You know, I was going to take a break from posting to let folks reaallly contemplate my last piece on how Fran's employees really think of her. But then the American Recreation Coalition fired a massive salvo in yet another bid to reorder (disorder?) the Park Service's priorities.
On one hand I feel I should just ignore this group, which really has no rightful place trying to dictate how our national parks are run. But I figure the more folks who know about ARC's mission, the more support can be mustered to derail it.
Their latest transgression? A collective letter sent to Dirk in which ARC and its "affiliates" maintain that the park system is "failing to provide the American public with the appropriate level of visitation to meet the nation’s mental, physical and spiritual needs."
If ARC weren't so persistent, this claim would be entirely laughable.
Remember folks, this is the group whose affiliates include the American Council of Snowmobile Associations, the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, and the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, among other motorized recreational groups.
This is the group who had a role in Fran's painfully obvious (and hence ridiculous) announcement, back in June, that parks are good for your health. This is the group Paul Hoffman, the Interior official behind the most draconian revision of the Park Service's Management Policies in recent history, appeared before last September to explain why the changes were necessary.
Paul, if you recall, would later tell reporters that the 2001 version of the MPs were "anti-enjoyment." Well, now it seems ARC is trying to convince Dirk that parks in their current form are anti-enjoyment.
"The U.S. (park) system has inspired the creation of park systems around the world and has continued to grow in area in the U.S., now consisting of nearly 400 units covering more than 85 million acres," ARC officials note in touting their letter to Dirk. "Yet ... despite this growth in size and a 25% increase in the U.S. population over two decades, and despite increased awareness of the value of parks in providing Americans with safe and enjoyable opportunities for physical activity, park visits have declined."
Somehow, ARC officials reason that Park Service officials single-handedly are responsible for a decline in visitation.
(Along those lines, I'm not really sure I follow ARC's mathematics. For instance, they say national park visitation stands at 63 million visits a year. Yet if you view the Park Service's data, there were 273.5 million recreation visits to the park system last year. But I digress.)
How come ARC is not asking the administration to see that fuel prices are lowered so more Americans can afford to travel to the parks?
How come ARC is not demanding that the administration change its economic policies so workers take home more money, not less, in their paychecks so they can afford to go on national park vacations?
How come it's not asking Congress to fully fund the Park Service so it can overcome its $5 billion or so maintenance backlog and present Americans with a park system that is not growing rough and shabby about the edges?
How come ARC is not demanding a system-wide ban against motorized recreation in the parks, since that is what surveys show Americans want?
Instead, ARC wants the Park Service not only to do a better job of promoting the park system in general, but also promote "greater use" of the system. I don't think you need to read between the lines to realize that ARC wants more snowmobiling, ATVing, and Jet Skiing in park units.
Interestingly, while ARC says its letter to Dirk was signed by 80 groups, it failed to identify any one of them in its press release.
There was a powerful column in the New York Times the other day by Nicholas Kristof, a writer with a truly gifted way with words. He was recounting backpacking trips he had taken with his children this summer to introduce them to the joys of nature and wilderness. In the column, Mr. Kristof lamented the many actions taken by the Bush administration to override wilderness and open as much public land as possible to energy exploration.
In ending the column, he notes that, "In 100 years, Mr. Bush's mistakes in Iraq may not matter anymore, but our wilderness heritage lost on his watch can never be restored."
The same can be said of overrunning our national parks with more motorized recreation in the name of boosting visitation.
Don't forget folks, of all the public land acreage managed by the Park Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, less than 20 percent of that total -- roughly 537 million acres -- falls within the current protections of the national park system. Practically all the rest allows the sort of fun that ARC is promoting, the fun it believes park goers are missing out on.
Let's not let ARC succeed in trashing the parks. Join the National Parks Conservation Association to help it preserve our parks and write a letter to your congressfolk demanding that they refuse to go along with ARC's tampering.