Sunday, September 12, 2021

Defending Wilderness Parks

Defending Wilderness Parks

Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, September 12, 2021, p. D2

Iowa City’s Hickory Hill Park wilderness was recently protected from developers by the City Council. Not all wilderness has been so lucky.

Why wilderness? Everyone has stories. Here’s mine.

Over 100 years ago President Teddy Roosevelt warned, “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone ….” He created the U.S. Forest Service and 150 national forests plus five national parks – 230 million acres in all.
[Photo credit: Nicholas Johnson; downhill trail from "The Rock," Hickory Hill Park, Iowa City, Iowa]

Did Iowa heed that warning? Apparently not.

Mark Edwards, after 30-years with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, retains his commitment. Eight years ago, in “A world Without Wildlife,” he wrote:

“We traded 93 percent of Iowa’s habitat for [agriculture], 6 percent for cities and roads. Two-thirds of [Iowa’s 36 million acres are] corn and beans. We killed the native prairies [leaving only] 30,000 acres [less than 0.1%]. All [Iowa’s] county, state and federal public land [combined] . . . amounts to a square less than 39 miles on a side. We have produced the most polluted surface water in America and continue to reduce habitat for most species."

One of my earliest memories of being four years old is lying on my back in the front yard on a windy summer day, looking up at the elms’ dancing canopy, speculating whether it was the moving limbs that made the wind, or the wind that moved the trees.

A few years later, when my parents refused to dictate “my” religion, and I came upon reference to Druids, who had sacred trees, I went looking for Iowa City’s Druid church. Finding none, that quest was abandoned.

As a member of one of the last law school classes permitted to take the bar exam before graduating, and with an awaiting federal clerkship in late August, I spent the summer visiting Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy: all the national parks west of the Mississippi.

Once in Washington, a few steps across a seldom-travelled street bordering my apartment, grew Glover-Archbold Park. Its 183 acres of wilderness and meandering stream ran north from Canal Road for 2-1/2 miles. It was my Walden Pond in the center of a city over three times the population of Des Moines. A place for a daily run, to meditate, to experience a forest through 365 days of sun, wind, rain and snow.

Nor is this the only wilderness area inside Washington. Rock Creek Park is 1700 acres. Glover-Archbold doesn’t even make the list of “12 Top Washington, D.C., Parks.”

Similarly, New York’s Central Park, envisioned in the 1840s and opened in 1858, is only the fifth largest in that city.

Developers seeking profit from a violation of Hickory Hill Park is bad enough. But can you imagine the billions of dollars 1700 acres in Washington or 843 acres in Manhattan would be worth to developers? And yet, to borrow from the Broadway show tune, “they’re still here” – because they had defenders.

We owe our wilderness no less.
Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City, enjoys Linn and Johnson Counties’ wilderness areas. Contact:


Hickory Hill Park and Iowa City City Council. Rylee Wilson, “Iowa City Council changes direction, votes no on Hickory Hill development; After voting to approve a controversial rezoning two times, the motion failed on its final consideration,” The Gazette, July 27, 2021,

Iowa City. Hickory Hill Park is 190 acres; Iowa City 26.14 sq mi (Iowa 56,272 sq mi) “Iowa City, Iowa,”,,_Iowa#Metropolitan_area

President Theodore Roosevelt. “Theodore Roosevelt,” National Park Service, (includes quote); and see (“Conservation” quote)

Iowa wilderness. Mark Edwards, "A World Without Wildlife," Ames Tribune, Nov. 29, 2013, ("We are the most biologically altered state in North America. We traded 93 percent of Iowa’s habitat for agricultural purposes, along with 6 percent for cities and roads. Two-thirds of our roughly 36 million acres are covered in just two annual plants, corn and beans. We killed the native prairies and have only 30,000 acres left. It would be hard to do a better job.//All county, state and federal public land in Iowa placed all together amounts to a square less than 39 miles on a side, and all these areas are losing native species.//We have produced the most polluted surface water in America and continue to reduce habitat for most species.")

Druids. “Celtic Sacred Trees,” Wikipedia, (“Many types of trees found in the Celtic nations are considered to be sacred.” “Pliny the Elder describes a festival on the sixth day of the moon where the druids climbed an oak tree, cut a bough of mistletoe, and sacrificed two white bulls as part of a fertility rite.” With reproduction of the 1845 painting “The Druid Grove.”)

Clerkships. U.S. Court of Appeals Judge John R. Brown, 1958-59; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black, 1959-60.

Washington, D.C. Parks.
Washington. “Glover-Archbold Park,” (183 acres)

“Glover-Archbold Park,” Birders’ Guide to Maryland,” (stretching over 2.5 miles from Canal Road in Georgetown north to Van Ness Street)

“Washington, D.C.,”,,_D.C. (“The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the district's population was 705,749 as of July 2019, an increase of more than 100,000 people compared to the 2010 United States Census.”)

Des Moines population, “Des Moines, Iowa,”,_Iowa (“The city's population was 214,133 as of the 2020 census.”)

Rock Creek Park, 1700 acres “12 Top Washington DC Parks,” Washington DC Sightseeing Tours,

DC [as distinguished from "Washington"] has 900 acres of parks - District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation,

Washington, DC 43, 766 acres. “DC’s 43,766 acres,”
Central Park, NYC. “Central Park,” (843 acres; envisioned 1840s, opened to public 1858)

“They’re still here.” Stephen Sondheim, “I’m Still Here,” “Follies” (1971) (“Good times and bum times/I’ve seen them all and, my dear/I’m still here/Plush velvet sometimes/Sometimes just pretzels and beer/But I’m here/ ….”)

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