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Published: October 2006

World Parks

Thomas Moran Yellowstone

Hallowed Ground: Nothing Is Ever Safe

Parks nourish the human spirit, help sustain the planet, and reflect the ideals of the societies that protect them. But for some of these preserves, the future is uncertain.

By David Quammen
Photograph by William Henry Jackson

Landscape and memory combine to tell us certain places are special, sanctified by their extraordinary natural merits and by social consensus. We call those places parks, and we take them for granted. Some are large, spectacular, and wild—such as Yellowstone and Kruger. Some are intimately local—such as Buttes-Chaumont, set within a busy neighborhood of Paris. Many are threatened by pressures from the societies that surround them, even as our hunger for the respite they provide grows ever greater.

We dedicate the bulk of this issue to Earth's most cherished natural places. David Quammen surveys the debate on a theme roughly formulated as "parks versus people." John G. Mitchell traces the history of the parks idea in one country, the United States, and assesses the perils faced by America's National Park System. Jennifer Ackerman considers the role of parks in urban environments.

In his 1995 book Landscape and Memory, social historian Simon Schama wrote: "All our landscapes, from the city park to the mountain hike, are imprinted with our tenacious, inescapable obsessions." Human obsessions aren't always pretty. But these chosen landscapes—parks, of every sort—may show us at our best.

—Chris Johns, Editor in Chief

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