Stan Voit: Questioning one's motivation can be a tricky thing

Nov. 27, 2012 @ 02:27 PM


I’ve been rewatching Ken Burns’ documentary on the national parks. It’s good viewing, especially while spending my 30 minutes on the treadmill each morning.

What I find remarkable is how in so many instances, one person fought for creation of a park and against its destruction by private development. One person’s courageous and sometimes lonely stand against what he thought was a boneheaded and irresponsible private development saved so many of our national treasures from ruin.

John Muir made saving Yosemite his own personal crusade. Through his newspaper columns and by convincing prominent and influential people to visit Yosemite and see its natural wonder and beauty, he was able to preserve it.

In 1889, Muir took Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of Century Magazine, to Tuolumne Meadows so he could see how sheep were damaging the land. Muir convinced Johnson that the area could only be saved if it were made into a national park. Johnson’s publication of Muir’s writings sparked a bill in Congress that proposed creating a new federal park. Yosemite National Park became a reality in 1890.

John D. Rockefeller Jr., son of the oil tycoon, could have lived out his life in opulence and splendor. He didn’t. Acadia first attained federal status when President Wilson, established it as a national monument in 1916, administered by the National Park Service. In1919, it became a national park. From 1915 to 1933, Rockefeller Jr. financed, designed and directed the construction of a network of trails throughout the park. He paid landscape architect Beatrix Farrand to design the planting. Rockefeller didn’t create the park, but his personal investment enhanced it and expanded it.

Throughout this nation’s history people have fought against what they felt was intrusive and ill-conceived private development that threatened natural wonders. The national parks were called America’s greatest idea by Burns, and the documentary also reflects how the federal government and a few presidents who care about the land and its preservation actually did some good things, sometimes stopping private business and development. History shows that individuals who fought for the preservation of land and the creation of national parks didn’t own property there or even live nearby.

There are people who take to heart what anthropologist Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Their motives may not always be altruistic, but they fight the fight and see what happens.

That idealism reminds me a little bit of the aftermath of the Pigeon Forge liquor referendum. One man, Charles Rhodes, spent a lot of time going over the voting records, comparing addresses and seeing if people who live in the city didn’t get to vote, or people who don’t live in the city did get to vote. He discovered some 300 apparent discrepancies, a discovery pretty much acknowledged by the Election Commission when it certified the results.

That’s the foundation of the election contest filed Wednesday challenging the outcome, which, of course, was won by the pro-liquor forces.

Some on the winning side have attacked Rhodes and questioned his motivation, pointing out he doesn’t live in Pigeon Forge. Well, a number of people who fought the hardest to get this passed don’t live there either, and most if not all of the pro-liquor forces were motivated by the desire to make more money. Is that motivation any more pure than whatever moves Rhodes to do what he does?

Rhodes had poked his finger in the eye of Pigeon Forge for a long time. He has his own reasons for doing what he does, just as his opponents do.

Look, Charles Rhodes is not John Muir, nor is the issue of liquor by the drink on a par with saving Yosemite. People are motivated to get involved for different reasons. Instead of shooting the messenger — in this case Charles Rhodes — let’s determine if what he found rises to the level of forcing another vote. That’s what the election contest will do.

— Stan Voit is editor of The Mountain Press. His column appears each Sunday. He can be reached at 428-0748, ext. 217, or e-mail to