Tuesday, December 15, 2009

National Parks: An Idea That Began in the US.

Cathedral redwood trees reach for the sky along Cathedral Trees Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California.


Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Shirley Griffith. This week on our program, we look at the subject of a six-part series being shown on public television in the United States. The new film, directed by Ken Burns, is called "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."



"Lower Falls", Yellowstone National Park
The United States established its first national park in eighteen seventy-two. Yellowstone, in the western state of Wyoming, was not only the first national park in America. It was the first in the world.

Since then, about one hundred nations have followed that example. They have established over one hundred thousand national parks and protected areas, for the enjoyment of people today and for generations to come.


Last year, almost two hundred seventy-five million people visited the national park system in the United States. Visitors can hike in the woods. Climb mountains. Photograph animals. Explore Civil War battlefields. Go swimming or river-rafting. Ride horses. Or just enjoy a day outdoors with the beauty of nature.

The places under the care of the National Park Service are not all refuges of peace and quiet, however. Some are historic sites in the middle of busy cities.


The National Park Service manages a total of three hundred ninety-one "units," as it calls them. These include national parks, historical sites, monuments, buildings and battlefields. They also include recreation areas, seashores, rivers, trails and parkways. Almost thirty-four million hectares of land in all.

Rules differ from place to place. For example, activities like hunting are not permitted in national parks. But they may be permitted in areas established as national preserves, recreation areas, seashores or lakeshores.


The National Park Service was created in nineteen sixteen. President Woodrow Wilson signed an act making it part of the Interior Department.

The act said the purpose was to "conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

Congress has the power to establish national parks and other protected areas. But a law called the Antiquities Act gives presidents the power to declare national monuments.


Theodore Roosevelt
An early champion of the national parks was Theodore Roosevelt. He was president at the start of the twentieth century. He was also a distant relation of Franklin Roosevelt, who became president later.

Teddy Roosevelt was a hunter and outdoorsman. As president he signed legislation that established five national parks. And in nineteen hundred and six he signed the Antiquities Act.

It gave presidents the power to declare federally owned landmarks, structures and "other objects of historic or scientific interest" as national monuments. Teddy Roosevelt himself declared eighteen national monuments. Many of the monuments declared by presidents have been named national parks or given other titles by Congress.



The National Park Service has two main jobs. One is to protect the national parks. The other is to help visitors enjoy them. Sometimes these two jobs may seem to conflict. For example, large numbers of visitors can mean large numbers of vehicles that cause pollution and road damage.

Yosemite Traffic

Spokesman Jeffrey Olson says the Park Service is taking steps to reduce environmental damage. He points out that some parks operate bus systems so visitors do not drive through protected areas.

This also results in a better visitor experience, he says. People do not have to worry about their vehicles. And those who would have been driving can look at the scenery instead of the road.


But the Park Service does not have control over everything. Jeffrey Olson says climate change is changing the landscape. For example, he says glaciers are melting in Alaska as a result of higher temperatures. And animals that normally live in some national parks have had to search elsewhere for food.

Joshua Tree National Park

Plants, too, are affected. Some areas of Joshua Tree National Park in California, for example, can no longer support the trees that the park is named for.

Jeffrey Olson says experts do not know what will take the place of the plants and animals that are lost, or how wildlife will survive in a changed environment.


For the Park Service, another problem has been money. But Congress has put more into the budget of the national park system in the past three years. That has made it possible for the Park Service to hire three thousand seasonal workers. And Jeffrey Olson says federal stimulus money this year has made it possible to fix roads and complete maintenance projects.

Money also comes from the National Park Foundation. Congress established the foundation in nineteen sixty-seven to raise private support for the park system.


Some national parks charge visitors a small entrance fee, from five dollars to twenty-five dollars a car. Each entrance fee is good for seven days. Eighty percent of the money stays with the park. Twenty percent is put into a shared fund for use throughout the park system.

Mount Rainier National Park

The first park to charge a visitor fee was Mount Rainier in the northwestern state of Washington in nineteen hundred and eight. It was also the first park where visitors could enter with their cars.



