By Amy McNamara
When every living National Park Service director who served Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Clinton speaks with one voice – as they did this week – it’s time to stop and listen.
In a letter to Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne, the former Park Service leaders said that “allowing Yellowstone’s current average of 250 snowmobiles per day to increase — to as many as 720 snowmobiles — would undercut the park’s resurgent natural conditions.”
If you look back on the history of our parks, the beauty has always been that no matter what party was in office our parks rose above the fray. National parks, after all, are national parks.
Some of these former directors were running the National Park Service before I was born. For much of the past four decades, this group of individuals collectively occupied the director’s “corner office,” making difficult decisions day-in and day-out about how best to uphold the legacy of our parks and make good on their commitment to ensure that parks continue to be unimpaired visitor destinations for generations to come.
While George B. Hartzog, Jr. wasn’t thinking about me - per se - as he was director between 1964 and 1972, I know he was thinking about individuals like me who would be visiting parks in the 1980s, '90s, and into the new millennium.
To this day, even in retirement, he continues to think about the kids who have yet to be born and what our national parks will mean to them. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have sent a letter with ten of his distinguished colleagues about the need to pull our parks out of the fray and put them back on track.
Yesterday, the New York Times ran a story about the directors’ letter. When asked by the Times about the letter, the management assistant at Yellowstone said “we thought it painted a simplified, broad-brush picture of a complex topic.”
Indeed, the science that went into the park’s fourth study is complex. But, at the end of the day, the modeling comes to a clear conclusion. It is the same conclusion the Park Service and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have independently reached three times before: The best way to protect Yellowstone and ensure visitors can enjoy the natural, clean air and quiet that are intrinsic qualities of Yellowstone’s winter is through modern snowcoaches.
I am grateful that former park leaders such as Hartzog continue to speak on behalf of our parks and the kids who will hike on their trails 30 and 100 years from now.
Amy McNamara is National Parks Program Director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. She grew up camping and fishing in national parks. She now lives in Bozeman, Montana – fewer than 100 miles from her home park of Yellowstone.