What is public land all about?

As the Iowa House considers provisions to limit state purchases of public land, we thought we would take a lesson from a monument at the north entrance to Yellowstone, America’s first national park, where an inscription reads:


A stone arch at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park.  A stone tablet on the arch reads "For the benefit and enjoyment of the people."

(Photo: Wikipedia/CC User: Yunner)

Those words were spoken by American conservation icon and Republican President Theodore Roosevelt when he dedicated the monument in 1903.

Roosevelt’s remarks that day are a good reminder of why we have public land in the first place–and it’s worth returning to his words again right now as the Iowa House continues its work.

Here’s the President talking about Yellowstone during his dedication speech (p. 13) at what is now called the Roosevelt Arch (emphasis added):

“…But already its beauties can be seen with great comfort in a short space of time and at an astonishingly small cost, and with the sense on the part of every visitor that it is in part his property; that it is the property of Uncle Sam and therefore of all of us. The only way that the people as a whole can secure to themselves and their children the enjoyment in perpetuity of what the Yellowstone Park has to give, is by assuming the ownership in the name of the nation and jealously safeguarding and preserving the scenery, the forests, and the wild creatures.”

Iowa’s landscape is different from Yellowstone’s–we don’t have geysers or roaming grizzly bears.  And yet our landscape has its own particular beauty that’s of great value to those of us who live here.  Indeed, Iowa’s natural wonders–the state’s plants, animals, and open spaces–are worthy of protection, too.  Public land ownership is a way to carry our natural heritage forward, and it belongs in Iowa’s public policy.