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:
A Life Changing Connection – By Jarred Kay
Many of my life’s biggest revelations have occurred outside while on public land: hunting in national forests, rafting through national parks, fishing on national lakes, and even understanding my history through national monuments. Throughout the time I have spent on our public land, I have gained understandings which I would have otherwise never acquired. Not only have I taken lessons away from these lands, but I have also taken away genuine joy. My access to public lands, especially for hunting, fishing, camping and hiking, has led me to a greater appreciation for my world and consequently, an aspiration to protect it.
I have hunted and fished throughout my life. Without access to public lands such as the national forests, I would not be able to do so. To some, this may seem unimportant, but to me, hunting and fishing have taught me skills and ideas which nothing else ever could. I have directly learned how everyone survives: people used to hunt and fish in order to provide food for themselves and their families. However, in the past hundred years, many people have forgotten this important connection. As people have grown accustomed to grocery stores and “ready-to- eat” food, they have buried the origins of the very food which allows them to survive. I have consulted many people who oppose the killing of animals but still eat meat. Why do they contradict their own beliefs? These people have denied that their food was once part of a living animal; all they seem to know is that their meat is located in the grocery store next to the dairy and across the aisle holding the chips and soda. This unfortunate ignorance creates a dichotomy separating people from their surrounding world. As I have hunted and fished with my family, I have found a phenomenal connection to the world around me and consequently, my role in the world, not just my society.
Having access to public lands has given me opportunities which have allowed me to experience a joy unlike any other. One time, for instance, I was scouting with my uncle Barry. We were in the desert, close to the Navajo reservation. We decided to walk up on a ridge and glass over the lower land. After crawling under a barbed wire fence and reaching the top, I glanced down at my feet and noticed some unusual rocks. After a couple seconds, I realized that these were not rocks, but were shards of pottery and arrowheads. These were old Native American ruins. As we looked around us, we saw where buildings used to exist and partial walls only remained. There was no sign posted. It was no national monument or tourist stop, but this place was just as impressive and was located in the middle of the Coconino National Forest. When I found these remnants, I felt a sense of discovery and energy. I felt a connection with the land and even with the people who lived there before me: a connection and understanding which I have felt when I have been hunting, hiking, and even rafting. This is truly a unique and special feeling that can only be felt outside. My access to the national forest and other public lands allowed me to experience this feeling, and without it, I would not be the person I am today.
The experiences I have had in the national parks, another form of public land, have also molded me into the person I am today. Because they have been protected, I have become in awe of beauties which would have otherwise long ago become inaccessible. I have gone river rafting down the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River: an experience which has changed my life. The beauty I found here is unparalleled. I was so astounded by this elegance that it gave me a desire to continue to maintain the world by serving it in a way where other people can experience that beauty like I do.
I enjoy, more than anything else in the world, spending time outside. The most amazing memories in my life have come from being outside. Public lands, especially national forests, have given me feelings of being connected which I would have never felt before. When I stumbled upon those Native American ruins with shards of pottery and arrowheads, I felt like an explorer. Many people have probably come upon those ruins before but that feeling of discovery will always remain. None of these magnificent memories and encounters would exist without public land. From the lessons I have learned to the experiences I have had, access to public land has changed me, and I strive to promote that access so others can be changed by it like I have.