The Economist Warns that America’s National Park System is in Deep, Deep Trouble

Does it matter that fewer Americans are interested in visiting Yosemite National Park? Photo by Jon Sullivan via Wikipedia.

It’s always interesting to see how America’s National Park System is portrayed internationally. One way to get a handle on that is to read park-themed articles published on an occasional basis in The Economist. The authoritative English language weekly news and international affairs publication, certainly one of the most respected of the world’s widely circulated periodicals, has a circulation of about 1.3 million. Published by the Economist Group and edited in the UK, The Economist is distributed in over 200 countries around the world. Nearly half of its readership is outside North America.

So, what has The Economist been saying about America’s national parks? Here’s the gist.

(Oh, by the way; when we say that The Economist says this, or The Economist says that, we can’t know exactly who is doing the saying. The publication – which calls itself a “newspaper,” even though it is glossy paper-printed and looks exactly like a newsweekly magazine -- doesn’t believe in bylines.)

The article of interest here is dated July 12, 2008, and bears the “Out of the Wilderness” title. Its main observations, conclusions, and assertions are these:

• Attendance for America’s national parks peaked more than 20 years ago (in 1987).

• Declining attendance at national parks is a well-established, long-term trend, not just a transient event attributable to factors such as abrupt increases in fuel costs.

• The annual attendance declines for California’s Yosemite National Park (9 of the past 13 years) should be considered ominous, given that California is America’s most dependable bellwether state and Yosemite is California’s most attractive park.

• Having become more satisfied with the recreational options available in/near cities, Americans are now less interested in outdoor recreation opportunities in rural, back country, and wilderness locales.

• Americans believe that their national parks are much less entertaining, less user-friendly, and less kid-safe than they should be.

• Hispanics, the fastest growing component of the American population, show little interest in visiting or paying for national parks; since Hispanics will soon account for 20-25 percent of country’s population, this should be a matter of great concern.

• International tourists are taking up much of the slack created by diminished park-visiting interest on the part of Americans. By implication, the National Park Service needs to work much harder attracting and pleasing them.

• The National Park Service does not understand the implications of declining attendance and has failed to effectively address the issue.

• Environmentalists pose the greatest obstacle to restoring national park attendance to historically higher norms; by blocking needed convenience- and entertainment- related developments in the parks, environmentalists have taken away the main tool for increasing park attractiveness.

• As national park visitation continues to decline, Americans will become less willing to see their tax money spent to improve the national parks and expand the National Park System.

Well, there you have it. Not very pretty, is it?

You’ll be reading more about the referenced trends and issues in Traveler. Remember, I’m not vetting this article's observations and conclusions at this time, just drawing them to your attention as an indication of how the international press is reporting on America's national parks, “the best idea America ever had.” Perhaps you’d like to comment.

Incidentally, if you should happen to read the entire article in The Economist, you will find an absolutely bizarre statement that reads like this: "Were it not for British and German tourists enjoying the weak dollar, the parks would be desolate." Folks, that has got to be one of the most asinine statements about our national parks that I have seen in recent years, and I have seen some beauts. What were they thinking?!

Comments

Um, good??

The NPS system's primary mission, IMO, is the preservation of undamaged natural ecosystems, unique natural features, and sites of national historic importance. What better way to preserve a site than have fewer visitors tromping around them?

The thought that fewer people supporting the parks = less public funding to keep the parks healthy is a problem, but I'm not terribly upset that fewer people visit them in the first place.

When I hear that "we need to increase attendance at the parks", all I see is the government turning these national treasures into little Disney Worlds, where we clear-cut acres of old-growth to put up rides and let ATVs run rampant and let people shoot stuff. I'd rather have them be pockets of wilderness devoid of human activity.

Maybe I'm just being extra-cynical this evening ...

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My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

• Attendance for America’s national parks peaked more than 20 years ago (in 1987).

Good. Parks were far too crowded. At least we won't hear the news talking about "loving our parks to death" any more.

• The annual attendance declines for California’s Yosemite National Park (9 of the past 13 years) should be considered ominous, given that California is America’s most dependable bellwether state and Yosemite is California’s most attractive park.

How much of this decline is due to problems accessing the park due to roads being washed out?

• Having become more satisfied with the recreational options available in/near cities, Americans are now less interested in outdoor recreation opportunities in rural, back country, and wilderness locales.

Lower wilderness use means lower wilderness impact.

• Americans believe that their national parks are much less entertaining, less user-friendly, and less kid-safe than they should be.

It's not the job of national parks to "entertain" people. The Organic Act says nothing of entertainment. If you want entertainment, visit Disneyland or watch a movie. User-friendly? Does this mean the NPS should install elevators to Crater Lake's water level (as many visitors--jokingly?--requested)? "Kid-safe"? What does this even mean?

• Hispanics, the fastest growing component of the American population, show little interest in visiting or paying for national parks; since Hispanics will soon account for 20-25 percent of country’s population, this should be a matter of great concern.

Here, some might say I'm coming across as prejudiced, but as an "honorary Mexican" (a title given by my best friend), I'll take the risk. I visited Silver Falls State Park in Oreogn on a Mexican holiday and picked up a full bag of trash on my hike down to the falls. I can say "good" to this statement. If other cultures can't learn how to preserve nature and not throw trash on trails, then they should stay out of national parks.

• International tourists are taking up much of the slack created by diminished park-visiting interest on the part of Americans. By implication, the National Park Service needs to work much harder attracting and pleasing them.

I don't think it's the job of the NPS to "please" international visitors.

• Environmentalists pose the greatest obstacle to restoring national park attendance to historically higher norms; by blocking needed convenience- and entertainment- related developments in the parks, environmentalists have taken away the main tool for increasing park attractiveness.

Thank god. Parks are for preservation and not for entertainment. If you can't find entertainment in watching wildlife or sitting near a waterfall, then national parks are not for you. And "needed" convenience development? National parks are NOT cities.

• As national park visitation continues to decline, Americans will become less willing to see their tax money spent to improve the national parks and expand the National Park System.

First, I don't think national parks "need" improving. They were fine they way they were (wild). However, this is a huge argument for moving national park funding from a tax-based funding system to one consisting of voluntary transactions.

