Written by Adam Fairbanks
Photographed by Alexis Fairbanks
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
Most people who have received a public education in the United States have
known the words of Katherine Lee Bates’ opening stanza of “America the Beautiful”
since they were seven or eight years old. The spacious skies, purple mountains, and
countless other breathtaking scenes filling our country’s wilderness which inspired poets
like Bates, explorers like Lewis and Clark, and leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt, are
all supposedly preserved in our National Parks—in addition to the diverse flora and fauna
who, like us, make America their home. These protected lands, however, are rapidly
becoming the last sanctuaries for many species of plants and animals. While the National
Park lands are protected by law from developers and companies that would seek to
augment their ecosystems by dumping waste, the Parks are facing increasing danger from
global climate change, urban encroachment, and human traffic. If something is not done
to protect the land from these new, ever escalating threats, the scenes described in
“America the Beautiful” might only exist in the imagination, as they may be lost forever.
My sister, Alexis, and myself (Adam) are spending forty days this summer
travelling by car from North Carolina across the western United States to explore
seven National Parks—Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Redwood, Olympic, Glacier,
Yellowstone, and Zion—and research the effects being brought about by climate
change in the protected park ecosystems. We’re supported in part by the
Froelich Honors Fellowship which is funded by the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill.
While our findings may not be reassuring, we hope that our research will be
able to raise awareness for the danger that these protected ecosystems are facing,
and can ultimately be a part of the effort to affect lasting change that preserves our
entire planet’s wellbeing.