Take a survey in just about any national park and I think you'll find that most visitors enjoy hiking. Does that mean that maintenance of hiking trails falls under a park's list of "core operations"?
You would think that question would be a no-brainer. But in Glacier National Park, officials are actually debating whether they can afford to maintain the 700-or-so miles of hiking trails that crisscross the park.
The problem, you see, is that Glacier, like many other parks, has been asked by Fran to scrutinize its "core operations" and decide where corners can be cut to save a few bucks in these days of presidential and congressional indifference when it comes to our national park system. And one area being examined is the upkeep of trails.
“Can we afford to maintain all those trails?," Gary Brandow, Glacier's chief financial officer, told the Missoulian newspaper. "Can we cut back? Will some have to be abandoned?”
Stories such as the one that ran in the Missoulian are vital to the future of the national park system. You and I need to be constantly reminded about the deteriorating conditions in the parks and how Washington is or isn't responding. And we need to react to the stories, preferrably by lobbying our congressional representatives to get on the ball.
Fran, frankly, is in a tough and unenviable spot. I wouldn't be surprised if she'd actually prefer to see an increase in congressional funding for the parks rather than having to ask her superintendents to find ways to cut into the bones of the park system.
I mean, supposedly the director of the National Park Service is the ultimate advocate for the park system. How can that person be happy to see trails abandoned in Glacier, poaching go on in Bryce Canyon and other parks, ranger-led interpretive programs reduced, and facilities fray at the seams?
Has the park system reached the point where it needs concessionaires such as Xanterra Parks and Resorts to take over park interpretation? I surely hope not, but there's a growing void and private enterprise is stepping up to the plate.
Unfortunately, when you involve private enterprise you bring the profit motive into play, and in our national parks that means higher fees and, for some, less access to these magnificent properties that belong to all of us.