebrated in a more personal way—in our homes, at our schools, and in our parks. It’s an occasion to recognize the natural wonders around us, and think about what we can do to improve and appreciate our amazing planet.
While this holiday comes around just once each year, it’s important to take the time to experience nature year-round, wherever we can. It’s good for both our brains and our bodies. Research confirms that living close to nature and spending time outside has significant health benefits, reducing the risk of ailments like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.
These results should come as no surprise to most of us, who feel noticeably healthier and happier after spending time outdoors. For those of us who live here in Southwest Montana, how lucky we are to have Yellowstone National Park—the ultimate playground and classroom—right at our doorstep.
Every visitor to the park has their own story and their own personal connection to Yellowstone. I’ll never forget my first trip with my father when I was 11 years old. Since then, I’ve developed a love of the wilderness that I share with my own children. That visit also sparked a deep, lifelong commitment to conservation that has guided my professional career.
We all need to take time to experience the wonders of Yellowstone, and remember why it is a bucket-list destination for so many people worldwide.On each visit to the park, I hear languages from around the world and see license plates from states throughout the nation. Experiencing the park with such a diverse community renews my appreciation for this wonderland.
Yellowstone is truly unique, an ecosystem unlike any other in the world. Did you know the park contains half of the entire planet’s geothermal features? Yellowstone is also home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states; the wildlife-watching opportunities are extraordinary. What’s more, the park is mostly free of artificial light, protecting a dark, night-sky wilderness that has become increasingly rare.
In addition to enriching our lives, Yellowstone also enriches our local communities—literally. A 2018 National Park Service report shows that 4.1 million Yellowstone visitors in 2017 spent $498.8 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 7,354 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $629.6 million.
As the world’s national park, Yellowstone served as the inspiration for the National Park Idea: the desire to protect special places for visitors’ present and future enjoyment. Today, with growing visitation and limited resources, the park relies on private philanthropy to ensure that original idea continues to flourish.
Through the generosity of supporters, Yellowstone Forever—the park’s official nonprofit partner—helps the park by funding priority projects such as wildlife conservation, trail restoration, safety initiatives, and educational exhibits and programs.
Through partners like Yellowstone Forever, we all have the opportunity toparticipate in caring for our public lands and instill the value of stewardship in our children. They will take on the responsibility—and the privilege—of preserving Yellowstone for future generations.
I hope on this Earth Day you’ll enjoy a bit of time in the great outdoors, and commit to helping preserve our very special corner of Mother Earth.
Heather White is president and CEO of Yellowstone Forever, the official nonprofit partner of Yellowstone National Park. White is a nationally recognized sustainability leader and expert on environmental law and policy with deep roots in environmental education and conservation biology. Connect with her on Yellowstone.org, or find her unplugged on a nearby hiking trail.
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