Barky takes The Economist's point that the 'anti' policies of environmentalists have reduced Park attendance one step further, by describing them as "good".

I in turn will take Barky's point an additional step, by describing the attendance-reducing effect of environmentalist policies as "intentional".

It is commonplace to hear & read citizens lament that environmentalists are working to drive people from public facilities. I'm not saying anything new, by noting that environmentalists take up many supposedly protection-motivated causes, as surreptitious proxies to discourage & impair public use to the Parks.

I will diverge from The Economists interpretation that present trends will lead to further declines of public interest in the Parks, though, and will instead predict that environmentalist-instigated deprecation of the public & human role of Parks and other national lands will accelerate the decline of environmentalism in national politics.

Even here in the pages of The Traveler, I read comments openly dismissive of the role of democracy & representation in the setting of our Parks' and National policies.

I will diverge from The Economist's conclusions, by predicting that is the environmental movement, rather than our Park system, that is in "deep, deep trouble".

I agree with most of the comments above. I can add some commentary on the notion that International visitors are picking up the attendance slack. In early August 2008 I visited Yosemite and Sequoia and it was EXTREMELY rare to hear any English speaking visitors on all the walks to the points of interest or at visitor centers. I honestly felt like I was somewhere in Europe.

Frank expresses a sincere disdain for entertainment, and perhaps for people who seek it. Actually, though, entertainment is a normal, healthy human behavior. Our propensity for and capability to create settings for entertainment and the social & psychological rewards it brings, is one of the more attractive things about humans.

The enjoyment of entertainment is not the mark of a depraved or deviant person.

The culture of new Mexican Americans may be a generation or two out of step with white, environmentalist America ... but we know that not so long ago, the now purified & worthy 'good' Americans flocked to the bleachers to watch Yellowstone Rangers feed garbage to fighting bears at the dump. Real classy, those 'good' Americans. So the Mexicans threw down their litter - they should "stay out"? I have to think there is a more winning approach.

These sorts of attitudes will diminish the long term prospect that the environment movement will be able to effect the better causes & goals that they have taken up.

Actually, though, entertainment is a normal, healthy human behavior. Our propensity for and capability to create settings for entertainment and the social & psychological rewards it brings, is one of the more attractive things about humans.

Ted, I'm sure you appreciate that there are many definitions of "entertainment", and that what is arguably the most attractive trait of humans, our individuality, grants us all the right to define what entertains each of us. I would submit that it is obvious The Economist uses "entertainment" in the context of the referenced article with its grandest Disneyesque connotation. I have friends that save up for years to go to Disneyworld. To me, any location labeled as "Disney" is synonymous with hell on earth. To each his own, and I thank God for the Disney properties for those who favor them, as earnestly as I give thanks for the national parks I visit for precisely the purpose of escaping the social interactions forced upon me daily. You may call me a misanthrope, but I'm not the only one. (Sorry, started channeling John Lennon there.) Frank's frustration with the need to make every square inch of our country entertaining, user-friendly, and kid-safe is not unique to him. We're ever-growing in numbers and our refuges for the entertainment we enjoy are rapidly being taken from us. For now the parks, save for a hundred yard radius around the tourist-trap visitor centers/gift shops, still stand as havens for those seeking the best nature has to offer - sans-society. I pray they continue to be woefully boring.

Now, for an another argument, you can suggest that without an adequate study of how many people Like Frank and me pay taxes, this money shouldn't be used to prop up entertainment-less parks. We can save that for a later day. Being of several minds on that argument, I can't articulate my thoughts at this late hour.

-Kirby.....Lansing, MI

Tastes change, institutions change and different races of people will predominate for varying periods time of in any given locale.

Enjoying wilderness and the outdoors is becoming a less and less popular pastime for the bloated, mind-numbed masses of postmodern America. That's just great by me! I don't want them there anyway.

The Euros enjoy the parks and they've got a more valuable currency (at least it is this week) to spend here so let's welcome them with open arms. They actually like to hike and learn about natural history too. Go figure.

No matter how busy a park is I can always find a place to go where I won't be bothered. A spot where I can take off my clothes and swim or roll boulders down on unsuspecting motor-homes while remaining undetected by the gun-toting LE rangers. Parks are a laugh a minute for me whether crowded or deserted.

This whole issue is a non-starter. The Economist? Does anyone actually read that anymore?

As nearly every individual in this forum has stated the same reaction to this discussion, National Parks were not established for the entertainment and modernization of contemporary America. Well, no sh*t Sherlock. Anyone who would demand our National Parks were "customized" should be deemed insane and sent away - in my mind. But the truth is that the majority of Americans tend towards a disrespectful approach to "animals, nature, wildlife, conservation et al..." Our society grows more intolerably ignorant with every passing day! just turn on the boob tube. It is appalling when someone can pick up a whole bag full of trash on a trail in one of our parks. The only thing that concerns me here is that this lack of interest would generate less tax dollars to fund the maintenance of the parks. My father has worked at Shenandoah National Park for nearly 30 years (getting ready to retire ; ) as a park maintenance crew member - Since Bush began the heavily outsourcing projects a few years back, I think around 9/11 thousands of National Park employees have been laid off and fired. With the amount of employees left there is no way to keep up with maintaining trails going deeper into wilderness, nor is it necessary. Over time there will be less trails, and less visitors in our parks, requiring less maintenance. Which means the parks will generate less "income", however the overhead will continue to decrease significantly. Our National Parks will cost obsolete tax dollars to maintain. It may also be mentioned that it is not a lack of interest of the public towards our National Park system that is the cause; the cause of the decline is the root of that issue, in that the Federal Government did not properly maintain interest in the parks with advertising. And the minimal advertisment they did use merely portraythe parks to be tourist attractions - instead of places of preservation! The Federal Government or ratherpowers above it have influenced the world to behave in ridiculous ways. Unless something is done about this CIA/KGB method of brainwashing to create profits for trillionaires, as in a conscious effort of the masses to reject "public opinion" altering techniques - this world is headed for sh*t anyways, and all of our National Parks will be nuked, and none of this will even matter - but if the world doesn't end soon in fire and brimstone then yes, conservation and global warming are important issues, and "public opinion" regarding these issues needs a major shift in the opposite direction, a task easily achieved by the powers that be ; )

Kirby said:

"Frank's frustration [is] with the need to make every square inch of our country entertaining, user-friendly ...
My distinct impression is that, more accurately, Frank objects that any square inch of a Park unit is developed in line with conventional consumer lifestyles. And, I think Frank is forthrightly expressing the environmentalist norm there - not just his own viewpoint.

