Photograph by Shutterstock
Photograph by Shutterstock
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These hidden figures helped save America's parks

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By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor

National Geographic’s Rachel Jones recently reported on the lack of diversity within the environmental movement—and the new leaders who are changing that. “Their work comes as environmental groups have begun publicly examining their role in perpetuating systemic racist policies and practices,” she writes. Her article follows the Sierra Club’s formal rejection of the racist beliefs and actions of its founder, John Muir.

Jones writes that people of color have long been excluded from environmental policy and conservation—creating blind spots that perpetuate inequality. But there is another facet to this story: Many people of color who actually transformed U.S. national parks remain hidden figures in history—despite the fact that they helped save natural wonders and historic places.

“When I began exploring the outdoors, I had no idea that Black people had played a vital role in the creation of Yosemite, one of my favorite national parks,” reports James Edward Mills. “I had never heard the story of the park’s connection with Charles Young and the Buffalo Soldiers (pictured above, at Yosemite), and when I finally did, at age 42, it came to me as a complete surprise. In the 10 years since, I’ve learned the stories of Stephen Bishop and Mammoth Caves, Lancelot Jones (pictured below, at left) and Biscayne Bay, and many other people of color who have influenced national parks. Their narratives have long been obscured or ignored by history."

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Mills previously wrote about efforts to make the outdoors more inclusive. In that story he documented a history of segregation and exclusion, dating to the establishment of the National Park Service, that restricted Black travelers on public lands. “My own love and appreciation for the national parks only deepened when I learned the stories of the Black men and women in our history who made these incredible places possible,” he wrote.

Our new story aims to illuminate what has often been overshadowed in the histories of our wild spaces. “The discovery of these narratives can go a long way toward affirming our place within the heritage and legacy of public land preservation,” writes Mills. “Why preserve wild lands? Because they belong to all of us.”

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Your Instagram photo of the day

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Sheep sheep everywhere: While traveling on the wild mountain roads of northern Iraq, between the Kurdish cities of Erbil and Akre, photographer Francesco Lastrucci had to stop the car. Just look at that flock of sheep (above) in the unspoiled mountainside near Shaqlawa. “Shepherds with tents and vast flocks of sheep are a common sight in the green mountain meadows of Kurdistan,” Lastrucci tells us. “The Kurdish raise Karakul sheep mostly for their wool, which they naturally dye and turn into beautiful handwoven rugs. Some of the intricate and colorful designs have been passed down for many generations.” Also excellent: the yogurt, milk, and cheese.

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Today in a minute

U.S. advisory lifted: Yes, the State Department lifted its global advisory against international travel, but look closely: The department kept more than 50 countries, including high COVID-19 infection nations such as Brazil, India, and Russia, on a “do not travel” advisory, USA Today reports. It has issued “reconsider travel” warnings for many others. Here’s the current list, by country.

Missing Europe? Consider Wisconsin. You can find Swiss cheesemaking and Norwegian troll tales in towns including New Glarus and Mineral Point, where descendants from Switzerland, Norway, and England’s Cornwall region settled, Raphael Kadushin writes for Nat Geo.

The Whale’: That’s the name of a combination whale-spotting platform and museum expected to open in 2022 near the village of Andenes on the rugged northern island of Andøya, Norway. About 50,000 visitors a year head to the coastal village, 180-some miles north of the Arctic Circle, for its world-class whale-watching opportunities, Afar reports.

What are we reading? Join our Travel Book Club in (reading about) Hawaii! Our next book mixes Hawaiian legends with a family saga. It’s Sharks in the Time of Saviors, a glowingly reviewed debut novel by Hawaii-born Kawai Strong Washburn.

The big takeaway

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Back abroad: A roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006 so seriously wounded ABC News reporter Bob Woodruff that he went into a coma, then had brain surgery and struggled for a year to relearn to talk and walk. He promised his family then: no more active wars. But now, he and his photographer son, Mack, have visited sites of former conflicts: Lebanon, the Swat Valley in Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Ukraine. It’s part of a National Geographic series called Rogue Trip, intended to break down the fear and discover something new about a place few Americans might see. For Mack, it’s a new way to see his dad. “Dad did an amazing job of raising us not to fear the world because of this fluke accident that happened to him,” he told Nat Geo’s Anne Kim-Dannibale. Pictured above, Mack Woodruff swimming in a hot spring at Ethiopia’s Aledeghi Wildlife Reserve.

In a few words

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On Wednesday, Victoria Jaggard covers the latest in science. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Rachael Bale on animals, Whitney Johnson on photography, and Debra Adams Simmons on history.

The last glimpse

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Who needs Iceland? You can see the northern lights from the upper Midwest and the Great Lakes. August is when the sightings begin in earnest, but auroras have been spotted earlier this summer (above) from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshorein Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Stephanie Vermillion reports for Nat Geo.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse selected the photographs. Special thanks to Janey Adams, Kimberly Pecoraro, and Amy McKeever. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . And thanks for reading!