A group of young outdoor enthusiasts traveled to Washington, D.C. from across the country after winning an essay contest sponsored by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development, a coalition of sportsmen and conservation groups led by the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited. The contest’s theme was “The Importance of Public Lands to Me,” and the essays highlight the forests, mountains, sagebrush steppe and backcountry waters of our public lands.
Hailing from both the East and West, the winners are Jarred Kay, 17, Flagstaff, Ariz.; Haley Powell, 17, Rock Springs, Wyo.; Matthew Reilly, 18, Palmyra, Va.; Rebecca Brown, 17, Conrad, Mont.; and Noah Davis, 18, Greensburg, Pa.
Read the student’s essays below, and let us know what you think about their passion for public lands in the comments section:
Public Lands and Me – By Haley Powell
Public lands are an opportunity, an opportunity to experience nature in a singular and transcendental way. Aristotle put it best when he said, “In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” These lands, and access to them, allow people to experience the awe of witnessing and interacting with something truly marvelous and inescapably beautiful and to truly connect with the natural world. It is because our public lands hold this opportunity for not only me, but for everyone, that they retain a special place in my heart.
Whether you believe in a God or not in your everyday dealings, it is hard to deny that some sort of higher power was involved in creating the beautiful landscapes found throughout our country. The most beautiful places in my opinion, however, are the rivers and streams. Imagine yourself thigh-deep in a river. The rolling sound of the river, resembling boulders crashing together and rolling down a mountainside, is the only sound pervading your ears. The feeling of the water pushing against your legs is as constant as its cool temperature, but both of these fall back to the recesses of your consciousness as you take in the multitude of verdant skyscrapers arising from both sides of the bank, seemingly stretching endlessly into a cerulean sky. Your right hand comes back, gripping your fly rod tight, your left hand poised, waiting to release your extra, clutched fly line. The customary seconds of pause drift by as you take a deep breath in of cool, clean air, before that right hand comes forward with the grace of a conductor’s and the line flies through the eyes of your rod. It lands lightly on the surface of the water with the finesse of a dancer. You wait, poised. Your heartbeat quickens as you see that trout breach the surface and swallow your fly in one gulp. From then, it’s on. The tip of your rod raises as you set the hook, fighting against this wild creature, testing your strength against its as you painstakingly bring it closer. It’s within your grasp. You remove the hook and hold this gorgeous wild creature in your hands. Then, you guide it back under the surface, keeping your hands close to it as it regains its strength, like a parent teaching their child to ride a bike, before the trout swims away down the river. While this opportunity to connect one-on-one with nature exists on private lands, it is open for all to enjoy on public lands. This is why they are so special.
Being a part of nature is extremely important to me. I live in the great state of Wyoming, which contains the country’s first (and one of the most beautiful) national parks. This state has a reputation for having some of the most beautiful, sought-after natural areas and the wonderful luxury of a majority of them being public. Growing up in Rock Springs, Wyoming, I’m blessed that public lands are a part of everyday life, and as I’ve travelled to other states and talked to other people I have realized that not everyone is as fortunate as me. I can’t imagine waking up every day and not being able to go somewhere where there aren’t buildings or paved roads or lights. I can’t fathom not being able to experience my state’s native wildlife in their element. While these experiences are closer to me in Wyoming, these same lands and experiences belong to everyone and are available to everyone who makes this trip. Public lands are important to me because they’ve made my life a significantly better experience, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like without them. Public lands have given me something I can’t live without. I’m inspired every day. The beauty of the landscape that surrounds me not only influences my artistic exploits, but my academic ones as well. I love learning how to conserve my environment and its creatures. Next year I will be attending the University of Wyoming and utilizing the skills that I have gained through participating in my school’s debate program to study environmental conservation and law. It is because of my opportunity to utilize my public lands and gain a love for them that I have found my calling in life.
Overall, public lands have significantly influenced my life, making them near and dear to my heart. I literally can’t imagine what my life would be like, much less where I would be now had I never been able to utilize and experience them. I hope that our public lands stay public, so that everyone can enjoy them as much as I have.
Haley Powell, 17, lives in Rock Springs, Wyo. Her interests include photography, reading, animals, camping, hiking, fishing and “basically anything outdoors.” She competes in speech and debate at her high school and competed in a national tournament last year. Haley plans to study zoology at the University of Wyoming.