Find Your Community

Dear Mr. Vogel,

I write you today to wax nostalgic about our favorite memories of our nation’s national parks. For about 35 years now, you have been dedicating your career tirelessly carrying out the missions of the NPS. You and your team have undoubtedly made the National Mall and, by extension, all national parks better places because of your efforts. There’s a reason the National Mall is affectionately referred to as “America’s backyard.” Much like the backyards of our childhood, locals and tourists alike flock to the National Mall to seek the same respite that we sought as children. I can remember my first ever National Park. It actually was Gettysburg National Military Park. My late father took my brother and me there at very young ages to run around Devil’s Den which to us at the time was simply a rocky structure on which to run and play until the sun went down. We loved it. My dad would teach us the history of it all while we expended our seemingly endless reserves of energy. He was so passionate about Gettysburg that he worked as a Licensed Battlefield Guide until his passing this past January. This kind of enjoyment of and passion for our national parks led my family and me to travels all over the country to visit what now amounts to well over 100 national parks in all corners of the country.

I only wish I could get to know your story and how you became so passionate about our parks. Did it start at a young age? Which was your favorite as a kid? Has it offered you a great sense of community throughout your life? Certainly you have been in a situation in which you relocated or joined a new community. As a running enthusiast and general lover of the outdoors, DC running clubs seemed a natural fit upon relocating four years ago, and none have been more of a loving and welcoming community than November Project. On a freezing morning in January, I first ran with November Project on the very stairs from which we are currently at risk of being banned. It was that moment when I had found community. I finally fit in. DC finally felt like home as about 30 others were chomping at the bit to welcome me with open arms, literally open arms, as I quickly found out the hugs are required. Community in its rawest and most pristine form was born right on those hallowed Lincoln Memorial stairs. Now that community is at risk of being lost.

As we understand the national park system, a cornerstone of your mission includes the following from the NPS website:

“We are proud that tribes, local governments, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individual citizens ask for our help in revitalizing their communities, preserving local history, celebrating local heritage, and creating close to home opportunities for kids and families to get outside, be active, and have fun.
Taking care of the national parks and helping Americans take care of their communities is a job we love, and we need — and welcome — your help and support.”

What an honorable and invigorating statement you have prominently displayed on the “About Us” page. Just reading it sends chills down any visitor’s spine, as one can imagine the community building in a milieu of natural and historical beauty. What do you picture when you read this statement? Your family trip to Yosemite? Your childhood summer vacation at Yellowstone? A class field trip to the National Mall? I picture all of those, but the very first thought is the community that we’ve built at November Project thanks to your endeavors with NPS. Unfortunately, recent events have sent this utopian idea of the NPS supporting our community into jeopardy. The requests coming from the NPS instructing us to not utilize the Lincoln Memorial at 0530 and 0630 on Wednesday mornings make it impossible to enjoy those visions promised by your statement; in fact, they appear to destroy our community.

As we all celebrate the 100th birthday of the NPS, we hope that we can celebrate with you by maintaining these notions that you hold so proudly (and rightfully so with your excellent work). We ask your permission to continue to enjoy the Lincoln Memorial and other national parks around DC as a conduit to community building, public health, and recreation. In fact, we’d love to have you and your team join us sometime. Thanks to you and the wonderful work of the NPS, the fitness is free, the hugs are free, and the community is, you guessed it, free.

Sincerest regards,

Dan Martin

Arlington, Virginia

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