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Why Stop At Golden Gate National Recreation Area? What Other NRAs, Monuments, Etc., Should Be Renamed?


Is Canyon de Chelly National Monument, with its sweeping red-rock landscapes and rich human history, any less deserving of "national park" status than Golden Gate National Recreation Area? Photo by David A. Porter via flickr.

What's in a name? That's a good question in light of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's unsolicited (from the National Park Service) bid to turn Golden Gate National Recreation Area into a "national park."

In pushing for renaming the NRA "Golden Gate National Park(s)," Speaker Pelosi would have us believe anything less than attaching a "national park(s)" suffix to Golden Gate would be a slight.

"In the years since the establishment of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area almost 40 years ago, the park units have collectively been referred to as Golden Gate National Parks. As natural and historic sites have been added to this park system, the need has grown to recognize the system of parks for what they are, which is one of our nation’s great natural treasures," her office says in explaining the proposal.

"This bill recognizes the importance of Golden Gate National Parks to the history and future of our nation and rewards it with a designation befitting its place among the most spectacular national parks in our nation."

Let's forgo, for the moment, debating whether a missile site, maximum security prison, lighthouse, or military outpost are truly "natural treasures." Instead, why not wonder why Speaker Pelosi should stop with Golden Gate in her renaming bid? Surely there must be some other units within the National Park System that are among "our nation's greatest natural treasures."

What about Dinosaur National Monument? Over the years there have been several calls for it to be renamed a national park (in fact, that talk just recently resurfaced.) Talk about natural treasures. Where can you find a richer dinosaur boneyard, one that wrote a significant chapter in the great dinosaur fossil discoveries of this country, if not the world?

Downstate in Utah there's Cedar Breaks National Monument, a rich, 60-million-year-old geologic slice of sedimentary rock known as the Pink Cliffs that seems to have captured all the colors of the rainbow. Heck, the locals have been calling for a name change for a coupla years at least.

Cultural history? Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona offers a richness more than befitting "national park" stature.

"Reflecting one of the longest continuously inhabited landscapes of North America, the cultural resources of Canyon de Chelly include distinctive architecture, artifacts, and rock imagery while exhibiting remarkable preservation integrity that provides outstanding opportunities for study and contemplation," says the Park Service. "Canyon de Chelly also sustains a living community of Navajo people, who are connected to a landscape of great historical and spiritual significance."

And while she's at it, perhaps Speaker Pelosi should rid the National Park System of national seashores. "Cape Cod National Park" is much more befitting that spit of sand that curls out from the Massachusetts mainland and which has heretofore been known as Cape Cod National Seashore. You've got natural beauty, whaling history, recreation opportunities. Similar arguments easily could be made for Point Reyes National Seashore, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Cape Lookout National Seashore, and Gulf Islands National Seashore.

But perhaps Speaker Pelosi is darting off in the wrong direction. Perhaps she should urge Congress to decommission Golden Gate National Recreation Area and auction off the various units to Californians to love, cherish, and market as they see fit. After all, it was Ms. Pelosi who gave birth to the Presido Trust with the explicit instruction to manage the Presidio as a business, and it has, renting out its historic structures to make ends meet.

Just look through the trust's directory of tenants and you'll wonder if you're not examining a business portfolio rather than a national park, let alone NRA: You've got LucasFilm Ltd., of Star Wars fame, building contractors, marriage counselors, investment counselors, even restaurants that can offer an "extensive cocktail menu."

Is this a "national treasure" or a business commons? Is it a "national park" or an industrial complex? Is it cast in the legacy of the National Park System or a bastardization of the Park Service's mission and better defined as a Wharton school of business case study? If the red-ink-washed National Park Service should be managed like a business, aka the Presidio Trust, wouldn't it be wise for the agency to sell off some of its properties to better manage that bottomline?

If Speaker Pelosi's bill goes forward, maybe it needs to be tweaked a tad. Instead of "Golden Gate National Park(s)," what would you think of "Golden Gate National Business"?

