How serious are top National Park Service managers when it comes to these "listening sessions" the agency is holding on the pretext of giving the general public an opportunity to question proposed revisions to the agency's Management Policies?
I ask that question because the feedback I'm hearing from one of the sessions staged by Great Smoky Mountains National Park seems to indicate NPS officials view the sessions as an annoying little task.
There seems to be a disconnect between Park Service headquarters in Washington and the parks over the supposed importance of the proposed revisions.
Could that be because individual park superintendents don't endorse the revisions that an anonymous group of "100 Career Park Professionals" supposedly crafted in the name of clarity and 21st-century recreation demands?
At the Civic Center in Sevierville, Tennessee, the other night GSMNP was represented by two junior staffers – a public affairs staffer and the chief of resources education -- who had few answers for the public that turned out. Among their comments to the crowd of 60-80 was this gem: “We cannot respond to many of your questions because we are just now in our own internal process of reviewing the thing.”
Just now? The debate over revisions to the Management Policies has been going on in earnest since late summer.
With “listening sessions” being rolled out around the country at various national parks, wouldn’t you think the agency would ensure that the representatives it sent to those meetings would be well-versed in the proposed revisions? With the level of importance top NPS and DOI officials have placed on getting the revisions in place, wouldn't you think they would require park superintendents to appear at these public "listening sessions?" With the understanding that the national park system belongs to all Americans, not to a select few who have the ear of top DOI officials, wouldn't you think top NPS officials would be interested in feedback from those who take the time to travel to these sessions?
As the Daily Times of Maryville, Tennessee, reported, Greg Kidd, the associate director of the National Parks Conservation Association's Southeast Regional office, told the NPS representatives that he was "hoping for an opportunity to ask questions and get answers about some substantial changes" to Park Service policies.
If, after all these months of high-profile debate over the proposed revisions, Park Service Director Fran Mainella doesn't appreciate the importance of seeing that her superintendents are prepared to answer the public's questions, what guarantee is there that the agency will take the public's comments to heart?