In the coming weeks, officials at Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be hosting public forums to answer your questions concerning proposed revisions to the National Park Service's Management Policies.
What I'm hearing, though, is that these sessions are designed to give park managers a platform to drive home the agency's spin on the proposed changes.
The sessions in Great Smoky are set for next Tuesday, the 10th, at the Sevierville (Tennessee) Civic Center and on January 19th at the Blue Ridge Parkway Headquarters in North Carolina, where the session will be co-hosted by the two parks. Both meetings are scheduled to run from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
As you know, these proposed changes have drawn a lot of controversy, as well as a congressional hearing. Not everyone is as enthused about the changes as the Park Service's top managers. The official line from the Park Service is that the policies, which were last updated in 2001, "are being updated to improve clarity of NPS's interpretation of the key legislation that underlies the policies and guidance on park planning, park protection, interpretation and education, use of the parks, park facilities, commercial visitor services, the management of natural and cultural resources, and wilderness."
If you've followed my posts on this issue, you know there's not as much clarity in the proposed revisions as is being advertised. Which leads me back to these open houses, which are being dribbled out around the park system. The public has until February 18, 2006, to comment on the proposed changes. And the workshops are billed as an opportunity for the general public to ask park managers questions about the revisions.
But what I'm hearing from folks who have attended some of these workshops is that they are designed to allow park managers to outline the proposed changes and "clarify" what the changes would actually mean. In other words, a devil's advocate might say that these events are designed for NPS to hammer home its deceptive message that "preservation is still paramount" in these draft Management Policies.
If preservation is indeed still the agency's primary goal, why the need to make such sweeping changes to the Management Policies? As I've noted previously, visitor surveys have shown that more than 90 percent of park visitors have been satisfied with their trips to the national parks. If anything needs to be changed, I'd suggest better funding for the agency so it could wipe out that massive maintenance backlog, hire more interpretive rangers, and protect the resource.
If you get a chance to attend one of these hearings, tell me about your experience. I'm hoping what I've heard so far is a mistaken interpretation.