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I came across a discussion in your web-page that quotes me commenting on legislation proposed by Sen. Jackson. Although it has been many years since those discussions the dialogue you share is still timely and most important. I have found that most public and private leaders care about special places be they large or small. When we use federal or state designations, such as those which create parks, refuges, heritage corridors, etc. we typically complicate the local discussions about how best to protect, conserve, manage, and enjoy these places. Most designations tend to be goal specific. Many landscapes in the US tend to have multiple values and functions and as a result require a multiobjective approach. Sometimes these designations are pursued to bring dollars and technical assistance into local efforts. Unfortunately when state or federal governments are brought into local matters the public's focus quickly shifts from the landscape they value to their concerns about outside government. This situation is frequently complicated when the federal or state agency staff does not have the skill and expereince to work in partnership with other levels of government and the private sector.

I've always liked heritage areas as an approach because they require strategies and plans that require a partnership with local governments and interests. They also look at a full range of environmental, social and economic values. When I was involved advancing the national heritage areas movement in the US we were under the impression that these areas would never be designated before a plan was developed and agreed to by all the partners. My experience with this approach in PA, SC, RI, MA, DE, MD, VA, WV, and NY proved that consensus-based agreement was necessary prior to any goverment action.

What I found was that the best role for the feds was to respond to local initiatives and help people help themselves to protect, manage, conserve, and enjoy these areas. In a variety of instances we worked with our local partners to develop a heritage strategy or plan without federal designation. We combined the heritage area concept with the idea of sustainable development and began to look at ways that communities and regions could describe who they were, are and will be. A variety of federal agencies including EPA, HUD, EDA, FS, FWS, SCS, and others, worked in a collaborative way with local leaders.

Another assumption we worked under in the early days of the heritage areas movement was that federal involvement in locally supported heritage areas was intended to be for a period of six-years. During this time the feds would provide technical and financial assistance with the expectation that the intial effort would help to make these areas self-sustaining.

When I learned of proposals for federal programs that appeared to provide top-down assistance and guidance I typically reacted by suggesting alternatives. Then and now I believe that the best new federal policy is best shaped by those successful ides and actions that are being supported and implemented by local leaders already. Only through the combined efforts of all levels of goverment and the private sector can we protect the special places that Americans care about.

All my best,


I'm humbled to discover that someone aside from the gun liberals reads anything I post Lepanto. And true enough, I failed to be specific and painted everyone with the same broad brush, which is a sure recipe for disaster, or inaccuracy at the very least. But I take umbrage with one part of your explanation, that being "More than 3 out of 4 of all proposals to establish new parks are either thrown out or radically restructured to better match the need and character of the resource, and the viability of the preservation, management and interpretation strategy. While I don't dispute the numbers, per se, the thought that the restructuring is in the best interests of the character of the resource or the viability and management of the preservation is a notion that you'll have a difficult time substantiating within the confines of the operation of the our federal government and it's affiliated land management tentacles, including but not limited to the NPS, BLM, EPA and more other acronyms than I care to list. The federal strategy, if in all actuality one does exists, appears to be less structure, diligence and character-based and more slanted toward the "pressure of the moment" as applied by various groups and private persons at this moment to remain nameless. Realistically, what portion of the continent would be excluded from the idealistic notion of "preservation and character"? Some would ascertain that preservation would justly be all-inclusive of our westward expansionism, with it's humble beginnings being the Jamestown settlement, through our "colonization" of the Arctic refuge, Hawaiian Islands, Guam, the Atolls, etc. All are very unique environments that could readily qualify under the "preservation and character" clause, and an argument could also be made that from an interpretive standpoint, they need to be in the all-inclusive club as primary examples of nationalism, indomitable spirit, heritage, or whatever other hot-button words you care to attach to the cause. My point, though poorly stated, was more centered around WHO is behind the classification of the environment, and that is generally a governmental boondoggle. Little actual science of any discipline involved generally, just opinions laden with pressure from sources with no interest in a "national" view, but mainly centered in local issues less than pertinent to "preservation and interpretation" as a whole.

Just consider this for a moment. Interpretive trails, common to local recreation and park areas. Expand that to a national view. Imagine the geographies that would be required to formulate a TRUE interpretive trail that did justice to the Lewis and Clark or many other expansion-related expeditions. What about an all-encompassing historically accurate interpretation of the injustices attributable to our government resulting in the Trail of Tears and the multitude of other Native relocations? I'm fully aware that such things currently exist, in miniature. A plaque here, some signage there, a bronze marker tucked away in a field........spare me, please. If these were to be truly preservation-related issues, vast tracts of land would have to be designated as "historically significant" and preserved in a manner more akin to the way the Civil War Battlefields have been, until recently considered hallowed ground. But I don't see anyone pursuing these arguably more "significant" projects, more significant that is than wasting time renaming the current parks, monuments, mountains, shorelines, etc., with any sense of urgency.

This misplaced sense of self-worth is just one of many shining examples of why I view our current political figureheads with such a high degree of contempt. As they do me.

Well, PC, Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-WY) certainly has been in the news a lot lately. As Traveler has reported, Rep. Cubin has vigorously supported the controversial (and very expensive) plan to keep Yellowstone’s Sylvan Pass open for snowmobilers. I don’t find any mention of Devils Tower National Monument on Rep. Cubin’s official website. Perhaps you could provide additional details.

Barbara Cubin has filed a bill that would block the renaming of Devil's Tower N.M. to Bear's Lodge.

Dear Rangertoo

Let's not use "authority" as evidence of the value of our opinion. I think I have had as much, or probably a bit more involvement with more park designations and interactions with congressional staff than John -- don't know in comparison with you -- but I don't think that in itself makes me right and John wrong. I was not saying there is no politics in name designation, I was objecting to the absolutist simplicity of saying the names 'are not . . . . ANYTHING OTHER [emphasis added] than the political whim of the Congress when designated.' Again, I ask you, go down the list of all the parks, and see if ALL the names are so whimsical and debased, or if only a few examples are.

The Coke point IS interesting. But it was not about "The Coca Cola Company" it was about the specific product, Coke. When the company tried to introduce new coke, the brand or the corporate name could not save it.

There is always the danger when executives, or experienced senior managers of the NPS, appear to the public to be making the issue about themselves or their works, than the tangible thing-itself the public does care about, that the public will drive a wedge between their identity of the resource and their identity of the agents/leaders.

It may be possible to re-name ALL national parklands 'national parks,' but it is particularly silly to start with Golden Gate. Golden Gate is a collection, it is not one unit with a resource-based identity. And, I disagree that Mesa Verde is mis-named. It is a landscape of coherance and clear identity.

I agree with you that all sites are equally significant.

As this search for identity continues on, the USA will also need to keep in mind the nternational issues associated with naming. John will remember the outburst from Parks Canada when his group tried to include sport hunting within the 'national parks' in Alaska. Canada said it and the World had followed NPS leadership on names and established national policy, and the USA should not so "whimsically" throw away that understanding. I am not saying this by itself should prohibit us making changes to help public understanding, but we should be thoughtful and fair if we take these steps.

Lone Hiker, I have been impressed by the insight and authenticity of your many posts, but you are just wrong about Congress and elected officials. More than 3 out of 4 of all proposals to establish new parks are either thrown out or radically restructured to better match the need and character of the resource, and the viability of the preservation, management and interpretation strategy. It is true, I regret however, that the quality of the congressional committees of authorization, their leadership and their staff has deteriorated. This is across the board. Congress in recent years has pullied away from large vision and new legislation since the high-water mark under FDR. At the same time, we should be careful about how we describe areas of significance to some, but perhaps not to you or to others. I remember when James Watt started to reconsider all the parks established under the influence of M. Udall and Phil Burton. Many of them told the story of African American Heritage or women's empowerment or real cultural significance, and the people who opposed them were either people who only knew what they already knew, or who deliberately were trying to divide those park people who were seeking more resource preservation from those park people who were struggling to manage what they had.

Senator Scoop Jackson in 1976 tried to recognize the need to protect significant resources everywhere through his National Land Us Planning legislation. This was really the last gasp of comprehensive environmental legislation, and it was stopped cold by a coalition of fear and reaction that assumed that environmental legislation will destroy rights to land and person. More recently, national heritage areas seem to be an alternative way, bottoms up, of uniting the buisness and environmental sectors locally around strategies to protect large landscapes that have distinct character. I have heard the former head of planning in Philadelphia/NPS, Glenn Eugster, say his goal would be for heritage areas to replace Jackson's as the strategy to allow Americans to protect what they care about nationwide. It makes sense to recognize the broad value of many places as opposed to trying to divide preservation by trying to say one place is good and the other one not. Look at the examples of Italy and Britain that have struggled successfully to maintain the special character of many landscapes throughout their countries, to the delight of international travelers.

Finally, Lone Hiker, it seems to me while politics may be messy, it is really a good idea for Members of Congress to be pushed by their voters to try to protect important places. This is democracy, not pork. Back in the day when barons ruled all landscapes, no one's opinion mattered. The only places set aside where those where the elite deigned to create an environment that the elite thought pleasurable to them or edifying to the commoners. It seems to me it is a great idea for congress-people to compete to be conservationists. A diversion from attacking the motives of other countries, threatening war, building dams or give-aways to corporations or treating corporations as if they had the rights of individuals.

And when such politicians find a resource that can command a public constituency that really cares about what that resource is and what story it tells, then the task of Congress and the NPS and the rest of us is to try to provide for it the right management framework, and with a name that conveys meaning.

This is the kind of politics America needs.

I believe the idea that National Park units were "something special" was tied directly to the public's perception centered around those first units, which included Yosemite and Yellowstone, which at the time of their designation were located in areas of the country that were traversed by few save the hearty; those who explored the "wild" country on vacation, and the mystique that grew out of the photographs, paintings, writings and the "lore of the old West" did indeed make these places "special". As government officials dipped their hands into the process, mostly revolving around an effort to bring pork to the local constituents, the whole process began a steady but undeniable downward spiral, diluting the meaning associated with the term "National Park" and the system as a whole, until every piddly nook and cranny qualified in someone's eyes as a "preserve" of some manner or other. Funding issues aside, now virtually every conservation group, be they historical, environmental, or whatever manner you care to mention lays claim to some portion of the country in the context of "significant", and while many of those claims are justifiable, no one has had the "stones" to confront the issue and draw the line as to what is and isn't "significant" or “special”, to the point where now virtually any tract of land qualifies in one way, shape or form. Shorelines, beaches, farmland, forest, barrier island, tundra, volcano, riverway, you name it; if someone's political purse can benefit from the designation, it'll find its way onto agenda eventually.

Lepanto - Well, seeing as John Reynolds and I have both been in senior management of the NPS and have been involved in the writing of bills and negotiation of designations with Congressional staff, I would have to counter that we are right in our assertion that the names are not as studiously determined as you may imagine. Your perspective that the public is less aware of the governing agency of the park is right - and that is exactly my point. We should WANT them to understand who the governing agency is and when a park is part of the National Park System. That is how we will gain support and funding for the NPS. We cannot depend upon locals doing the work for nearby parks. Americans must care about parks they have never seen and may never visit if we are to maintain the integrity of a national system. Coke stopped making Tab soda because no one associated it with Coke. They were not getting the benefit of the Coke name or the massive advertising dollars spent on Coke. Diet Coke solved the problem. The NPS should be thought of as the same. Get people to understand national park means any site in the National Park System and they will see their collective value.

How did we ever get the idea that national "park" was something special anyway? There was no hesitation in naming Hot Springs a national park and it predates almost all the big natural areas that came later. Nor was they hesitation in naming Mesa Verde a national park and it is primarily a cultural area. It seems this notion that the title "park" is somehow something special to be horded and handed out only to certain worthy areas is a rather new concept - and not one that can be easily defended without having to allow the "exceptions" such as Mesa Verde, Hot Spring, Cuyahoga Valley, and Congaree. The exceptions render the defense of the "park" title unsustainable.

Next year, Ken Burns series on national parks will be on PBS. It will cover only 53 "national parks." That will be unfortunate because it will continue to feed public misperceptions and will not encourage visitation, preservation, or protection of the other 338 units.

It makes me wonder when the NPS might think a quota system will be necessary for crowd control in Zion. I'm thankful for the bus system there, though. When I first visited a decade ago, the place was gridlock all the way to the Narrows. Today, the bus is a breeze, with local stories from the bus driver to boot. Last summer I even managed to fight my way through the crowds and snag a frontcountry campsite mid-way through the July 4 weekend, despite the "campground full" signs posted everywhere. Zion was a circus, but not so crazy I couldn't find a place to park, which has happened to me on beautiful fall weekends at Rocky Mountain National Park. They probably couldn't keep the cars out of Zion anymore than they do now because, for those willing to pay the fee or show a park pass, it's on a through highway.

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