The 2005 Visitor Survey Card Data Report for the National Park Service is out, and it gives the service an overall grade of 96 percent.
While I'm not sure I would have graded the service quite that highly, the report card offers a pretty good argument for those who say there's no need for revising the Park Service's Management Policies.
In surveys handed out at 321 units of the park system between February 1 and August 31 of this year, visitors were asked to grade the parks on facilities, visitor services, and recreational opportunities.
On the topic of visitor centers, 94 percent of the respondents rated the facilities as either "good" or "very good." When they were asked about restrooms, 85 percent said they were satisfied with the facilities. Campgrounds and/or picnic areas landed an 88 percent "satisfaction measure," exhibits came in at 92 percent, and walkways, trails and roads registered 93 percent.
When asked to rate parks on interpretive programs, 95 percent of the respondents responded with either a "good" or "very good" rating, and for outdoor recreation, 93 percent returned a "good" or "very good" rating.
This year's overall grade equaled the 1995 baseline grade of 96 percent, although the 2005 survey produced more "very good" ratings.
The survey, which involved nearly 29,000 respondents, was conducted by the University of Idaho's Park Studies Unit, and carries a 6 percent margin of error.
In my travels to Mesa Verde, Acadia, Cape Cod, and Glacier this year, I never came across a survey taker. However, my park visits the past few years have left me concerned about the reduced numbers of rangers available for interpretation, understaffed or closed visitor centers, and an occasional lack of interpretive materials, such as the pamphlets that usually are placed at interpretive trailheads. And then there are the maintenance woes that are reflected by pothole-studded roads and weary buildings in need of paint (at the very least).
That said, I think the latest report card fails to support the beliefs of some top Interior Department officials that we need to change the way we manage our parks.