Today the United States has fifty-eight national parks.

Celebrating its one hundredth anniversary this year is Zion National Park, in the western state of Utah. It was established as Mukuntuweap National Monument by President William Taft.

"The Narrows" in Zion National Park

Zion National Park has desert canyons and huge freestanding arches of red, pink and white rock. It also has a river, forests and other environments.

Zion is the eighth most visited national park. Almost three million people visited the park last year. Buses take visitors to areas where they can go on paths into the wilderness.


One easy hike takes visitors two kilometers to a clear pool of water and waterfalls. A more difficult hike is eight kilometers long and not for those afraid of heights. It ends at the top of a rock high above Zion Canyon.

One of the largest mountains in the park is called the Sentinel. Three mountains standing next to each other are called the Three Patriarchs -- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. A visiting Christian minister gave the mountains these biblical names in nineteen sixteen.



Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary this year. The park is located in areas of two southeastern states, Tennessee and North Carolina. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America's most visited national park. More than nine million people went there last year.

The Great Smoky Mountains are part of the Blue Ridge and southern Appalachian mountains. A blue-gray haze from natural and now manmade sources hangs over them like smoke.

The park has more than one thousand kilometers of trails. Visitors can camp, fish, ride bicycles or drive through the park. There are more than one thousand six hundred kinds of flowering plants. The Park Service says the park has more kinds of flowering plants than any other national park in North America.

It also has animals including deer, elk and more than one thousand five hundred bears.


The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created by local citizens who wanted to protect the area. But they needed money to buy the land from farmers and other owners. The money came from the legislatures of Tennessee and North Carolina. It also came from individuals and groups including the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Foundation.

In nineteen thirty-four, Tennessee and North Carolina gave the federal government more than three hundred thousand hectares of land for the park.

The official dedication did not take place until nineteen forty, when President Franklin Roosevelt spoke at a ceremony in the park. The ceremony took place at the Rockefeller Monument, on the borderline between the two states that provided the land.

Earlier this month, officials rededicated the park at a ceremony held on that same spot. One of the guests was Dolly Parton. The country singer grew up in the Great Smoky Mountains, and wrote a fund-raising CD for the seventy-fifth anniversary. We leave you with Dolly Parton and a song called "My Mountains, My Home."



Our program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Shirley Griffith.


And I'm Steve Ember. For links to national park Web sites, and for transcripts and podcasts of our programs, go to voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA.

You can see beautiful redwoods like the picture on top of this article at Muir Woods National Monument. Next, check out the following video tour of Yellowstone National Park.

To get to Muir Woods from Mission Campus follow these directions:

1.Head north on Valencia St toward 22nd St, 144 feet.

2. Take the 1st right onto 22nd St, 0.2 miles.

3. Turn left at S Van Ness Ave, 3.2 miles.

4.Turn left at Lombard St 1.1 miles.

5. Continue onto Richardson Ave/US-101 North. Continue to follow US-101 N, 7.5 miles.

6.Exit onto CA-1 North toward Mill Valley/Stinson Beach 1.0 miles.

7.Turn left to stay on CA-1 North, 1.2 miles.

8.Turn left to stay on CA-1 North, 0.5 miles.

9.Turn right to stay on CA-1 North, 0.9 miles.

10. Slight right at Panoramic Hwy, 0.8 miles.

11. Turn left at Sequoia Valley Rd, 0.6 miles.

12.Continue onto Muir Woods Rd, 0.2 miles.

13.Turn right to stay on Muir Woods Rd. Destination will be on the right, 0.5 miles.

View Larger Map

We are living in exceptional times. Scientists tell us that we have 10 years to change the way we live, avert the depletion of natural resources and the catastrophic evolution of the Earth's climate.

The stakes are high for us and our children. Everyone should take part in the effort, and HOME has been conceived to take a message of mobilization out to every human being.

For this purpose, HOME needs to be free. A patron, the PPR Group, made this possible. EuropaCorp, the distributor, also pledged not to make any profit because Home is a non-profit film.

HOME has been made for you : share it! And act for the planet.

