Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, I had never experienced the outdoors until last summer when I was accepted into the Latino Heritage Internship Program, a joint partnership between the National Park Service and Hispanic Access Foundation.
As the Lake Mead National Recreation Area became my home, I discovered my love of the outdoors.
Not only did I experience Lake Mead from a unique perspective, but I also had the opportunity to learn about Gold Butte and the Colorado River. I attended an event at the Latin Chamber of Commerce Nevada in which Jocelyn Torres from Conservation Lands Foundation outlined the hard work by Gold Butte advocates to achieve protection of this land. Gold Butte had long been victim to vandalism that has damaged the land, archaeological artifacts and habitat. I can only imagine the collective relief felt when President Barack Obama established Gold Butte as a national monument.
However, that relief was short-lived as just a few months later the Trump administration ordered an executive review of 27 national monuments, including Gold Butte, to determine if any monuments should be eliminated or reduced in size. Not only am I one of many who want Gold Butte to remain protected, I also want every single monument to remain protected.
In September, I had the amazing opportunity to be part of the Hispanic Access Foundation’s Young Women Outdoors Trip. Eight women and I spent an entire weekend together camping and hiking at the Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks National Monument — another monument also under review. For many of us it was our very first time camping, and I definitely stepped out of my comfort zone. However, I felt connected to the astonishing mountains the entire time. The experience was so powerful that no words can describe it. One needs to experience it in order to understand, and I left longing for the day I could return with my family.
But once again, the feeling was short-lived. After the trip, it was revealed that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was recommending changes to at least 10 monuments, including both Gold Butte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, that will either shrink their size or open them to commercial operations like mining or logging. All of the monuments under review represent decades of work, collaboration and investment from local communities, and any recommendation — not just those made without visiting the site or speaking with local stakeholders — disrespects the civil process taken to warrant a president’s support for protection.
Our public lands are treasures, and we have a moral responsibility to protect them all. We are a complex, diverse and beautiful nation full of historical wealth, and the protection of our national monuments celebrates our diverse heritage and culture. This is important not only for those who have close ties to these lands, but also for those individuals, like myself, who will one day discover these landscapes and fall in love with them.
Janelly Corona is a first-generation Mexican American and a recent graduate of Northern Illinois University. She lives in Chicago.