It was St. Patrick’s Day, so how fitting that we would get held up on our post-lunch walk to the Capitol by the Irish Prime Minister’s visit. We all stood waiting on the presidential motorcade to cross the street for the Congressional Recognition Ceremony that afternoon, and as we waited, we enjoyed the March sunshine and took in the mix of tourists, protesters, vociferous street preacher, and impatient Hill staffers. The street was buzzing with murmurs about what the President’s schedule had been and when the motorcade would pass through.
It had been a long time since I had been in Washington on a regular work day, and I remembered part of what I’d loved about the city as a fresh-out-of-college paralegal. People in D.C. may be over-scheduled and tightly wound, but they do get excited about being close to world events—and to the President himself. And the friendly chatter on the street fed into my excitement about the awards reception I was heading to—in the Atrium of the Capitol Visitor Center.
For me, a writer who is often conducting interviews by phone or sitting behind a desk, it was a treat just to mingle with NRPA members and colleagues. But in that setting—and in between stirring speeches by the award recipients—it was a grand and lovely experience. An afternoon of going back and forth between, for example, chatting with Wyoming’s state parks director about skiing with his kids, and taking in sound bites from lawmakers passionate about parks and the outdoors. Here’s a pastiche from the various acceptance speeches:
From Georgia Congressman John Lewis: “Parks bind us together. They get us outside…get us moving. They create community. They serve all races, all ages and all abilities. They are sacred; they are special.”
And from Cynthia Lummis, a Wyoming Congresswoman: "I’m deeply grateful that you gather and that you represent the interests of parks and recreational opportunities for people all over our country, who have differing abilities to enjoy the outdoors, and you make it possible for so many to do that."
And, finally, this very personal reflection from New Jersey Congressman Albio Sires: “When I look back on my life on the things that were important…I realize that’s [in parks] where I made my friends, that’s what got me through college, that’s where I relaxed, that’s where I spent a lot of my time."
I looked around at my NRPA colleagues, most of whom have been working on behalf of parks a lot longer than I have—and I saw smiles of appreciation and enjoyment. And some standing on tiptoes to get a better view of each of the speakers. It’s wonderful when anyone really understands the value of what you are advocating for day-in, day-out—and even better when people with the power to make change understand. Acknowledging and commending the work of those legislators was encouraging, I think, for the recognizers as well as those recognized. Despite the fatigue that was setting in at the end of that jam-packed day. Despite sore feet from standing on marble floors and traipsing all over Capitol Hill.
During the two-hour commute from downtown D.C. back to Loudoun County that evening, I thought a lot about how worthwhile this work of preserving and protecting parks is. And, in a time when our nation is so polarized over what is worth spending public monies on, how good it is to see some agreement right inside the Capitol dome on the value of our open spaces, our trails, our health, our community bonds, and our children’s play.
Parks & Recreation magazine