Why one couple gave 400 acres of pristine meadow to Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite is one of the crown jewels of the U.S. National Park Service.

It's also — pardon my French — très grand! (Very big!)

Yosemite National Park being huge. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.


Clocking in at over 1,000 square miles, Yosemite takes up a massive chunk of California. It's so big you could fit over 63 million Cheez-It crackers in it (according to some math I did myself). I don't know why you would, but you could. Before you attempt it though, consider this:

400 acres are about to be added to Yosemite, and the new land is awesome in nearly every way.

It's the park's biggest expansion since 1949, and the land, named Ackerson Meadow, previously belonged to private owners Robin and Nancy Wainwright.

Ackerson Meadow was historically used for logging and cattle grazing. The land was ripe for development.

Dayum. Photo by Robb Hirsch for the Trust for Public Land.

It's like a Disney movie — picture a sprawling, pristine meadow filled with an abundance of happy, doe-eyed creatures. Now imagine a mean ol' land developer building a big strip mall on top of it. That's what could've happened to Ackerson Meadow.

Luckily, things never got that far. The Wainwrights, who recognized the natural beauty of their land, decided to sell it to the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit conservation group, for $2.3 million. The trust then donated the land to Yosemite.

Photo by Robb Hirsch for the Trust for Public Land.

The Wainwrights reportedly lost a couple hundred thousand dollars on the sale but knew it was the right decision regardless.

"To have [the land] accessible by everyone to me is just a great thing. It was worth losing a little bit of money for that," Robin Wainwright explained.

The protection of the National Park Service is also a big deal, as the meadow is home to several endangered or protected species.

Including this stern-looking great gray owl.

"Sup." Photo by Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images.

Great grey owls are huge, badass birds that hunt gophers with their bare talons and have been known to live up to 40 years. Males impress lady owls by kissing food into their mouths, a beautiful and delicate process that I would like to henceforth refer to as "gopher-frenching."

In California, they're an endangered species. In fact, the vast majority of great gray owls live in Yosemite, which means the newly added land will serve as further protected habitat.

Yosemite might be huge, but the 400 acres will still add some diversity to the park's already stunning landscape.

Ackerson is largely made up of wetlands and a grassy meadow, which is quite different from Yosemite's iconic granite cliffs.

"Neat! My lens cap is on!" Photo by Robb Hirsch for the Trust for Public Land.

Different landscapes mean biodiversity, and biodiversity means a healthier ecosystem as well as a host of benefits for the planet Earth, which is where we live!

A win like this for Yosemite is truly a win for all of us.

Pending a small legal snafu, Ackerson Meadow will be added to Yosemite National Park, and everyone will benefit.

Not only will a beautiful crop of land receive well-deserved protection and conservation from the National Park Service, but it'll be open to the public, which means we'll all get to enjoy it. You can even go try to spot one of those owls if they're not busy gopher-frenching potential mates.

"It's not funny." Photo by Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images.

Protecting that land will have a long-lasting effect on the environment writ large too, as protected forests help reduce greenhouse gases.

People come from all over the world to see national parks and marvel at their natural beauty. The land owners could've sold their magnificent plot for a hefty profit, but instead they decided to share it with the world.

In that sense, we all profit.

Photo by Robb Hirsch for the Trust for Public Land.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Tod Perry

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