"Home", from Youtube, is about the beginnings of life on our planet. It has subtitles that you can turn on by clicking on "cc" in the lower right hand corner of your screen.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A New List of Wonders: Maya Pyramids to the Net.

The Serengeti Plain in East Africa


I’m Barbara Klein.


And I’m Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today, we tell about some beautiful, interesting and unusual places in the world. We tell you why they were chosen as Wonders of the World.



The newspaper USA Today and the television program "Good Morning America" brought together a group of experts. The experts were to choose seven places that could be called Wonders of the World.

The experts are marine biologist Sylvia Earl, writers Bruce Feiler and Pico Iyer, explorer Holly Morris and scientists Johan Reinhard and Neil deGrasse Tyson. They suggested and debated each possible choice, then agreed on seven places that could be considered Wonders of the World. We will tell about each of them.


One of the group’s choices as a wonder of the world may seem unusual. It is not a real place or a building. Yet it is a place many people visit every day. It is the Internet computer system.

The Internet
The experts said the Internet is a place where people can connect to anywhere in the world. They chose the Internet for three reasons. They said the Internet is an example of excellent engineering. It shows how human beings are connected. And is the first step toward the goal of gathering all the knowledge in the world in one place.



Another wonder chosen by the group is the Serengeti Plain in East Africa, an area of almost fifteen thousand square kilometers. The name comes from the Maasai language meaning "an extended place."

The Serengeti has the greatest number of plains animals in Africa. It is home to millions of animals, including the rhinoceros, lion, leopard, zebra, gazelle and elephant. And it is one of the most visited areas of the world. People travel there to watch wild animals in their natural home. The Serengeti may be best known for the yearly movement of thousands of wild animals across the plains. At the start of the dry season each summer, the animals travel about eight hundred kilometers across the park in search of food.

The government of Tanzania established the Serengeti National Park in nineteen forty-one. It has been successful in its efforts to increase the number of protected animals, especially elephants. Bruce Feiler said the experts chose the Serengeti as a wonder because it shows that human beings are working to protect nature.



The Kukulcan Pyramid at the Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza, Mexico

The experts chose the remains of the ancient Maya civilization in what is now Central America as another Wonder of the World. The experts said they chose the Maya pyramids as a way to honor the Maya people.

The Maya civilization existed for about one thousand five hundred years. The Maya increased knowledge about science and mathematics. They developed a calendar and used their pyramid structures to observe and map the stars in the sky. And they built great cities of stone in what were jungle areas.

But the civilization collapsed around the tenth century. Experts believe the reasons could include an environmental threat or wars.



Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem

A fourth Wonder of the World chosen by the experts is the Old City of Jerusalem. The city is holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians. The experts said they chose the because of its place in religious history and its part in the struggle for peace among people with different beliefs.

Important events in the history of the three religions took place in this area of about one square kilometer. The Dome of the Rock is a beautiful Islamic structure that protects the rock where Muslims believe Mohammed left on his trip to heaven. And all three religions believe that the rock is also the place where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac to God.

Nearby, the ancient Western Wall of the destroyed Second Temple is a holy place for the Jewish people. Jews from all over the world travel to the Old City of Jerusalem to pray there.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a holy place for Christians. Christians believe that this is where Jesus was killed, buried and rose to heaven. The Old City of Jerusalem is considered to be among the holiest places in the world.



The fifth newly named Wonder of the World is also a religious place. This one is in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. It is really two places -- the Potala Palace

and Jokhang Temple.
The experts chose them because of their religious importance and because they are among the last surviving structures of old Tibet.

The Potala Palace was built by the fifth Dalai Lama, Tibet’s religious leader, in the seventeenth century. It contains the remains of several Dalai Lamas. It also has many works of art from Lamaism, Tibet’s development of Indian Buddhism. The last Dalai Lama to live in the palace fled in nineteen fifty-nine and has lived in exile in India ever since.

The Jokhang Temple is not far from the Potala Palace. It is the holiest place in Tibet, built in the seventh century. Buddhists visit the Temple every day.



