Anything President Obama does triggers cheap shots and crackpot conspiracy theories, so it’s no surprise some cropped up Friday when he used his authority under Theodore Roosevelt’s 1906 Antiquities Act to designate three sites in the American West as natural monuments, including what will henceforth be known as the Waco Mammoth National Monument. One common charge leveled by right-wing Republicans: This is part of some massive land grab by the federal government.
The reality is different, at least when it comes to what once was the Waco Mammoth Site. For years, the site’s supporters and city leaders have actively pressed the federal government to assume control of the city-owned site. In fact, when this newspaper a few years ago suggested alternatives in the face of repeated disappointment and frustration amid Washington gridlock, local civic leader and philanthropist Gloria Young, driving force behind the Waco Mammoth Foundation, politely but firmly corrected us.
Anything less than a full partnership with the National Park Service was out of the question given the importance of the prehistoric site and the remains of a nursery herd of Columbian mammoths that perished in a cataclysmic event between 65,000 and 72,000 years ago.
“I am absolutely elated that this has happened in my lifetime,” Young said as Obama made the mammoth site a national monument, complete with all protections and high standards of the National Park Service. “So many of our citizens have worked long and hard to protect these bones and to have this NPS designation. It is something great for Waco, our area and our state.”
Lest anyone think you can’t be a good Republican and support Obama’s action, consider this statement by former first lady Laura Bush, who knows a thing or two about Republicans, elephants and Central Texas: “Today is a special day for Texas. President Bush and I are thrilled that the Waco Mammoth Site is America’s newest national monument. I applaud President Obama, the city of Waco, Baylor University and now the National Park Service, who worked to develop, preserve and champion the Waco Mammoth Site. The Waco Mammoth Site takes visitors back in time nearly 65,000 years and reminds us of our country’s connection to the history of our planet. As we approach the centennial of the National Park Service in 2016, this is a great time to celebrate our nation’s parks.”
The signing comes at a most appropriate time, as millions of Americans spend part of summer exploring our nation’s many historically and geologically significant national parks and monuments, in the process coming face to face with the rugged grandeur and challenges that our forefathers encountered in surveying this land. Those who would destroy or hinder our efforts to reconnect with the land and our past in a personal way only undermine deeper insights into what it really means to be an American.
Some of our national parks allow up-close-and-personal acquaintance with wildlife being driven into extinction elsewhere by unrestrained development, displaying the divine miracle of how ecosystems work and the diversity of our wildlife. Big Bend National Park beckons in such a way. Others mark important events in history, such as the Palo Alto Battlefield near Brownsville, which invites better understanding of the issues of the U.S.-Mexican War, which continue to dog our politics and society in the 21st century.
We look forward to the joint partnership of the National Park Service, city of Waco and Baylor University as they co-manage the site in coming years. (The city maintains control of the surrounding area.) We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention devoted efforts by the Waco Mammoth Foundation and its imminent fundraising effort to expand site offerings as well as the amazing National Parks Conservation Association, so integral in ensuring monument status in ways no politician or civic leader ever could. What an alliance!