Kirby, Frank, Barky: I have lived all my life in the woods of the Olympic Peninsula. I spent a long hitch in the Navy ... got a peek at Florida, upstate Illinois ... a long peek at San Diego and San Fransisco (Oceania, Asia, etc) ... and returned thankfully to the woods. I know the natural estate as relatively few are privileged ... and I seek it, embrace it, and pay the cost of abiding with it, by preference.

If there is anything I have less use for - personally - than rampant Western consumerism, it might be rampant Western corporatism (two sides of the same dubious coin, imo). I share these basic objections & sensitivities of conventional environmentalism, and others.

I am speaking out here against the positions expressed by Barky & Frank, partly to defend the Great Unwashed who are the human victims of the 'anti' sentiment, but also in rebuke & warning to a fallacious and self-destructive modus operandi of the environmental movement.

Environmentalism will do neither me nor the assets it purports to protect any good, if it defames itself and ends up going the way of the Hippies ... which I think is a good description of what is unfolding right now. Environmentalism is on track to become the dissipated, long-haired joke of yesteryear.

Hippies espoused Peace (cool!), Love (yeah!), and Dope. Dope? What kind of stupid trash-talk is that? Had the Hippie movement been able to rid itself of the perverse fetish of drugs, it may have won the world. Seriously. Those of us who were there will testify, it was more powerful & pervasive than environmentalism has ever been. Did I not see John Lennon invoked?

Environmentalism likewise embodies wonderful principles & ideals. And, it has developed an abiding, increasingly snarling hostility toward the culture & society in which it is embedded. It looks at the great diversity of lifestyles which differ from it's own model, and sneers. It looks at the great democratic tradition that gave it birth, and snickers.

Environmentalists have perhaps one fourth the ballot-power needed to enact their viewpoint within a democracy ... and they are progressively setting themselves up as the enemy of the three quarters. Do the math.

The outcome of these (essentially anti-social) environmental policies, postures & attitudes is likely to be rejection by & marginalization within society ... not unlike what happened to the Hippies. Environmentalism is stepping over the line, and the Sleeping Giant appears to be waking.

People who love and are committed to environmentalism really ought to do some serious reflection soon ... and toss the bong before their dreams go up in smoke.

Ted,

I can empathize with your frustration with the environmentalist movement. I cringe at the public actions of environmental groups that only serve as fodder for the "environmentalist wackos" commentaries on Rush Limbaugh's show. No one's going to make an environmentalist of Limbaugh, but a lot of mainstream America is repulsed by comments that are seemingly or genuinely misanthropic. That's why my money goes to groups like the Nature Conservancy, an organization built more on principles of true conservation than Ed Abbey-style "set fire to the billboards" - even if that means (gasp!) sleeping with the corporate enemy now and then.

I can't speak for Barky and Frank, but my reaction to the entertainment comments was born of the sentiment you accuse Frank of holding - that the parks are for people seeking distance from Disney and Hollywood and Microsoft, and that not an inch (beyond the visitor centers, that actually make some serious effort at education) should be sacrificed to these conventional consumer lifestyles for the sake of attracting more visitors that won't appreciate anything outside of the entertainment complexes anyway. I suspect a higher percentage of land in this country is already devoted to consumerist entertainment than the percentage of folks who prefer such entertainment over the kind you and I enjoy. I will take your point that the message mustn't be snarling, sneering, or snickering, but I won't concede that parks must be comprised to any further extent than they already are. I don't know that you're saying that either. Your gripe is more with the delivery than the message?

The problem here is that the situation for the preservation of wilderness and nature is dire. Measured words and compromises will end with defeat of the minority. In my opinion, the great diversity of lifestyles you speak of, while certainly a beauty of humanity, are not compatible with great diversity and vitality of the natural world given population growth run amok. Those who love land unsullied by human hands are left to vehemently defend the last refuges and/or rail against population growth. Both of those courses are likely to marginalize us, unless we find some means of inciting a respectable passion without writing the new Monkey Wrench Gang. I'm not sure how that's going to happen.

And, having just returned from ten glorious days in ONP and the San Juan Islands, let me say that I envy you for every day you get to spend out there. When finances allow, I hope to join you. I need to milk a little more cash out of corporate America first, hoping the monster will fund my own escape from it

-Kirby.....Lansing, MI

For Now

Most new immigrants go to state parks, but that may change as time goes on as Hispanics are a sort of new part of the population is many parts of the US.

One "thing" that may or may not be a problem is how the NPS can't advertises. I am personally conflicted on this issue.

First of all, I'd suggest that people read the Economist Article. That's a good summary here, but contrary to the impression left, the Economist is not advocating the Disneyfication of our National Parks. They mostly advoacte maintenance and renovation, with some modern conveniences added in. It didn't sound like too much of a nightmare, though I don't think I would do anything to facilitate cell phones and TV watching in the parks.

I think Ted Clayton and Kirby Adams pretty much have the right of this discussion. I consider myself an environmentalist, but the snobbery (I'd say elitism if the Republicans hadn't misappropriated the word) I saw in few of the commenters here is appalling. If the Parks are only for those relatively few Americans who appreciate complete wilderness, then the Economist was right. Why should the rest of the population pay for something used by only a tiny minority and a bunch of animals? And I don't place much faith in voluntary contributions either. I think what we'd end up with is sky high user fees. That way we can ensure that only a few people get to see them, but those few will be very rich. Or maybe those Eurpoean vistors will pay for the Parks.

