The First 70
Or, On the Importance of Wilderness Preservation By Katie Inglis
Open space is, to me and to most, an essential part of living a full life. When I got the opportunity to talk with my friend Cory Brown about his latest collaboration, The First 70, my eyes were reopened to the importance of preserving our precious natural resources. The First 70 is a short film created by Cory, Jarratt Moody and Lauren Valentino, that dives into California’s most pristine wilderness to tell the stories of these vulnerable state parks and the hardworking, intensely caring people that are trying to save them. These are my thoughts from our conversation…
Exploring wilderness, being amongst the stars and trees and animals, admiring the beauty of the natural world, breathing fresh air, getting away from the bustle of the city – these are experiences state and national parks enable for people. Our national and state parks systems strive to preserve endangered species and delicate ecosystems, protect habitats for native flora and fauna, conserve open spaces and educate about the importance – and contents – of these lands.
Whether or not you spend much time in local parks impacts how much you know about the world around you, and if you know that that world, that wilderness, is often threatened – by land development organizations, city planning commissions, the collective drive of “progress”, by lobbyists and officials, by taxes and by budgets.
Here in Austin we saw our parks and preserved spaces threatened and destroyed by wildfires during last summer’s record droughts. Thousands of acres and homes were burned in Bastrop County and the state park there is now struggling to clean up, rebuild, and attract enough visitors to remain open. A similar but even more distressing challenge is facing residents of California: last May a bill was passed to completely close 70 state parks, to try to close the state’s huge budget gaps.
Because of severe budget cuts these many of these under-staffed and under-resourced parks have been operating solely on volunteer and donation bases. In one case, a single park ranger is overseeing the care of 5000 acres entirely by himself. In another, the Observatory at Sugarloaf Ridge state park was built by a community of donors and gifted to the state only to be put on immediate closure notice, and still needs help. But closing a park to the public makes the land vulnerable to vandalism, hazardous dumping, and improper use in the least, and closing rustic infrastructure makes it instantly more susceptible to destruction and disrepair – and of course the controversy of denying the public access to publicly held lands.
But people are doing something about these problems. Non-profits are getting involved in supporting the parks and communities are coming out in droves to encourage their local lawmakers and preserve these unmeasurable resources for future generations. Films like The First 70 are being screened around the country and the word is finally being spread.
Once these areas close they will each be much, much harder to reopen and rebuild. They will become unsafe for visitors while the delicate ecosystems that are preserved could easily be overlooked, abused, or worse – destroyed.
Have you thought about what you would do without open spaces? Vast wilds are a mysterious and unmeasurable resource that need to be protected and shared responsibly amongst us. Sharing is as simple as visiting these places that are so close to us but are still another world, mostly untouched by urbanization. We need to preserve the spaces where we live and around the world as well, because together we have a much louder voice and can advocate for the preservation of our natural world. In the spirit of The First 70, we must share the stories of our experiences and the value these places bring to our lives.
Check out The First 70’s Website for information about their upcoming screenings, follow them on Facebook for updates about the film, and keep an eye out for their beautiful book highlighting California’s endangered state parks. Get out to your local parks, do some exploring, and help keep these places open to us all.