An Ode to Parks and People

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Trevor Frost is an explorer, field biologist, photographer, and conservationist. He has spent the last 5 years working with scientists and conservation groups to save endangered wildlife and wild places.

I spent everyday of every summer for nine years on the James River in Richmond, Virginia and it was on the James River in the James River Park System where I first realized the importance of parks and the people that protect them. In fact, it was here, that I began to realize that parks were no good without people and that without people dedicated to protecting the park, the park would not protect the environment and wildlife it was originally created to protect.

In the case of the James River Park System, Ralph White, the face of the James River in Richmond, is the person largely responsible for the way the park is today – filled with wildlife, full of clean water for swimming, free of trash, and a magnet for those who live in Virginia. For years Ralph was the only employee of the park and worked on a vanity budget from the city, and yet it was Ralph I remember seeing at 3 a.m. cleaning trash in the park when I drove by on my way home from a late party, and it was Ralph who I saw the very next morning at 8 a.m. walking with school groups on a field trip to teach them more about the James River. It’s these memories fused with my experience of watching the park evolve in my lifetime from a lonely and ignored chunk of land to the jewel of the city that have convinced me that one of our greatest priorities must be taking care of existing parks if we hope to save our most important wildlife and environments. 

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Today, there are more than 100,000 parks that collectively protect around 13% of the planet’s surface. Parks remain our best tool for conserving important wildlife and environments, the creation of new parks is undoubtedly important and we cannot afford to stop creating new parks, but we must stop creating new parks at the expense of existing parks. We must focus more energy on taking care of the 100,000 parks we already have.

To me, the story of Ralph and the James River Park System is one that perfectly illustrates that with the right combination of people, community involvement, and small monetary investment we can began to turn the tide and fix our parks that are protecting the wildlife and places we cherish most. My expedition aims to answer this problem by first studying what is needed (park rangers, better equipment, etc.) in a few select parks in Sumatra, and then with that in hand work with National Geographic to both shine a spotlight on the parks we work in and those individuals in the park that share the same commitment as Ralph. This spotlight or media attention will in turn enable us to deliver the resources they need to protect their parks. The average salary of a park ranger in Indonesia is roughly US $3000 so it won’t take much to make a big difference. We are starting small by starting in Sumatra, but we are thinking big and how we can take what we learn in Sumatra around the world. What we do know is that every park deserves a Ralph White and with your help we can begin the make that happen first in Sumatra and then beyond!  Please vote for me!