I envy people who can access the roadless wildernesses with just the packs on their backs. It's not going to happen much for me though. I'm 44 years old with a bad back, limited budgets and vacation time. For people like me, the public areas of our National Parks or a National Forest campground are often as close as we can get to a wilderness experience. And those retirees in their RV's? Well they've been working their whole lives just so they could have a few years to tour the country and see the wonders of the Parks. Those families with screaming kids in the cafeteria? Where do you think environmentalists come from? How do learn to appreciate nature if you never see it? How many parents do you know that are willing to take their young kids on extended wilderness hikes?

The National Parks were never solely about preservation. They were established for the benefit and use of of the American people. They were intended to help teach people to appreciate and want to protect nature, and to bring them closer to nature, not to exclude them from it.

Coming back to the original bullet point: "Americans believe that their national parks are much less entertaining, less user-friendly, and less kid-safe than they should be."

This is a value statement. Allow me to re-phrase that same statement: "Americans believe that their national parks should be much more entertaining."

What does this mean, really? A major synonym of "entertaining" is "amusing", and there lies my problem with "making national parks more entertaining (amusing)." Put "amusing" and "park" together, and, well, you've got Disneyland. If you're looking for an amusement park experience, then by all means, please visit one of the 259 amusement parks in America. But please keep bungee jumping, ziplines, roller coasters, log rides, smashed penny machines, carnivals, and all their related "amusements" out of national parks.

If an individual can't find entertainment or enjoyment in tracking animals, watching ants work, sitting next to a towering waterfall, canoeing, hiking, exploring Anasazi ruins, discovering dinosaur tracks, or strolling through wildflower fields, then national parks are not for this individual. No one should compromise what national parks are for the amusement of, as Beamis puts it, the "bloated, mind-numbed masses of postmodern America".

It sounds like the real problem is the lack of money NPS has for operations and imporvements at our National Parks.
It is a new spin on an old problem that is only getting worse.

Are there others who think that my summary left the impression that The Economist has argued for 'Disneyfication" of America's national parks? That certainly was not what I had in mind.

No, but I think it is the line "less kid-safe" that does it.

Lloyd S.;

Thanks for the straight-up description of good, typical, play & work by the rules Americans. The compromising labors & unglamorous job-commitments of the many, is what enables our modern civilization to ... imagine & create National Parks, among other improvements.

We created a social system that promised benefits to those who signed up for long tours in the economic trenches, and we owe them ... including a slice of the Parks.

I think the problem describe in this article is part of a much larger problem with the park system and what defines a "National Park". I agree with Ted on many of his comments, yet environmentalists do bring up some good points. A compromise must be reached but the environmentalists have a history of not willing to compromise.

I will diverge from The Economist's conclusions, by predicting that is the environmental movement, rather than our Park system, that is in "deep, deep trouble".
I think this says it best because if the emvironmentalists get nothing done, on any front, they will be in "deep, deep troble".

Bob Janiskee;

No, I did not get a sense that you 'shaded' The Economist's 'Disney-message'. But I will say they themselves 'massaged' the message ill-advisedly. (I have not read their article.)

Consider:

"Environmentalists pose the greatest obstacle to restoring national park attendance to historically higher norms; by blocking needed convenience- and entertainment- related developments in the parks, environmentalists have taken away the main tool for increasing park attractiveness."

I think that statement partially mis-characterizes what environmentalists are up to with their agenda, and makes it facile to conclude that the implied antidote to environmental interference is simple "more circus".

That is, more specifically, that environmental initiatives seek to impair access using any & all devices available - no just suppressing a narrow range of "convenience" or "entertainment" facilities. If you put those words in The Economist's (anonymous) mouth, or filtered their more-subtle meaning to make your article fit in a tidy space ... well, that's just the hazards of journalism! ;-)

Candidly, I was pleased & impressed, to see you put up this 'barroom' style invitation to engage in the more-risky aspects of what this forum is, and I think is intended to be about. I.e., in this caliber of engagement, you are sure to 'get it' from the left, or from the right - or from both at the same time!

My congratulations. :-)

Kirby & Frank;

I am putting real estate and regional relocation information that I use for my own pre-purchase research (Olympic Peninsula & Alaska) on a separate temporary webpage. (This will be moved to my regular website.) Please e-mail me with any questions/comments.

Ted

"Thanks for the straight-up description of good, typical, play & work by the rules Americans. The compromising labors & unglamorous job-commitments of the many, is what enables our modern civilization to ... imagine & create National Parks, among other improvements.

We created a social system that promised benefits to those who signed up for long tours in the economic trenches, and we owe them ... including a slice of the Parks."

Thanks Ted. Whatever I may think about people as a group, anyone who has appropriate respect for the Parks has as much right to be there as anyone else, and those ordinary people are very much among those who were intended to benefit from the Parks.

"If an individual can't find entertainment or enjoyment in tracking animals, watching ants work, sitting next to a towering waterfall, canoeing, hiking, exploring Anasazi ruins, discovering dinosaur tracks, or strolling through wildflower fields, then national parks are not for this individual. No one should compromise what national parks are for the amusement of, as Beamis puts it, the "bloated, mind-numbed masses of postmodern America""

Frank C. - The characterization from Beamis makes me wince, but I can't disagree with the overall sentiment. The Parks are one of our greatest national treasures, and they need to be appreciated for what they are. People who visit should know and understand that they are not simply for doing the same things you can do anywhere, but in a slightly more outdoor environment. They exist to preserve and protect wilderness areas, wildlife, natural wonders or historical sites, and to give people the chance to see and appreciate them. A visitor center with an appropriate exhibit is fine; a comfortable room in a rustic lodge - ok. An amusement park and highrise hotels would be unforgiveable.

I have to say that I agree very much with "Frank C." I am among the 1 million plus Americans who live fulltime in an RV. Seeing and working at our National Parks and Forests is a major part of a lot of our lives. I have worked the past couple years for the Corp of Engineers as a Park Attendant Contractor. After talking to many part and full time RV`ers, I believe that the reason a lot of people don`t go to the National Parks is mostly because of the crowds.We`ve gone to Yellowstone just to find that there are no open campsites or the parks are so full of visitors that it`s very hard to get around. A lot of us had plans to travel to the northwest this summer but with the fuel prices the way they are,staying here on the east coast will be easier on the funds. It wouldn`t hurt a lot of our feelings if they shut down a couple parks every so often for a couple years just so it can recover from the human foot print left behing by those who don`t care.

Just to respond to the somewhat vitriolic attitude of some that I, or other like-minded folks on this board, are "environmental whackos", I will only say this:

Is it that horrible that we advocate preservation of a small percentage of this country in as pristine a condition as is possible in this modern world? Does having that view automatically mark us as whackos? Am I really asking for something that terrible?

Look, it's a big country. There are plenty of national forests, state forests, and private land where people can truly romp around on ATVs and shoot game. My father lives in rural West Virginia and hunts and fishes and joy rides and everything else, and I'm completely fine with it. All I'm asking is that we try very hard to keep our National Park System units as clean, and pleasant, and unscathed, as is possible. They really are few and far between, they are the crown jewels of this country, and I want to see them preserved for centuries to come.

If the root cause of reduced attendance at the parks is because the public facilities are run down, then fine, let's fix the facilities (including the long-established roadways). If it's because people forgot they were there, then fine, let's have a public service announcement campaign or something.

If, however, the root cause is simply because fewer people are [interested] in non-intrusive outdoor activities, or [interested] in any outdoor activities at all, then that's just life. I don't feel we should allow invasive off-road activities simply to draw more visitors. I don't think we should pave more wilderness simply to make it more accessible. I don't think we should build more IMAX theaters on park land to interest the video-game generation.

We should not risk the health of the parks for the sole purpose of making people interested in them again. The primary purpose of the NPS is to preserve the unique natural wonders of our country, and that's the only purpose I want for them.

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My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

if the national parks weren't for people to use, they would need to be called something different than a park:

park |pärk|
noun
1 a large public green area in a town, used for recreation : a walk around the park.
• a large area of land kept in its natural state for public recreational use.
• (also wildlife park) a large enclosed area of land used to accommodate wild animals in captivity.
• a stadium or enclosed area used for sports.
• a large enclosed piece of ground, typically with woodland and pasture, attached to a large country house : the house is set in its own park.
• (in the western U.S.) a broad, flat, mostly open area in a mountainous region.

i realize the nps has a different mission statement than promoting recreation, but why should people pay taxes to support something they don't use? people won't protect, defend or pay for something they don't love or understand, if people stop using the parks at current numbers, i'd hate to see what happens.

in my experience, anything labeled a national park on a map is something that receives heavy visitation anyway, so you wilderness folks can get over yourselves when dismissing the crowds who really need to visit them. the commenter above had it right, the screaming kids in the cafeteria is the next round of environmentalists (hopefully ones that are less smug) and they need to see these parks, crowds or no crowds.

As an 84 year old that has visited most of these parks over the past 50 or so years
I would hope that more and more people would have the same thoughts as Frank C about our parks. If pure natural wilderness & wildlife doesn't "entertain" people let them
go to a movie , disneyland, or whatever does entertain them. This will leave room for me ( and other interested people) to relax and enjoy as I expect to on my
08/09 winter trip from Maine.
HOORAY FOR FRANK C AND PEOPLE LIKE HIM !!!!!!!

"Environmentalists pose the greatest obstacle to restoring national park attendance to historically higher norms; by blocking needed convenience- and entertainment- related developments in the parks, environmentalists have taken away the main tool for increasing park attractiveness."

THAT, folks, is the Inconvenient Truth!!!

Perhaps outsourcing is just around the corner! Sell 'em to a large corporation to be better managed.

I totally agree with Barkys' August 25th post !

Let free enterprise "entertain" folks outside our National Parks. The National Parks were saved as "National Treasures" to preserve and protect their natural beauty !

Having just returned from the parks in southern Utah, the statement "Were it not for British and German tourists enjoying the weak dollar, the parks would be desolate." is a stretch, but not an asinine statement.

I have to disagree with the editorial comment "Folks, that has got to be one of the most asinine statements about our national parks that I have seen in recent years, and I have seen some beauts. What were they thinking?!"

The vast majority of the visitors my family encountered were German and French. So much so that I was giving my 10-year old a brief language lesson on saying excuse me and pardon me in various languages as we passed on the trails, travelled on the shuttles and passed each other in visitor centers and heavily populated locations in the park.

British attendance wasn't noticable, as they may have a different "holiday" period. But, by far, the numbers were stacked against American visitors during my visit to Bryce, Zion, North Rim in the first week of August.

Sorry, Anon, but your unscientific sample doesn't cut it. I stand by my statement that "desolate" is ridiculously inappropriate for this context. Do you really believe that our national parks would be deserted if the Europeans were not there?! (BTW, I do understand the concept of overstating your case to make your point --which is exactly what The Economist did in this instance.)

We live in a pluralistic society. There will always be people who would rather go to Disney World than to Denali, Gates of the Arctic, or Gettysburg. That’s fine. That’s what makes our society so fascinating. What we as a society must be careful about while preserving these parks is that we do not sacrifice their special values in an attempt to be all things to all people. I am reminded of a story that Aldo Leopold tells in “A Sand County Almanac.” Do you remember it?
Let me tell you of a wild river bluff which until
1935 harbored a falcon's eyrie. Many visitors walked
a mile to the river bank to picnic and watch the
falcons. Comes now some planner of parks and dynamites
a road to the river, all in the name of recreational planning.
The excuse is that the public formerly had no right of access;
now it has such a right. Access to what? Not access to the
falcons for they are gone.

Rick Smith

Often, when it comes to national parks, there is a clash of values that doesn't fit very neatly. First of all, there is inherent in any discussion of park visitation the issue of economic class. Since parks were created in part for "the benefit and enjoyment of the people," anything that tends to meet the use of some people at the expense of others will always have critics. The limit on "benefit and enjoyment" has always been the protection of the natural features and wildlife within the parks; however, a lot of people cannot agree on how to balance the two calls. Any rule and regulation that is set up will divide the population and determine who can and who cannot use that park. You allow only snowcoaches and snowmobiles in Yellowstone in the winter, and you will get only those who can afford to travel to Yellowstone and use that means of transportation. And, it's inevitable that access in a park can't be all things for all people. You can't for instance make every trail up a mountain available to a person without legs. You can't open up roads to drive on for people who are blind. You can't make a remote park closer to everyone equally.