The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument in the United States is another new Wonder of the World. President Bush signed a bill establishing the protected area in June of two thousand six. It is the largest protected area on Earth -- more than three hundred sixty thousand square kilometers of ocean and islands. The area is home to about seven thousand kinds of sea life. Many are found nowhere else on Earth.

The experts said they chose the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument because it is a model for protecting the natural areas of the planet. Marine biologist Sylvia Earl says she hopes the monument will influence other nations to protect parts of the ocean as they now protect the land.



Antarctica's Icebergs
The seventh Wonder of the World chosen by the group of experts is the ice areas of the North and South Poles. The North Pole is an ever-moving sheet of ice that is hundreds of kilometers wide. It floats on the Arctic Ocean. The South Pole is occupied by the large continent of Antarctica. It is almost completely covered by a giant field of ice.

The experts say they chose these areas because they are important to for the future of life on Earth. Many scientists say this future is threatened by the increased temperature of the atmosphere that is melting the polar ice. One study suggests that sea levels in the world could rise by several meters by the end of this century. As a result, low-lying areas of land could be under water.



USA Today also wanted its readers to choose an eighth Wonder of the World to be added to the list. The paper suggested nine possibilities and asked readers to vote for one. The choices were the Panama Canal, the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu in Peru; the Saturn Five rocket; the Taj Mahal in India; Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe; Venice in Italy and the Grand Canyon. The readers chose the Grand Canyon in the southwestern American state of Arizona.


The Grand Canyon is one of America's most famous national parks.

Officials say about five million people from all parts of the world visit each year to see the huge hole in the Earth that is like nothing else in the world.

The Grand Canyon extends four hundred fifty kilometers. Walls of rock fall away sharply from the edge. Far below is a dark line that is the Colorado River. On the other side, the rock walls are red, orange and gold. The bright colors are the result of minerals in the rocks.

Visitors experience the Grand Canyon in several ways. They walk along paths down into the canyon. They ride mules to the bottom and back. They see the Grand Canyon from a plane, or on a boat riding over the fast moving Colorado River.


The places we have described today are just a few areas that could be considered Wonders of the World. They are examples of both natural conditions and human technology. They show the continued progress that people have made throughout history as well as their concern for the future of the Earth.



This Special English program was written by Nancy Steinbach. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Barbara Klein. You can see pictures of some of these places on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special English.

1. The place where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac is now ______________________.
a: the internet
b: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
c: the Western Wall of the destroyed second temple
d: the Dome of the Rock

2. A temple and a palace located in ___________ contain the remains of several Dalai Lamas.
a: India
b: Singapore
c: Tibet
d: Jerusalem

3. The largest protected area on earth is __________________________ .
a: The Serengeti Plain
b: The Pacific Ocean
c: The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument
d: Antarctica

4. "Serengeti" is a Masai word that means "______________".
a: place where lions roam
b: an extended place
c: dangerous jungle
d: place where animals are protected

5. The Grand Canyon was formed by the ______________________ .
a: constant storms
b: the flowing of the Colorado River
c: minerals in the rocks
d: frequent earthquakes and volcanoes

6. One of the experts who helped to write a new list of seven Wonders of the World was ___________________ .
a: marine biologist Sylvia Earl
b: reporter Barbara Klein
c: President George Bush
d: producer Caty Weaver

7. The Internet was not chosen as a new Wonder of the World for the following reason: ______________________ .
a: It's a place where people can connect to anywhere in the world
b: It's the first step towards gathering all knowledge in one place
c: It's a place where a person can be sheltered from outside influences
d: It's an example of excellent engineering

8. The north and south poles were selected as wonders of the world because of ______________________ .
a: their importance for the future of life on the planet
b: their freezing temperatures
c: their importance to several endangered species
d: their remote locations

9.The Maya civilization ________________ around the Tenth Century A.D.
a: ended
b: began
c: reached its greatest power
d: began to fade

10. One candidate for the eighth Wonder of the World is _________________ .
a: Mission Language Lab
b: The Golden Gate Bridge
c: The Serengeti Plain
d: Victoria Falls in Zambia

The Serengeti Plain with nice flute music from Youtube: