My, my, my. Leave town for a little over a week and look what breaks out. Dangerous Park Service uniforms, an elderly, and theoretically over-the-hill, National Park Service, a proposed centennial project to create a $12 million jazz museum, debate (arguments?) over who should manage lodging in the parks and how, and much, much more.
And then there's my day job, which will delay my addressing these issues as quickly and thoroughly as I'd like to. But here are some random thoughts that I hope to have some time in the not-too-distant future to crystallize:
* Is the NPS infirm at 91? Is a sequoia? For those trees, 91 is barely approaching puberty. What about the United States? At 231 years and counting there have been endless flaws with this institution, but should they be solved by dissolving the union? Dismantling the Park Service is not a sound solution or well thought out. Would you clean a glass house by casting stones at it? Are there problems with the Park Service? You betcha, as these pages have pointed out. But to dismantle the agency and toss the 391 units willy-nilly here and there to NGOs that are not prepared to run them would be tragic with dire consequences. The key is to fix from within, folks. And that certainly won't be easy because of the inherent politics that oversee WASO and because of the strings the folks up the street continue to pull. But I can't share the sentiments of those who believe destruction of the NPS is the salvation of the park system.
* I love jazz, but why is the Park Service, which has an $8 billion backlog of woes, proposing to invest $12 million in a jazz museum in New Orleans, a hurricane-ravaged city the federal government so far has struggled mightily, and ineptly in many areas, to rebuild? (Note: I haven't yet had time to read the justification for this centennial project, so perhaps there is a good rationale there. But on its face....)
* Park lodging. There are castles and there are slums throughout the park system. The Park Service tries to manage them all by choosing qualified concessionaires and by establishing rates based on those charged in surrounding communities. Is it a perfect system? I think not. But I also haven't yet found a better one. And as Jeremy has pointed out, the Park Service just ain't suited or equipped to actually manage these facilities. The concessionaires are required to reinvest in the lodges and pay the NPS for the privilege to operate the lodges and restaurants and profit from them. As I understand, the percentage of reinvestment varies from park to park. Are these numbers fair? That's hard to say, as concessionaires are loath to reveal their occupancy rates, costs, expenses, and income.
* Best lodges. I hate "best of" stories. And yet I've written my share, because folks love to read them. But to say Phantom Ranch, Many Glacier Hotel, or Zion Lodge are among the top 10 lodges in the park system...well, let's just say I'd disagree and point to the Furnace Creek Inn, Old Faithful Inn, and the soon-to-be-resplendent Paradise Inn as more worthy candidates. But it's just a list.
Those are the short answers, folks. Once I crank out some of my paying work I'll return to continue these discussions.