27th Headwaters Conference: "For the Benefit of the People": National Parks and the Power to Transform

The 27th Headwaters Conference is FREE!

"For the Benefit of the People": National Parks and the Power to Transform
September 9-11, 2016

Part of [our] responsibility is to choose a place. To restore the land one must live and work in a place. To work in a place is to work with others. People who work together in a place become a community, and a community, in time, grows a culture. 

~Gary Snyder

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The 27th Headwaters Conference will be held at Western State Colorado University on September 9-11, 2016. This year’s gathering will explore how parks benefit people, who fails to benefit, and the potential of parks to change the world through the transformative experience of place and community. Patricia Nelson Limerick, Colorado State Historian and director of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado, will offer a keynote address on Friday, September 9, at 7 pm in the Taylor Auditorium. Saturday’s events will include panels, dialogue, and field trips exploring park lands in the Gunnison area. The event is free and open to all.

Our Friday night keynote address and performance, will be Patricia Limerick, Faculty Director and Chair of the Board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado. She has also been named Colorado State Historian in 2016.

Patty Limerick, Colorado State Historian

The National Park Service and the Paradox of Progress

While Wallace Stegner’s characterization of the National Parks as “America’s best idea” will always remain powerful and influential, Patty Limerick will make the case for the value of clumsier phrasing, characterizing the National Parks and their origins as “America’s most revealing paradox, though also quite a good idea.” In 1916, the National Park Service came into being with a complex legislative mandate:   “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life there in” and “to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”  Over the last century, the two activities—the “providing for the enjoyment” and the “leaving unimpaired”—have sometimes pulled against each other.  And yet, viewed from a more realistic angle, this doubled mandate has often behaved more as paradox than as contradiction.  The Parks that protect relatively “unimpaired” nature rest, after all on a bedrock paradox:  the parallel and intertwined national campaigns to value nature and to dispossess Indian people.  As that example indicates, the history of the ownership of the public lands has been a dynamic contest over the ownership of the idea of progress and the right to define its meaning and direction. As a demonstration of unsettled state of claims on the definition of progress, it is helpful to remember that 2016 has been the centennial of two consequential federal laws of land management:  the National Park Service Organic Act and the Stock Raising Homestead Act, institutionalizing the “split estate” and separating surface ownership from subsurface mineral rights.  With their complex origins and mixed mandates, the public lands and the federal agencies that manage them provide a spectacular case study in the nation’s central paradoxes.  And, as Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “There is nothing like a paradox for taking the scum of the mind."