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From our view, it’s easy to see why they’re ‘America’s Best Idea’

From our view, it’s easy to see why they’re ‘America’s Best Idea’

Long before the national parks were the rugged, outdoorsy stars of a PBS documentary series, they were a notable part of life for many here in the Northwest.

This is, after all, parks country. And many of us here have the slide-shows in our heads to prove it.

For some, the relationships with these protected natural areas are longstanding.

Pullman’s Mary Carloye and her husband first vacationed at Glacier National Park in 1966, when their daughters were young and just learning about hiking. The couple went back this summer as part of their 50th anniversary celebration.

For others, it’s just the beginning of the trail.

Spokane Valley grade-school teacher Amber Parviainen’s family made its first trip to Glacier last year.

“Many of the sites we saw looked like fake backdrops because they were so beautiful,” she said.

Her preschool daughter still talks about it. But she’ll be back. There are some Montana mountain goats she needs to check on.

Some states have zero national parks. Washington has three: Mount Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades.

In addition, we’re not all that far from the National Park Service’s crown jewel. You could go out on the street in Spokane and, in short order, find people who have stories about being at Yellowstone National Park.

Jennifer Simmons, a community relations coordinator, remembers being about 14 and insisting on sleeping under the stars even though her father argued it was crazy to not stay in the family’s shiny new camping trailer. (Her dad, the protective sort, wound up sleeping outside, too.)

Retired teacher Ray Blowers still remembers how a bear or bears tore into a tent trailer and absconded with 10 pounds of jerky and other treats.

Dr. Bob Lutz recalls cross-country skiing at Yellowstone near Christmas and seeing elk and bison.

Of course, our connections to the national parks are not limited to the ones relatively nearby. People here are, as that airline commercial says, free to move about the country.

Retiree Marian Walker, who lives near Priest River, Idaho, was at an overlook at Great Smoky Mountains National Park when another visitor noticed her Bloomsday shirt and asked if she was from Spokane.

Spokane college professor Mike Ingram said he realized Badlands National Park in South Dakota was a special place when he observed stunning, stratified layers of rock and sand seemingly change colors as the sun went down.

Liberty Lake’s Kimberly Middleton grew up near Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and remains fascinated with the ancient cliff dwellings preserved there.

Spokane’s Nola Barrett is 42, with a husband and three kids now. But she can picture being a kid in Oregon and going to Crater Lake National Park.

“I remember thinking as a small child that the color of the water was almost supernatural,” she said.

Retired college administrator Jim Mansfield was at Denali National Park in Alaska when he heard a tour-bus driver request that Mansfield’s wife, Charlotte, get back on board posthaste. A curious wolf pack was ambling toward the parked bus.

Now, to be sure, not everyone is blown away by nature. Scenery and deep silence don’t fire everyone’s imagination or stir all souls.

There is a scene in the 1983 movie “Vacation” in which stressed-out family man Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) spends about five seconds looking at the Grand Canyon before he is ready to get back on the road. There are those who could testify that this captures a slice of reality.

Still, if you are lucky enough to avoid the crowds and not find yourself lined up to see the great outdoors, the parks can cast a spell.

Retired minister Larry Winters, who lives between Cheney and Spokane, still remembers.

“My first sacred space was Yosemite,” he said.

He was a preschooler. His family had traveled up to northern California from Los Angeles.

“The pictures of this trip show me with an ear-to-ear grin,” Winters said.

Or consider retired Spokane accountant Nancy Engard’s reaction to Grand Teton National Park: “I have never seen anything quite so beautiful, peaceful and awe-inspiring.”

Not everyone would agree that the parks are “America’s best idea” – as the PBS series proclaims.

But here in a part of the country where outdoor recreation is a revered way of life, there’s little doubt that the national parks have lots of ardent admirers.

Sometimes that affection is a family tradition.

“I love them,” said Carolyn Lenhard of Wallace. “I have passed this love along to my children and grandchildren.”

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