Dear Readers, Your time spent reading my blogs is much appreciated wherever you may be around the world. In the last week the blog has been read in Finland, Switzerland, the United States, Turkey, the Netherlands, India, Ukraine, Italy, Cyprus and the United Kingdom. That is great.
In this blog I am addressing an issue which fires up my passion for open space and mountains. Please read to the end as there you will find a plea for you to lend your name to a very important campaign whose Honorary President is none other than the world renowned mountaineer and explorer Sir Chris Bonington.
So let me begin the story. Earlier this week I was near the summit of mountain not far short of 3,000 feet high. It’s a very distinctive mountain, standing proud from the surrounding area and visible from a long distance. There is free access but, to conserve the land, walkers are encouraged to follow distinct pathways around and up to the summit. And the land is completely in public ownership.
I am not, unfortunately, talking about Blencathra in the English Lake District, of which more in a few minutes. The mountain to which I am referring is Mount Magazine, the highest point in the beautiful and little known US State of Arkansas.
Counter-intuitively, in the home of capitalism and private ownership, the United States is a country where the State truly values its open spaces and where the Federal and the individual State governments own vast tracts of land. You might expect state ownership to be a European thing. After all it sounds very socialist – or even communist – for the state to intervene. Conversely, you might expect private ownership to be the norm in the capitalist world. But it is completely the other way round. In the UK, even though there are many National Parks, the land that they embrace is generally in private hands. What a strange contrast.
In the USA, back in the late 18th Century and throughout the 19th Century, there were numerous campaigns, mostly supported by the US federal government, to protect significant and beautiful land areas and also outstanding monuments, along with natural and historical features. In California, State leaders sought to protect Yosemite Valley. An Act of Congress was prepared to acquire ownership of the valley so that it might “be used and preserved for the benefit of mankind”. President Abraham Lincoln signed this Act on June 30, 1864. California was granted ownership of the valley on condition that it would “be held for public use, resort, and recreation…inalienable for all”. The stunning Yosemite Valley and its surrounding mountains are now world-famous for the excellence of the rock climbing and the hiking trails in the valley and on the mountains and are now a National Park.
Eight years later in 1872, the federal government establish by Act of Congress, Yellowstone National Park, which would become the first of hundreds. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson created the National Parks Service and over the years since then nearly every President has expanded the role and number of places managed by the National Park Service. As and when necessary, the State has acquired the land associated with these new National Parks. As recently as May 2014, President Obama has announced that the Organ Mountains in New Mexico, home to many Native American artefacts, and covering nearly 800 square miles, will become a National Monument within the National Parks Service management. Even in times of relative austerity, the American State sees the benefit of investment in public spaces and the history of the country.
In a parallel activity to the Federal National Parks Service, individual States have established their own State Park Services. They have acquired land around rivers, lakes, the coastline and mountains for the benefit of all.
In Arkansas entry to all State Parks is free but in other States there is a nominal charge. National Parks do charge for entry but at a very affordable rate. An annual nationwide pass for anyone over 15 years of age is $80 (approx £50 at today’s exchange rate). Children of 15 years and under are completely free and pensioners over the age of 62 pay a one-off charge of $10 (~£6) for lifetime access. If you look at these charges as a form of taxation the return on investment is excellent.
This takes me back to the Lake District in the UK and the current campaign to acquire for public ownership the mountain Blencathra, like Mount Magazine nearly 3,000 feet high, with a very distinctive shape and visible from some distance. The mountain is being sold by its current owner, the Earl of Lonsdale, to pay inheritance taxes. This sale offers a prime opportunity for the UK Government to acquire the mountain as payment for taxes due. But such a plan does not exist. So, it is left to the people who really care about the mountain and the principle of public ownership of mountain land to run their own campaign to raise the funds to make the purchase possible.
In a very short time, the Friends of Blencathra campaign has moved from a collection of enthusiasts who want to seize the opportunity provided by the sale, to a professional campaign with excellent backing and financial support, and with the objective of turning the dream into a reality. But more help is needed.
The first supporters, naturally, were people who know the mountain well and who, in many cases, have climbed to the summit on one or more occasions. Now what is needed, to give the campaign a big boost, is for as many people as possible from around the world to join in and register their support. The campaign has received recognition from the media in the UK and around the world. Please add your support.
How to help
- To find out more visit the web site at Friends of Blencathra or at Facebook Friends of Blencathra
- Sign the petition
- Make a donation
- SPREAD THE WORD
Thank you for helping to bring a significant mountain into public hands.