When visitors arrive at Yosemite National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson is there to greet them. With a broad smile and a twinkle in his eye he extends a warm hand of welcome to all who enter into this remarkable landscape that is a wonder to all the world to behold. Shelton is among the many dedicated professionals charged with the task of protecting this and other areas of public land across the United States so that they might be enjoyed for centuries yet to come. As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary Shelton fervently reminds us of a simple fact that we too often forget.
“You own the most beautiful landscapes in America, the greatest stories in America. And the National Park Service is solely here in a care taking role to make certain that inheritance and that legacy is passed on to future generations,” he told me in an interview. “But it’s your story. Claim it. Own it. Put it in your pocket. Put it in your spirit and your mind because it belongs to you… So claim your inheritance.”
The National Parks belong to the American People. Our public lands are the birthright of every citizen and our gift to the world. But the enduring legacy of our inheritance comes with it the obligation for each of us to preserve these areas for others to enjoy in the future. It is our responsibility to also share the stories of all Americans who contributed to the creation of our National Parks and whose commitment to this incredible of idea made it possible for us to experience these precious natural resources today.
Though people of color are typically overlooked in the narrative of public land management we must never forget that they did indeed play a role throughout our history. Shelton Johnson tells the story of the Buffalo Soldiers who patrolled Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks at the turn of the last century. During an era that marked the rise of Jim Crow laws of segregation or racial discrimination these black men in uniform did many of the same important tasks that park rangers do today. Their contributions of service at the dawn of the National Park Service affirms a place in history that all African-Americans can claim in the present as their legacy of stewardship in the protection of public land. So that when black men and women visit Yosemite today they can know without any doubt that they have a place there to call home. It is their inheritance. And all they have to do is claim it. #FindYourPark
This video from the Joy Trip Project is part of the New Century Vision Project and is made possible with the support of our partner Choose Outdoors. Find out how you can get connected to our public lands through outdoor recreation at ChooseOutdoors.org.
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