You gotta love the folks over at the American Recreation Coalition. They are always striving to live up to their url's address: "Fun Outdoors."
But they kind of disappointed me with their comments on the proposed revisions to the National Park Service's Management Policies. While groups such as a band of former executive-level NPS managers, The Wilderness Society, National Parks Conservation Association, and the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sent incredibly detailed and somewhat voluminous comments to NPS Director Fran Mainella and Interior Secretary Gale Norton, ARC contained its views to just six pages.
Still, there are some zingers in those six pages.
ARC President Derrick Crandall opens his letter by rightfully commending the NPS for "seeking to address long-range and strategic goals during a period when many important and immediate issues could easily overwhelm the agency leadership." And he is of the mind that "the review can and should be a consensus-building effort, with full and open discussion emphasizing ideas and vision."
But then he adds that not only do current laws, regulations and executive orders take precedence over the MPs, but that "the proposed revisions will not dramatically alter current park operations and conditions."
Not dramatically alter current conditions?
I guess Mr. Crandall and his staff overlooked sections of the proposed revisions that would lessen the Park Service's ability to protect natural soundscapes and address air pollution, not to mention concerns that the revisions could lead to more motorized recreation in the parks and placement of cell towers within their borders.
Mr. Crandall also oddly implies that the 2001 version of the Management Policies led to a decrease in national park visitation because top Interior Department officials worried too much that visitors were "loving the parks to death."
"This philosophy pervaded departmental and agency thinking, even to the point that Take Pride in America -- a proven vehicle for building appreciation for public lands and volunteerism on those lands -- was mothballed by departmental beliefs that the program unwisely encouraged visits to public lands and that volunteerism was an ineffective tool for park protection and operation," he writes.
After citing recent figures that show national park visitation currently is on the downswing -- perhaps due to general economic conditions or the skyrocketing price of gas in the past year, something Mr. Crandall doesn't touch on -- the ARC president writes that his group "has a real fear that the mental, physical and spiritual benefits of visits to our national park system will be realized by a declining portion of the public."
Mr. Crandall cites, as part of his concern over dwindling national park visitation, Richard Louv's incredible book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. But I think he's reaching if he's trying to link the decline in outdoor activities by today's youth to any policies of the Clinton administration.
Mr. Louv cites a wide-range of literature to try to explain why many of today's youth are out of touch with the natural world. Many of those citations revolve around the advent of the Internet, computer games, video games, and the loss of natural places to urbanization.
Oddly, at least from where I sit, Mr. Crandall suggests that national park visitation trends can be reversed through the use of new technology -- something he doesn't define, but I'm guessing it has to do with some sort of engine or motor.
Plus, he's concerned, and rightfully so, that the NPS can't accomplish its mission effectively under current funding levels. However, I think he's heading in the wrong direction by suggesting in part that "increased attention can and should be placed upon using fees to increase agency resources..."
While park entrance fees truly are a bargain, even with their latest increases, I don't see where increasing them, or instituting additional user fees of some sort, will help lure more visitors to the parks. More likely that would lead to an even greater drop in park visitation. Rather, I think Mr. Crandall could be of better assistance to the Park Service by using his coalition to lobby Congress for adequate funding levels.
ARC's comments also include the group's long-standing view that one of the best ways we can improve visitors' enjoyment of the parks is through more motorized use and activities such as geo-caching, which is an activity I believe is more appropriate for other public lands.
I don't know, but when 96 percent of the public say they have a great time in the parks just as they are, I would wager that that enjoyment level would decline if visitors had to dodge more mountain bikes, more snowmobiles, and geo-cachers running around the parks.
I believe the National Park Service is at a key turning, and I will address that more fully in future posts. However, I do not see how allowing the same activities as are currently permitted in national forests and U.S. Bureau of Land Management Lands will improve the parks. Rather, they will deteriorate even more quickly than they currently are.
Our national parks were never intended to be open to the same uses as other public lands. The National Park Service's primary mission is preservation of unique landscapes, and that preservation -- of the forests, the beaches, the red-rock landscape, the all-encompassing incredible scenery, the wildlife, and not zooming across that landscape atop an ATV, mountain bike or snowmobile -- feeds the public's enjoyment of those unique places.
Evidence of the unique nature of the national parks, and their appeal, can be found in the many concessionaires that want to operate within the borders of the parks. How many have similar operations on national forests or BLM lands?