By Maryanne Cdristiano-Mistretta
America was the first country to preserve national parks for future generations, according to Eric Hausker, chair of the Loantaka Chapter of the Sierra Club, who lectured on Sat., Aug. 6, at the Chatham Library.
The audience was taken back to 250 B.C. when Hausker spoke of an Indian emperor, Asoka, who took action to protect forests and animal life. However, the measures didn’t prevent having two animals hunted to extinction – the aurochs and the dodo bird.
Throughout the centuries, it seemed as if each time there was a triumph for the environment in times gone by, there was also a downfall. Hausker called the 1849 California Gold Rush a “sad period of history” as the miners only cared about getting rich and not the actual land.
However a monumental moment in the history of preserving the land was when Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant in 1864 to save Yosemite. Then Yellowstone National Park was the first to be approved by Congress in 1872.
And in 1892 John Muir founded the Sierra Club with 350 hikers in the San Francisco Bay area after hiking all over the west coast.
“It was a religious experience for him,” said Hausker. “Muir said that ‘nature restores the soul.’”
From that, the Sierra Club just “grew and grew,” according to Hausker. “Now we cover all aspects of the environment: energy, air pollution, vegetarianism.”
Today, according to Hausker, who has been a grassroots unpaid volunteer with Sierra Club for about 13 years, said there are 59 national parks with a total of 131,000 square mileage protected.
He feels that the greatest triumph in New Jersey happened in the late 1950s when a new national airport was considered to be built over the great swamp. The news came to the attention of a couple of housewives and they put together an organization to preserve the great swamp wildlife area – and instead, the Newark Airport was expanded. This group of housewives became known as The New Jersey Preservation Organization. Hausker said, “They preserve farms; keep families on farms.”
Yet with all the victories, Hausker feels everything is still at risk. And via the Sierra Club, he hopes to do a little bit to raise peoples’ consciousness by “giving lectures about changing the way we live and being a little less fixated on just having a good time.”
In addition, he said, “My granddaughter is a year old. I want her to grow up and see trees standing.”
Hausker attributes congestion and pollution as threats to the parks.
He said, “The crazy ideas of making the parks more exciting than they are. At the Grand Canyon, they built the sky walk. They built a glass bridge in a half circle shape. Now you can walk straight out and see a thousand feet below you.” He paused and added, sarcastically, “Like you need more thrills when you got to a park. You don’t need to make the park more fascinating than it already is. Let nature do what it wants.”
Hausker has been to many state parks in the United States and feels that one of the most fascinating is Isle Royal – a huge island in Lake Superior.
He said, “It’s completely preserved. No roads. No cars. They don’t even allow speed boat motor boats. All canoe!”
Once Hausker retires, he plans on making the rounds to all the parks in the U.S. As for now, he rides his bike to work and cooks using a wood stove.
For more information on the Sierra Club, visit: https://www.sierraclub.org/.