Protection of the parks, however, historically has not simply been a matter of the reasonable limits placed on us by nature. In fact, parks were set up for the benefit of corporate interests like the railroads to reach a certain class of people. Over time, changes in the parks have been ad hoc adjustments to that reality. But, the class system that existed then essentially exists now.

I think that environmentalists have often failed to appreciate this in their protection of the parks. Often, environmental protection goes hand in hand with protecting the class status quo or even exacerbating it. In the Tetons, protecting the view has meant spiraling property values that have outpriced the labor market in Jackson. Workers cannot live in Jackson, professionals cannot often live in Jackson. The area has become inaccessible not based on reasonable natural limits but on the limits on growth that may favor the view but also favor the wealthy.

Kurt has in the past also had Wayne Hare here to discuss the race gap that exists in the national parks, a gap that is harder to identify because it's not rooted in class--according the available research. Whatever the reason(s) for the lower and lower racial diversity in the parks and public lands, it is not uncommon in the cities to hear complaints among otherwise liberal people about environmental racism. Often, this applies less to parks and more broadly to the "green economy" and the effects that it has on people of color, but there is a parks element to it when one looks at the reasons that make the park visitor more and more homogeneous when it comes to class and race.

What I'm getting at here is that it's not as simple here as talking about environmentalism as the cause of lower visitation to parks. On the one hand, like a lot of you, I feel a strong, "Good riddance." Let's be rid of all the people, especially the ignoramuses who come to parks to be entertained by something they might easily see in their home towns. On the other hand, it's not a good thing if environmentalism is used to perpetrate the other evils of our society. If access is based on class, is based on race, is based on something else that shouldn't be happening, then environmentalism is a problem. Unfortunately, I don't think the piece mentioned here has any interest in that aspect of things.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Anonymous wrote:

i realize the nps has a different mission statement than promoting recreation, but why should people pay taxes to support something they don't use? people won't protect, defend or pay for something they don't love or understand, if people stop using the parks at current numbers, i'd hate to see what happens.

Why should we pay taxes to educate kids that aren't our own? Why should I pay federal taxes for distant freeways I neither love nor drive on, for Alaskan wildlife refuges I may never be able to enter or to subsidize scientific endeavors I don't understand? The greater good of society whether direct or indirect, whether I "get it" or not - that's why. It's incumbent upon those who don't understand to educate themselves so they do, and then decide if such expenses are worthy.

Sure, "park" is an entirely anthropocentric moniker for a tract of land protected for its natural values moreso than its direct recreational benefit to humans. But here's the rub: Call our parks what you want, but if they exist primarily for the facilitation of fun, our society will lose more than it could ever gain from the Disneyfication of national parks. We benefit in countless ways by preserving our most spectacular and special lands in national parks. Each has educational value; scientific value; the value of national parks, like wilderness areas, being sources of both clean water and, ideally, clean air; and, yes, even recreational value.

The educational value of a child opening her eyes wide in wonderment at her first sight of a snake slithering across the trail or a moose across a canyon during a weekend recreational hike at Rocky Mountain National Park is absolutely incalculable.

We pay taxes for parks we don't always use for their recreational value because of all the other things that they provide for us, not the least of which is inspiration and direct contact with nature.

Perhaps if the word "park" too much implies that the purpose of these lands is solely for human recreational use, we should shuffle NPS designations a bit and call them national "preserves" instead. Because, above all, that's what they are.

As I've said before, long live Yellowstone "National Preserve."

Entertainment is obviously unique to the individual. I don't consider horse or dog tracks entertaining, but they rake in millions annually. The thought of parking my butt on a beach and reading a book is tantamount to a living hell, but again, it's the preferred method of thousands of weekenders and vacationers. Maybe the real problem, especially with the kids born post-1970 who were teenagers in the beginning of the home computer and video game rage, is that people tend to want to BE entertained, as opposed to finding entertainment in various pursuits. Maybe it's a character flaw, but I'd rather be DOING things than WATCHING things. Hell, I'd rather play backgammon than watch the Super Bowl, March Madness, or any of the other "must see" televised broadcasts that people plan their lives, indeed even their weddings and vacations around. The fact is, to the open mind, the NPS is a series of Disneylands, each unique in character and opportunities. To me the saddest thing is that most people just can't comprehend the overwhelming diversity of experiences awaiting each visit to any of our parks. Even repeated trips to the same unit yield a plethora of new views, thoughts, and more sensations in terms of visual, auditory and intellectual stimuli than can ever be anticipated by "seeing it all on TV". We have indeed become a desensitized people, in terms of violence and language, and at the same time, the pleasures of the world around us.

As far as "those damn foreigners" coming to enjoy our unique topographies, why would that both anyone? The Europeans in general have a much greater appreciation of traditions and history plus an overall larger "world view" than do the people of this continent. Maybe due to our isolationist position in the world we tend to think that our country is all things important in the scope of the planet. Nothing worth traveling to, seeing, doing, or experiencing anywhere else in the whole of Planet Blue. This attitude is partially to blame for the moniker "ugly American". Our generally holier-than-thou mind-set is far from deserved, at least in terms of first-hand world experiences. We just seem to believe that ours is the best, without serious thought one for other options. Don't blame the rest of the world for appreciating our lands. Just because we tend to take our surroundings for granted doesn't mean the other 5.7 billion inhabitants of the planet share our sentiments. And while Frank's experience playing eco-engineer is quite sad, we should realize that it isn't unique to a nationality or geography. I've seen plenty of "white kids from the 'burbs" trash a state or national park campgrounds, picnic area, or trail as well. Funny how, at least in my experiences, the Euros don't treat our parks that badly. Maybe the lesson is this.......RESPECT YOUR PARKS WHILE YOU STILL HAVE THEM!!

Well said, Lone Hiker.

