By STEVEN NALLEY
Jonathan B. Jarvis conferred an unexpected honor on his entire audience at Mississippi State University’s McCool Hall Tuesday night.
Students, faculty and community members left few seats empty at McCool Hall’s Rogers Auditorium, despite a stretch of continual rainfall projected to continue through Thursday. As director of the National Park Service, Jarvis has dealt with his share of the elements, leading him to begin his remarks with an announcement.
“Well, you’ve all passed the honorary park ranger test by coming out tonight,” Jarvis said, drawing laughter. “We have a saying in the park service: ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad equipment.’”
Jarvis tied various national parks together with American values in his address Tuesday, in an effort to illuminate the values Americans share in common regardless of the political climate.
Especially during election seasons, Jarvis said, the American public and press devote significant attention to what divides the country. As a result, he said, it can be difficult to find the values that unite the country.
“Legendary filmmaker Ken Burns ... once said, ‘We have a little too much ‘pluribus’ and not enough ‘unum.” Tonight, I want to talk about the ‘unum,’” Jarvis said. “I believe there is no better place to find our values than in national parks.”
The first value Jarvis discussed was freedom, which he said is embodied by such venues as Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Penn. and the grounds outside the White House.
“Yes, the White House is a national park,” Jarvis said. “The NPS, as I like to say, manages everything from the paint out.”
Not everyone in America saw the promise of freedom fulfilled at America’s founding, Jarvis said, so NPS also memorializes the struggles to bring freedom to the marginalized. The Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, for instance, memorializes the 1965 Voting Rights March, he said, and Civil War battlefields call to mind the fight to end slavery in America.
Americans also value honesty, Jarvis said, and he has seen few stronger displays of American honesty than the Manzanar National Historic Site in Independence, Calif. — the site of one of 10 American camps where more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II. In this same spirit, he said, NPS launched its 398th and newest site in October: The César E. Chávez National Monument in Keene, Calif.
“The Chávez monument recognizes his work to protect the migrant workers of the country. One of my proudest moments during the event was in talking to Chávez’s family,” Jarvis said. “They were unsure about allowing this federal agency into their family to (tell) this story until they traveled to Manzanar and they saw our exhibits that tell the unflinching story about Japanese-American internment in World War II. That gave them the confidence to trust the NPS with the story of (César Chávez.)”
Jarvis also answered questions from the audience. One audience member asked Jarvis to advise graduating MSU students interested in working for NPS, and he said it helps for them to start at lesser-known venues like the Thaddeus Kosciusko National Memorial in Philadelphia, Penn. and work their way up to popular parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite. Volunteering time at the parks can also help, he said, because practical experience is as important as education.
“The park service is looking for people with a really good education and an ability to apply that education on the ground,” Jarvis said. “We’re not a pure research organization.”
Another audience member asked Jarvis to discuss climate change. Jarvis said climate change is visible in several national parks, including Glacier National Park in Montana, where Ansel Adams’s pictures of the park in the 1940s captured views that look significantly different today.
“Historical fire season is now one month longer than it has been,” Jarvis said. “Beetles are surviving the winter. We’re seeing species arrive that we’ve never seen before that are migrating into our parks. The normal regiment of species is not returning. You can go to a national park today and see what we believe to be climate change right now.”