As we embrace the shortest days of the year, my early evening walks have been made that much more cheerful by the addition of twinkling holiday lights and the warm glow of families nestled inside – and, today in Washington, big snowflakes falling. I love this time of year with all of the hustle and bustle involved in closing out one year and getting ready for the next. This is one of those rare instances that is both a time for reflection and a time to look forward.
We can’t look back on the last 12 months and not be moved by the tumult that has defined the year: heartbreaking loss caused by COVID-19; economic despair for too many as a result; and a nation that is reckoning with social (in)justice as the fabric of our society appears – in many ways and to many people – tired and torn. And, as I have had time to reflect, my thoughts have focused more and more on what I learned this year and how I may be better for it.
2020 has taught me the true value of both hope and perseverance; the importance of believing that our lives can improve, no matter how great the challenge; and the power of pushing through, of sticking with it, no matter how hard the task. More than any other year I can remember, 2020 has required us not only to believe that tomorrow will be better but also to struggle more and work harder just to get there. But now we are witnessing the arrival of the first COVID vaccines that, while the result of an astonishing scientific effort and perseverance, are just as surely the product of hope. Throughout 2020, hope and perseverance have become both inspiration and energy for me and have deepened my commitment to the work we do at the National Park Foundation; I continue to believe our parks imbue a sense of wonder and optimism that can be found almost nowhere else.
2020 has reminded me, powerfully, of the importance of family, friends and community. So many people have been there for us this year, offering a (virtual) hand on the darkest days and helping to celebrate all of the good that really did reveal itself throughout the year. Thanks to the generosity, confidence and commitment of the members of our community, 2020 has been a robust year for the National Park Foundation and we haven’t missed a beat in our work to protect our national parks and ensure they reach their fullest potential. 2020 has served as a powerful reminder of what really matters in life and I am grateful to be a member of a community that has enabled me to experience this every day.
Finally, 2020 has reiterated for many, including me, the essential importance of our national parks. Last March, when the pandemic first took hold of our nation, we saw unprecedented demand for virtual content as people brought our parks into their living rooms to afford both peace and solace in an unsure and disquieting time. As the weather warmed, we saw people hit the trails and monuments and memorials again in numbers so great that, in many places, we had to pull back so that we could be socially distant and learn to “recreate responsibly." Throughout 2020, there has been a constant and consistent message: Parks matter. Be it for physical health, emotional restoration or human connection, parks make our lives better and richer and more complete. At the National Park Foundation, we describe the irresistible pull of America’s national parks in a single word: wonder. And it is our privilege and purpose to ensure that wonder thrives and is shared by all.
I am among the many of us who are happy to see 2020 come to a close. But there have been some silver linings in a difficult year, and you are one of them. With the power of hope and perseverance, the gift of friendship and community and the wonder of our national parks, here’s to 2021 and the full promise that the new year holds.
Happy holidays and every good wish for a joyous new year! I’ll see you in a park one day soon.