I was born in 1977, and my Boy Scout upbringing has definitely rubbed off on my adult life (and those of my friends). I'd much rather go 'splore the wilderness than sit before a video game. Those "gamers" are totally foreign to me, much moreso than any non-English speaking visitor enjoying the view at the Grand Canyon.

Anon said:

in my experience, anything labeled a national park on a map is something that receives heavy visitation anyway, so you wilderness folks can get over yourselves when dismissing the crowds who really need to visit them.

You might notice that large portions of many of the national parks are designated as wilderness. What I fear is that in a effort to placate bored people overcrowding the developed areas of the parks, the protection of true wilderness within the boundaries might be rethought. I will never "get over myself" when it comes to protecting what little wilderness is left. I don't care about the loop roads in Yellowstone or the Hoh nature trail in Olympic - the crowds can have those (and they do!). I fully expect to be miserable in the developed areas of parks, and I generally don't complain about it. It's just a necessary evil you pass through to get to the wilderness.

the commenter above had it right, the screaming kids in the cafeteria is the next round of environmentalists (hopefully ones that are less smug) and they need to see these parks, crowds or no crowds.

I'm going to disagree with the poster you cite here. I do not believe the children rampaging through the visitor centers and screaming about how bored they are on the short trails are future environmentalists. The parents are not instilling a respect and love of the environment in these kids, and just physically being in the park isn't going to ignite it. At Yellowstone Lake, I saw a group of quiet, attentive kids with a few parents listening to a biology lecture. I saw a young girl at Artists Point pulling her dad away from the bustle at the overlook to tell him how a squirrel was sorting through lodgepole pine cones. I saw some Korean parents buying their young children field guides at Olympic so they could identify the flowers outside. Those are the future environmentalists. Those parents and those children are not longing for more entertaining or more kid-safe parks. Call me cynical, but I just can't believe any future defenders of the wilderness will come from the screaming masses. Perhaps a cure for cancer, the next .400 hitter, or the first female president - but I just don't see an interest in nature having any hope of gaining a foothold among these kids.

-Kirby.....Lansing, MI

Allow me to lighten the mood with a "dumb foreigner" story....

My wife and I passed through Yellowstone while driving from Washington back to Michigan this month. It was a Saturday in August and I knew it would be hell on the loop roads, but my wife had never seen Yellowstone, so I wanted to show her a couple sites, perhaps to whet the appetite for a return when time for off-road exploration was available. (And by the way, Bob, my unscientific survey at Artists Point is that 60% to 70% of the visitors were German or French-speaking! Of the remaining 30-40, probably half were east Asian language speakers. I don't think I heard more than a person or two speaking Spanish.)

Anyway, we go to Norris Basin. There were some obnoxious drunken rednecks in the parking lot, so we were musing about "stupid, ugly Americans" as we walked the boardwalk through the basin. Then a German-speaking lady in front of us bent down and scooped up some of the water in her hand and tasted it!!! In the tirade of German that followed, I picked up the word "sulfur." Given that the whole place reeks like rotten eggs, you would think......well, maybe you wouldn't think. Most people don't.

I think the article raises some interesting issues and makes some interesting points but fails to provide any hard facts on the main issue, that is the reasons for people’s reluctance to visit US national parks.

Others have pointed out – and I agree – that we should distinguish between the National Park System (NPS) and the lands covered by the NPS. The lands might just as well be conserved while the NP System might at the same time fall into oblivion as some have pointed out.

However, the Economist article has a very valid point (based on environmental psychology): People tend to attach more value to those things / places / habits they are associated with and afraid of losing. They do not attach as much value to something that they are not associated with, irrespective of its “objective” value. So, in the long run, the lack of visitors could have a very negative effect not simply budget-wise but mainly attitude-wise.

Of course, this is not an iron-clad law and it could be that other forces -political / psychological, call them what you want – may be arising these days, that will make this physical connection with the environment less important. That is, people could be becoming so deeply interested about the natural environment and ecology that their personal lack of connection with nature is no longer important.
If natural parks’ lands do not face development pressures or other “dangers” then their future may not be at peril.

A couple more comments, if you'll allow me:
1. It’s interesting to me how some of the most ardent proponents of preservation declare that their main reason for their belief is their will to be left alone / far from the madding crowds of occasional visitors / tourists. I can certainly understand this at a personal level but I find it extremely insufficient, if not damaging, as a political argument.
2. Nevertheless, the Economist article fails to make any mention (actually it does indirectly and in a negative way, without using the term) of the concept of carrying capacity, which, like it or not, must be at the heart of any management plan.
3. One last point, to turn everything upside down: I have noticed that the NPS manages thousands of places/ sites, many of which are not “natural parks”. The “data” provided by the Economist do not make a clear distinction between these different types of sites. Could it be that people are not actually turning away from natural areas? (Data, please! Data!)
Either way, I personally intend / hope to spend more of my euros in your national parks in the years to come. :)

Thank God national parks often have a reputation for being wilderness-challenged tourist traps full of the screaming, littering masses. That's why Colorado's Front Range residents often seem to avoid Rocky Mountain National Park, poo-hooing it as inferior to the Front Range's other wilderness areas and instead flock to the nearby solitude-challenged Indian Peaks Wilderness or other areas of Denver's nearby high country. What this means is that our national forests in the Front Range and their mountains are teeming with people, and the true backcountry of "Rocky" is often empty and waiting to be explored in solitude by people like me.

Park visitors often cling to the beaten path. Stray from there and you often find a plethora of wild places, to wit: From my window in downtown DNC-crazed Denver, I can see Rocky Mountain NP's Longs Peak, beneath which exists the great green mass of appropriately-named Wild Basin, where the park's great nature-challenged masses are generally absent. I can name you a dozen other places in Rocky that are remote, relatively untrodden and totally off the tourist's radar.

Arches National Park has a giant blank spot on the map in the southeast quadrant of the park near the Colorado River -- no trails, no visitor centers and few people. Walk a mile off the main highway away from Devil's Garden and the same is true.

When I think of remote, wild land in the lower 48, the area around Toroweap in busy Grand Canyon comes to mind. Or Canyonlands' Maze District. Or anywhere off the highway at Capitol Reef. The North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Anywhere a mile from the visitor center at Great Sand Dunes. Along Lake Fontana in Great Smoky Mountains. The surface of Carlsbad Caverns NP. Darn near all of Congaree and Great Basin. You get the picture.

