This op-ed by President Obama was published in Spanish on La Opinión. You can read the original op-ed in Spanish HERE.
One hundred and fifty years ago, President Lincoln signed a law that forever changed the way we conserve our natural heritage. It might have seemed an odd thing to do at the time. We were in the middle of the Civil War. The fate of our union hung in the balance. Lincoln himself had never even been to California; for a good part of his life, his home state of Illinois was the West.
But descriptions, drawings, and even some early photographs of the Yosemite Valley had made their way back East – as had stories about encroaching development that threatened the area. So President Lincoln decided to help protect a place he had never visited, for a nation he might not be able to save. In the darkest of days, he decided to bet on a future he would never live to see. And because he did, generations of Americans have known the wonders of Yosemite National Park.
That’s why, last week, I visited California to designate the San Gabriel Mountains a National Monument. This action will permanently protect more than 346,000 acres of rugged slopes and remote canyons that are home to an extraordinary diversity of wildlife and attract more than three million visitors every year – more than icons like Mount Rushmore and Grand Teton National Park.
What’s more, the San Gabriel Mountains contain millennia of history, from the ancient rock art of Native Americans to the Mount Wilson Observatory where Edwin P. Hubble showed the universe to be ever-expanding – and where astronomers explore the mysteries of space today.
In many ways, the story of the San Gabriel Mountains is the story of America. It’s the story of communities living in the great west – of Native Americans and Spanish missionaries, of colonialists and rancheros, of merchants and landowners. It’s the story of prospectors in search of gold; of settlers in search of a new life.
That story continues today – and it’s being written by one of our nation’s most vibrant, diverse communities, in the backyard of the second-biggest city in the country. Over fifteen million people live within 90 minutes of the San Gabriel Mountains. The mountains provide residents with roughly 30 percent of their water and 70 percent of their open space. The whole area is a huge boost to the local economy.
In fact, we heard from the community that for a lot of urban families, the San Gabriels are their only big, outdoor space. Too many children in L.A. County, especially Latinos and children of color, don’t have access to parks where they can run free, breathe fresh air, experience nature, and learn about their own environment.
It’s not enough to have that awesome natural wonder within sight. Everybody, no matter where they come from, or how much money they have, or what language they speak, should be able to access and experience it. Right now, campgrounds are crowded, parking lots are tight, and there haven’t been enough resources to manage and maintain this area the way it deserves. Designating the San Gabriel Mountains as a National Monument was just the first step in a broader effort to change that. It will enable the Forest Service, local communities, and leading philanthropies to work together to increase access and outdoor opportunities for all.
Because America belongs to all of us. That’s why, as President, I’ve preserved more than three million acres of public lands for future generations, and I’m not finished. My commitment to conservation isn’t about locking away our national treasures. It’s about working with communities to open our glorious heritage of nature to all Americans.
The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument will join a vast landscape of protected natural treasures – a wilderness that the writer Wallace Stegner once called, “a part of the geography of hope.” As Americans, we’re blessed with the most beautiful landscapes in the world. And we’re bestowed with the responsibility to preserve our magnificent natural inheritance, and ensure that this “geography of hope” remains the birthright of all Americans – not only for today, but for generations to come.