By Jorge A. Vargas,
Professor of Law University of San Diego School of Law
Over time, and space, the notion of public parks has been gradually evolving. The rulers in Asia had their secluded and exotic gardens and Europe created their private parks. It was common during the Renaissance for royal princes and dukes to maintain elaborate private parks and beautiful gardens for the exclusive enjoyment of nobility. Common people had their plazas, markets and "commons" but they were not allowed to visit the private parks of the nobility such as, for example, San Souci in Postdam; Versailles, Les Tuilleries and Bois the Boulogne near Paris; and Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park and St. James' in London.
The modern concept of "public parks" consisting of publicly owned tracts of land endowed with magnificent beauty consisting of mountains, lakes and marine areas where everybody is allowed to enter, visit and enjoy, does not appear until the late 18th and 19th centuries. This modern idea of public parks was an extension of the democratic philosophy that those parks belong to the community and to the nation for its people to enjoy, develop and protect. They formed a part of the natural treasures of the country for the people to enjoy today and to transfer to future generations. They are areas of natural beauty conducive to spiritual and physical relief.
In the United States, credit is given to President Ulyses S. Grant for having enacted legislation to create Yellowstone National Park on March 1, 1872, recognized to be the first in that country and in the world. It took almost half a century for the U.S. to establish the National Park Service in 1916.
The idea of having public parks would clearly have been destined to fail without those explorers, conservationists and admirers of nature who first discovered those unique areas and then proceeded to disseminate oral and written information about their beauty and the necessity of protecting such areas by means of transforming them into public parks. In the United States, John Muir is the typical example.
In Mexico, the conservationist movement and the idea of establishing public parks dates back to the 19th century. However, the vivid narratives by Spanish priests such as Eusebio Francisco Kino regarding Baja California in 1701 and Fray Antonio de la Ascención describing the maritime odyssey of Sebastián Vizcaíno to discover the Gulf of California and then continue along the west coast of Alta California near the border of today’s Oregon in 1602 continue to be the source of valuable information for scientists and navigators.
According to a recent book by Fernando Vargas Márquez (Parques Nacionales de México y Reservas Equivalentes, IIEconómicas, UNAM, México, 1984), today Mexico has 67 National Parks administered by the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas (CONANP), covering 1.4 million hectares, equivalent to 0.73% of Mexico’s total area.
The Baja California Peninsula is well-known in Mexico, and internationally, for the incredible treasures it possesses relating to environmental areas, historical places, marine activities, unique flora and fauna, architectural missions, indigenous populations, etc. However, few authoritative sources have been published that describe these areas in an accurate and interesting manner.
It is in this field where many of the companies and industries that operate in Baja California are called upon to make a most valuable and needed contribution: to help publicize these Baja California treasures by financing the research, writing and publication of books and maps; sponsor the organization of roundtable discussions, seminars and lectures in association with academic and scientific institutions from the region; invite distinguished lecturers; assist in the development of specialized book and map collections in areas of interest to Baja California, its academic institutions and its diligent and creative people.
It would be great if important cities like Tijuana, Ensenada, La Paz, Loreto, etc. could organize every year –with the financial support of its industries and companies in close association with local and regional academic institutions (from Mexico and the United States)– annual festivals or events devoted to its Missions, the explorations of Spanish navigators in the 17th and 18th centuries, the current and ancient indigenous peoples of these areas and, especially, about the pristine areas that deserve to be protected for present and future generations given their beauty, fragility and uniqueness in the environmental context.
When one considers the prestige and economic power of certain important industries and companies in Baja California: the wine industry, the sport fishing industry, the real estate industry, the tourist industry, etc., it is easy to become enthused with the idea of taking the initiative and making the State of Baja California the place where this initiative may germinate and prosper. An idea that will unite Mexico with the United States in a quest for a more effective protection of its environmental treasures with the purpose of creating a friendlier and cleaner world. No doubt the local governments and academic institutions will be willing and ready to contribute to this binational effort.
Wouldn’t be great if Baja California (Mexico) and California (USA) would join efforts –with local and governmental support– to establish the very first binational park straddling along their international border?