It was 105 years ago when U.S. President Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service (NPS), a new federal bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The NPS is often referred to as “America’s best idea ever,” granting immense protections originally to Yellowstone and Yosemite – but now encompassing more than 85 million acres across 63 different national parks. The idea has since been embraced by many other countries – from Mexico to Russia to Australia – leading to protection for more than 15% of the Earth’s land area.
But the protected areas we have today are woefully inadequate because they are not “representative” and they are not “connected.” That is to say, they do not represent the world’s actual range of critically endangered biodiversity, and they are not connected in a way that would allow species to migrate so as to adapt to climate change.
This is the main reason that we need a globally connected World Park.
A World Park would bring nations, states, landholders, and indigenous custodians together in a cooperative effort to create continuous tracts of restored habitat for both recreation and the protection of endangered species.
It would also help the world’s many distinct governments (and even different agencies within those governments) better manage the existing system of national protected areas and likely save precious investments in these much beloved areas.
But where would a World Park be located?
A good starting point for a World Park is to look at the world’s ‘biodiversity hotspots’ which are located in various regions across the globe. These are regions with significant levels of biodiversity that are threatened by human habitation and range from the Amazon to Madagascar to much of Southeast Asia.
Wherever possible, the World Park would connect these hotspots into a single continuous landscape. Within the hotspots, park land is then designated by identifying the land needed to forge connections between the existing fragments of protected areas. This land is typically wasteland or pasture or crop land, and the World Park’s mission would be to restore this land to ecologic health.
Ok…so how we help take the World Park from a dream to reality?
Of course the most pressing issue to making this dream into a reality is the matter of money.
From a design perspective, the simplest and cheapest catalyst for the beginning of the World Park is to create a series of trekking and cycling trails that demarcate and provide access to the park’s territory. As proposed, the World Park includes three recreational trails: the first from Australia to Morocco, the second from Turkey to Namibia, and the third from Alaska to Patagonia. These three trails pass through 55 nations and 19 biodiversity hotspots and link together many of the protected areas in the hotspots.
Of course, things quickly get more complicated when we ask how to finance and govern a World Park. The 55 nations and their indigenous peoples and landowners whose territory is incorporated into the park’s jurisdiction would need to work this out. But with an increase in tourism and outside investment, a World Park would make a lot of sense to many of the countries involved.