My posts have been on the wane in recent days, but not because there's any lack of issues confronting the National Park Service. Rather, I've been immersing myself at the annual Winter Outdoor Retailers Show down in Salt Lake City.
Known by some as the biggest outdoor toy show in the world, this three-day convention trots out the latest innovations in outdoor gadgetry for retailers and media to peruse. (Sorry, it's closed to the public.) If you like the out-of-doors, it doesn't get much better than attending this show to see the latest in tents, packs, sleeping bags, hydration systems, shoes, cook kits, stoves, you name it. Boggles the mind, it really does. In the weeks ahead I plan to review some of the cool things I saw and sampled.
What this show also does, though, is get the juices flowing about the current state of the out-of-doors. And that generates much to ponder.
Two of the biggest issues I've touched on in the last week or so were the essay by the University of Las Vegas-Nevada professor who believes preservation of public lands is dead, and the prickly item about the International Mountain Bicycling Association gaining a stronger toehold (pedal hold?) in the national parks.
Suffice to say that those issues are much debatable among a crowd that makes a living from the out-of-doors. One acquaintance I ran into suggested --as a devil's advocate, mind you-- that park visitation is on the decline, that the demographic of your average parkie is greying, and so there's a need to bring new forms of recreation into the parks to boost visitation from the younger generations.
I can't accept that, for I don't believe the national park movement was based primarily on the need to bring people in touch with nature, to give them a place to recreate. Rather, I'm pretty much convinced it was to preserve nature so we as a society could understand and appreciate the landscape from which this country sprang. Should we have to entice park visitors with mountain-bike trails? And if so, how long before ATV routes will be deemed necessary to make it easier (and more attractive?) for folks to visit the national parks? And then, should we fence in the wildlife to prevent confrontations with these human visitors?
Newspapers across the country have editorialized against the proposed changes in the National Park Service's Management Policies because they believe these landscapes should be preserved so future generations not only can enjoy them but, more importantly, gain a better understanding of what wilderness and wildness looks, feels, and smells like.
There was an excellent story recently in Planet Jackson Hole, a free weekly handed out in Jackson, Wyoming, about the battle currently being waged over the Management Policies. The writer's opening reference to former NPS Director Newton Drury's belief that "whittling" away at the national parks, moving away from the long-held preservation standard, would result in a mediocre park system, hit the proverbial nail on the head.
National parks are not to be confused with city parks and many state parks, where recreation is the main focus, where you can have your skateboard park and your Rollerblade paths and even ATV playgrounds. By changing the mission of the NPS -- and that's what proponents of the revisions to the Management Policies want to do -- you whittle away, piece by piece, at the very nature and mission of the national parks and they lose much of what they were intended to be.
A century from now, we shouldn't need photographs and National Geographic articles to recall the beauty, majesty and wildness of our national parks. Our great-grandchilden should be able to witness, and appreciate, them first-hand.