Years ago, my husband and I planned a vacation through Colorado and New Mexico. I suggested stopping at the Great Sand Dunes. He gave me an odd look and questioned why I would want to detour there, but ultimately agreed.
During our trip, I learned that this landscape was originally designated as a national monument in 1932 to protect it from gold mining and concrete making. In 2004, Congress established it as the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. As a native of the East Coast, it was unlike any place I had ever seen. Walking the dunes was a surreal experience. The heat was intense and the inability to judge distance was unnerving, but the view from the top of a dune over a sea of sand into the mountains was unparalleled and awe-inspiring. Looking out over the dunes, I could only think about how thankful I was for those early protections that ultimately led to the creation of this incredible national park
I don’t know anyone who can imagine the United States without the breathtaking vistas of the Grand Canyon, the stunning sunrises at Acadia, the wide-open spaces of Denali or the Statue of Liberty looking out over New York City. And all of these treasured national parks – just like Great Sand Dunes – were first protected as national monuments. One hundred sixteen years after its enactment, the Antiquities Act remains a powerful and bipartisan tool to protect landmarks and preserve public lands as national monuments
As President Biden seeks to implement the America the Beautiful initiative, the Antiquities Act is one important tool he has to protect 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030. Yes, Congress retains the constitutional authority to regulate all public lands. With 158 proclamations under the Antiquities Act, Congress subsequently has acted to alter the original monuments, including amending size and converting them to national parks. However, the deliberative legislative process can be slow, whereas the president can act quickly.
Grassroots efforts have led to widespread support to establish national monuments at places such as Castner Range, Avi Kwa Ame, the 1908 Springfield Race Riot site, and Cahokia Mounds. Legislation currently is pending this Congress for all of these sites; for Castner Range it has been introduced each Congress since 2015, and for Cahokia Mounds since 2019. But while Congress considers and deliberates proposed legislation, a presidential proclamation can ensure immediate protections for these natural, historical, and cultural treasures.
On this anniversary day, I urge the President to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate additional national monuments. Even after 116 years, our nation still has so many sacred and special places that need protection.
By Theresa Manthripragada, Staff Assistant, Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks