What Are Your Priorities For the National Parks?

Are carrying guns in the parks more important to you than showing your children or grandchildren a mountain goat in Glacier National Park? Kurt Repanshek photo.

In the past few days there have been posts about threats non-native species pose to national parks, about rafting permits for the Grand Canyon, and about the president's proposed parks budget.

And yet the post that far and away has gained the most attention explored whether we should allow concealed weapons in the parks.

Indeed, you could add up all the "reads" of the first three posts I mentioned and they'd barely equal half of the roughly 700 reads the gun post has garnered since it went up Sunday afternoon. Whereas there have been two comments made, collectively, to those first three posts, there have been 40 attached to the gun post.

Has our American society become so fearful of venturing out into the open that we're more concerned with whether we have a loaded weapon to protect ourselves than we are about whether 1) our parks are becoming polluted by non-native species, 2) we want to have an incredible vacation rafting the Colorado River through the world's most famous canyon, or 3) we as a nation are adequately supporting and investing in our national parks?

Not that I wish to draw the gun lobby's ire, but I have to question whether we've lost some much-needed perspective concerning the value the national parks provide society.

I've been roaming national parks for better than four decades now, and not once have I felt my personal safety compromised by a fellow human being or a wild animal. And yet I can clearly see the adverse effects of underfunding our parks, of the dwindling ranks of rangers to lead interpretive programs that excite and engage our youth and encourage new and stronger park advocates.

I've traveled the crumbling roads of Yellowstone and Sequoia and Mount Rainier and recognized the threats they pose fellow park travelers. I've reported on the parks' leaking sewage systems and the external threats that slowly are choking our national parks, on the budgets that don't provide the money necessary to perform regular maintenance or protect the parks' natural resources, on the motorized "recreation" that tears and pollutes the resources and adversely impacts the flora and fauna.

Combined, these threats pose a significant obstacle to the National Park Service's core mission, of conserving these resources for the enjoyment of today's and tomorrow's generations.

Another threat I see, judging from the past few days' traffic, is that the debate over legalizing concealed carry in the parks will continue to rage ever so strongly while our parks languish because we've lost sight of the very things that make them the world-class treasures that they've long been recognized as.

Comments

I think guns in parks is a political wedge issue. It's coming up now to divide people who care about the outdoors into two warring camps, right when they most need to bond together to protect the outdoors. I expect we will see more of these wedges in this election year.

I'm right there with you Kurt. I know you have an obligation to report all issues relating to the National Park System, but I can't help but roll my eyes every time another issue concerning carrying guns in the National Parks gets posted on this site. You know the old saying, "when invited over to someone's house, never bring up religion or politics", maybe we should add "the 2nd amendment" to that conversation. Both sides are fervent in their positions, and unfortunately it obfuscates any real debate or discussion. I tend to duck and cover until it blows over.

It seems to me that politicians, especially in an election year, prefer to bring up issues that will get them elected instead of pursuing ways of fixing what is broken. Instead of congressional hearings on what needs to be done to protect and preserve these great places of land and history, we have congressmen calling baseball players to give depositions about taking HGH. In the end, politicians will do what will get them elected: Either find ways of bringing pork to their home states, or standing on a soap box spouting off about issues that have no real consequence but make them sound like they're important. Unfortunately the National Parks aren't money-makers and they aren't sexy. I'm not sure they ever will be, so it'll only be hot-button issues like gun control that will get most people riled up in this country.

I was recently in Yellowstone this weekend and discovered that environmental extremists in the Park System are trying to horn in through the back door what they couldn't get through the front.

The issue of banning snowmobiling in the park has been hotly contested for years and opposition to such proposals has always been extremely high. Yet this year the Park system quietly implemented a program that requires all snowmobile riders to be accompanied by a guide, costing upwards of $250 dollars for those who wish to do anything other than ride to Old Faithful and back. The result? Seeing the park in the winter has become a luxury available only to those with money.

So much for the motto carved on the archway at Gardiner "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People."

My priorities for the Park? I'd like to see a bit of common sense replace the rabid extremism in management of the Park. This is a place for the PEOPLE and there seems to be a dangerous trend developing to keep people out of our national parks. It isn't the job of the National Park Service to create a freeze frame image of what some people think the world was like 300 years ago. Reasonable precautions to protect the park from exploitation and abuse should obviously be taken, but a realization must be made that there is a vast difference between a National Park and a Wilderness Area (of which there are millions of acres so designated in the West). Our National Parks are places for the people to see and experience the wonders available there. For ALL people, not just those who have been approved by some rabid environmentalist criteria as possessing the proper level of fanaticism to the cause to be allowed to enter the park (but only if they hike or x-country ski, or snowshoe). Vehicular travel is an integral part of allowing millions of visitors (particularly the handicapped, the disabled, and the very young or very old) to enjoy what the park has to offer without being forced into a tour that only allows them to see what the tour operator sees fit to show them, nor to be subjected to a spiel of propaganda (much of which is opinion rather than scientific fact).

Just as ‘guns in parks’ is being politicized, so is the Centennial in 2016. Mr. Bush's budget is just a bunch of fluff that looks like a great thing for NPS, but when you really look at it, it's more cuts for the system.

Fully fund NPS!

The Congress needs to strongly OVERRIDE the President on this issue, and FULLY FUND the National Parks. And put an old fashioned "Kaibosh" on the NPS's control and superceeding authority to spread it's nonsense! Yes, they need to remain in authority, but with Congressional oversite and greater limits tothat said authority. And what the heck is with the entrance fees being so high? A standard rate that EVERYONE can afford might be the route to take, so that it is more affordable to ALL THE PEOPLE !!!! Just a thought here... which it seems is more than what those in charge seem to be doing!... 'nough Said?

Yeah, guns are one of those "flame bait" issues that simply distract us from the real problems.

I'd like to see the following:

-- Revitalization of educational displays in all the parks. The parks represent such learning potential, in this age of "no child left behind", the parks' educational programs and displays should get a huge overhaul. This includes not just the big parks, but all the small sites with historic significance.

-- Complete staffing. One of the problems with the parks is many are chronically understaffed and the employees underpaid. I think our parks deserve better.

-- Keep off-road vehicles to a minimum. Let's just say I completely disagree with the 2nd "anonymous" poster. The NPS sites are not there for motorized recreation ... that's what private land, state parks, and national forests are for. The primary role of the natural areas of the National Park System is to preserve the natural wonders of the place, a goal that is totally contradictory to motorized joy-riding.

To Anonymous on February 5th - Amen! You said so eloquently what I would want to say, including the remark in the final parentheses.

I agree, Paul. The purpose of the National Park Service is not to create recreation. This is the Mission Statement of the National Park Service:
"...to promote and REGULATE the use of the...national parks...which purpose is to CONSERVE the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them UNIMPAIRED for the enjoyment of future generations."

National Park Service Organic Act, 16 U.S.C.1.

As you can see, the primary purpose is to.."conserve the scenery....natural and historic objects and the wildlife..."
Therefore, the purpose IS to create a "freeze frame" and preserve it for future generation. There are millions of acres of public and private lands nation wide where one can enjoy their guns, ATV's, snowmobiles etc., yet there are only these few islands, that we call National Parks, where we can get a glimpse (at least) at what the world was like before these things. Yes, I know that there are millions of cars, developed camp grounds, hotels, stores etc.; but as anyone knows who has ever tried it, all one has to do is climb over the nearest hill to leave these things behind them. I know that it is hard for some to believe, but many people find "Benefit and Enjoyment" in our parks just the way they are. Else, I suspect, they wouldn't have millions of visitors each year from all over the world.
BTW, study after study has shown that the vast majority of the American people would like to see snowmobiles banned. It is only snowmobile enthusiasts, outfitters and manufacturers who oppose this; and the Park Service and Bush administration has been cow towing to these special interests for years.