116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa City’s Hickory Hill Park wilderness was recently protected from developers by the City Council. Not all wilderness has been so lucky.
Why wilderness? Everyone has stories. Here’s mine.
Over 100 years ago President Teddy Roosevelt warned, “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone ….” He created the U.S. Forest Service and 150 national forests plus five national parks — 230 million acres in all.
Did Iowa heed that warning? Apparently not.
Mark Edwards, after 30-years with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, retains his commitment. Eight years ago, in “A world without wildlife,” he wrote:
“We traded 93 percent of Iowa’s habitat for [agriculture], 6 percent for cities and roads. Two-thirds of [Iowa’s 36 million acres are] corn and beans. We killed the native prairies [leaving only] 30,000 acres [less than 0.1%]. All [Iowa’s] county, state and federal public land [combined] … amounts to a square less than 39 miles on a side. We have produced the most polluted surface water in America and continue to reduce habitat for most species."
One of my earliest memories of being 4 years old is lying on my back in the front yard on a windy summer day, looking up at the elms’ dancing canopy, speculating whether it was the moving limbs that made the wind, or the wind that moved the trees.
A few years later, when my parents refused to dictate “my” religion, and I came upon reference to Druids, who had sacred trees, I went looking for Iowa City’s Druid church. Finding none, that quest was abandoned.
As a member of one of the last law school classes permitted to take the bar exam before graduating, and with an awaiting federal clerkship in late August, I spent the summer visiting Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy: all the national parks west of the Mississippi.
Once in Washington, a few steps across a seldom-travelled street bordering my apartment, grew Glover-Archbold Park. Its 183 acres of wilderness and meandering stream ran north from Canal Road for 2-1/2 miles. It was my Walden Pond in the center of a city over three times the population of Des Moines. A place for a daily run, to meditate, to experience a forest through 365 days of sun, wind, rain and snow.
Nor is this the only wilderness area inside Washington. Rock Creek Park is 1,700 acres. Glover-Archbold doesn’t even make the list of “12 Top Washington, D.C., Parks.”
Similarly, New York’s Central Park, envisioned in the 1840s and opened in 1858, is only the fifth largest in that city.
Developers seeking profit from a violation of Hickory Hill Park is bad enough. But can you imagine the billions of dollars 1,700 acres in Washington or 843 acres in Manhattan would be worth to developers? And yet, to borrow from the Broadway show tune, “they’re still here” — because they had defenders.
We owe our wilderness no less.
Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City, enjoys Linn and Johnson Counties’ wilderness areas. email@example.com