Happy 116th birthday, Antiquities Act

June 8, 2022 5:32 am

Siegfried Gerlach in Wee Thump Joshua Wilderness Area (Courtesy photo)

I was born and raised in Las Vegas. My father Siegfried, who recently passed, and my mother, who I care for to this day, have always enjoyed Nevada’s public lands and remote desert valleys, forests, and mountain ranges. My earliest memory is of a tour my parents took our family on in the Lehman Caves of Great Basin National Park. As a toddler, I remember being led by my mom and cousin on the tour, shrieking when the guides turned the lights off in the large underground chamber. I remember coming out of the cave met by the sunlight, a vast expansive view of the Snake Valley, and seeing my dad holding my little sister. This formative experience is one of countless other treasured memories that I’ve experienced in Nevada’s public lands, with Great Basin National Park, the Ruby Mountains, Angel Lake, Cave Lake, the Meadow Valley Wash, Gold Butte, Bain and Range, and Avi Kwa Ame, some of my favorite places to spend time with my family and friends.

Great Basin National Park started off as the Lehman Caves National Monument, when on January 24, 1922, President Warren Harding proclaimed the Lehman Caves a national monument. Following this, there was a ceremony on August 6, 1922, celebrating the new monument. This August marks the 100th anniversary of the monument, and the National Park Service will mark the day with a historic flag raising and other activities throughout the day like cave tours by lantern light, special ranger guided walks, and a ceremony with guest speakers in the afternoon, followed by birthday cake. The trajectory from national monument to national park is not a unique one: Great Basin National Park is one of many national parks, like the Grand Canyon, that started off as a national monument – a designation that would not have been possible without the Antiquities Act. 

The Antiquities Act was signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt 116 years ago today,  on June 8, 1906, and was the first United States law to provide general protection for any general kind of cultural or natural resource. It established the first national historic preservation policy for the United States, giving the President the authority to set aside for protection “…historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States.” These protected areas were then designated as “national monuments” and the federal agencies assigned to oversee them were required to afford proper care and management of the resources. Prior to the Antiquities Act, specific areas had been set aside as national parks or reserves. However, these parks or reserves required an act of Congress, as well as Presidential approval. The Antiquities Act made the establishment of national monuments a quicker and easier administrative action.

The value of public lands is immeasurable, and the memories we associate with them are priceless.  Establishing national monuments not only ensures that our special places are preserved and histories remembered, but they serve as a way for more people to make critical connections with nature and create their own memories.

Though the Antiquities Act has created the long lasting protections for many of our public lands, there are still places that need our support, like Avi Kwa Ame. One of my favorite recent memories was exploring the Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area, within the proposed Avi Kwa Ame National Monument, on Earth Day in 2018 with my parents, the year before my father passed away. My father and I had heard about a potential wind project being considered near Searchlight,  and we wanted to see the area before any sort of development happened. My family and I had been through the area countless times before and so we drove out late Sunday to drive the loop around Wee Thump. Along the drive, we reminisced about all the times my mom and dad took us on road trips to view the ancient Joshua Tree Forest there. The permanence of those Joshua Trees will forever be as beautiful to me as the memories of my father and our family’s times exploring the breathtaking places across Nevada. 

I will forever hold onto the memories of trips with my father to the Joshua Tree Forest in Wee Thump and the surrounding area. I am so proud to honor my father and those memories by advocating for the protection of our public lands and the continued use of the Antiquities Act for the proposed Avi Kwa Ame National Monument. In honor of the anniversary of the Antiquities Act, I urge President Biden to use his powers under the 116 year old Antiquities Act during this hundred year anniversary of Nevada’s first national monument to preserve Nevada’s natural and cultural wonders like Avi Kwa Ame so that future generations may continue to explore, enjoy, and make their own memories.  

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