Name a national park and you can find remote, empty, wild wilderness worth protecting. Guaranteed.

"In the morning, you'll still be ugly"

The story goes, Winston Churchill had spent the evening at one of those necessary 'social functions', and had indulged one or several more alcoholic beverages than protocol required.

Evidently, his demeanor became sufficiently undignified that it attracted the notice of a certain Important Madame. (Or perhaps it was just his exceptionally good spirits & joviality that the perhaps humorless I.M. found grating.) Whatever the provocation, she was impelled to confront Sir Churchill, and imperiously & dramatically proclaim, "Winston, you're drunk!".

All eyes turned toward the welcome spot of interest & intrigue, in an evening otherwise lacking anything worth being up late for. The berated Churchill lifted his refreshment of choice to lips and took a slow, luxurious draught, and then lowering the glass, whipped his mouth with his shirt-sleeve.

"Madame", he then enunciated precisely, "I may be drunk, but you are ugly, and though I'll be sober in the morning, you'll still be ugly."



Likewise with our Parks. We can compile an inventory of objections to ... the antics of other people, or to conditions & activities far beyond the Park borders, or far up in the sky ... which offend the dignity of some. But in fact, these irritants are matters of personal perception and without meaningful impact upon the fundamental resource ... the wilderness, the ecology or the biome. They don't harm anything ... except maybe the sensibilities of certain humans.

As for those who feel they ought not to have their 'experience' disturbed by a few more additional visitors than they prefer, or to listen to others' revelry that is discordant to their sombre composure ... well, Winston Churchill pegged it.

SaltSage236;

You are really so right! I felt silly bringing it up myself, since it so obvious an experience for those who head into "the backcountry".

I am really familiar only with Olympic National Park, but I am really familiar with it!

Doesn't everyone know that each hour one puts between himself and the trailhead dramatically alters the nature of the people he encounters? That each day one moves off the trail into the backcountry transforms the denizens of such realms as though they are a different species!?

Well, it's true. Olympic officials proudly announce that 2 to 3 million visitors come to the Park each year. You certainly couldn't proven it by me. Never seen 'em, don't have anything to do with them - and I live next to the Park year round (indeed, the most heavily visited part). They don't bother me, and I don't bother them. There could be a hundred million of them come through, and it would be just a shrug, for those of us who haunt the backcountry.

Thirty years ago (at a peak of backcountry enjoyment) there were trod footpaths visible along the key off-trail routes in remote regions of Olympic. A general description and a good topo, and any novice could easily find & follow those routes. Today, the paths are often grown-in and invisible. Without knowing just where they are, it is easy to wander off and greatly complicate the prospect of moving efficiently through trailless areas. In fact, backcountry usage is way down, and has been for many years.

In a few days, I will take a week hike into the Bailey Range of Olympic National Park. This is the biggest, most popular, most spectacular of the standard off-trail traverses. Statistically, I will see less than 10 people total, in 3 or 4 groups - at the very height of tourist season. I may spend 2 or 3 days of that week in total solitude, while moving 10 miles or more each day through ... a sample of planet Earth from 100,000 BC.

10,000,000 people live within an easy drive of Olympic, and there will be roughly 50-100,000 visitors to the Park, while I am rejuvenating my endorphine-balance in seeming the wildest realms in creation.

And all those seething thousands who want & need something more civilized? I am happy to accommodate them.

this is a great post, and a very interesting discussion.

@ saltsage236:

"Sure, "park" is an entirely anthropocentric moniker for a tract of land protected for its natural values moreso than its direct recreational benefit to humans. But here's the rub: Call our parks what you want, but if they exist primarily for the facilitation of fun, our society will lose more than it could ever gain from the Disneyfication of national parks. We benefit in countless ways by preserving our most spectacular and special lands in national parks. Each has educational value; scientific value; the value of national parks, like wilderness areas, being sources of both clean water and, ideally, clean air; and, yes, even recreational value."

i don't disagree! all i'm saying is that if people aren't connected with this resource, or at least educated to see their value and tangible efforts aren't made to enhance people's understanding of the parks (by someone, i'm not calling in the gov here) then we're going to lose the baseline funding needed to simpling maintain (let alone improve) our beautiful parks. getting people into the parks is essential to their protection, but is (agreed) a double edge sword as well.

I disagree with Ted absolutely. Search for "national park" + "national park" "quiet contemplation" on Yahoo!, and you'll get 15,200 results. Search for "national park" + solitude and you'll get over 1.5 million results.

Solitude and silence are a necessary component of national park preservation.

The Badlands mission statement mentions providing the opportunity for quiet contemplation.

Mather stated, "We must guard against the intrusion of roads into sections that should forever be kept for quiet contemplation and accessible only by horseback or hiking."

Donald J. Berry, Assistant Secretary for FWS testified that, "Snowmobiling generates significant levels of air and noise pollution, often results in the harassment of wildlife, and conflicts with other visitors' quest for solitude and introspection in our park system."

Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote, "Quiet contemplation of pristine environments is, for many people, an integral part of the experience of visiting National Parks, and the National Park Service’s policies should be geared toward minimizing noise."

The National Parks and Conservation Association, in written testimony for Congress, stated "It seems logical to conclude . . . the need to preserve places relatively unimpaired by certain human activities that might detract from the experience of those visitors who wish to experience the park as the Voyageurs did, in a wilderness-like setting free from the roar of snowmobiles and motorboats. Some areas of silence and solitude are crucial for providing this type of opportunity for visitors."

Then there is John Miller's plea to preserve Crater Lake's silence: "The plan is now to build, have the government build, a drive around the lake, so that all these points may be considered in a single day from a carriage. And a great hotel is planned! And a railroad must be made to whisk you through the life-and-vigor giving evergreen forest of Arden. Well, so be it, if you must so mock nature and break the hush and silence of a thousand centuries. . ."

Noise of crying babies, jet aircraft, motorized boats, cars, Harleys, snowmobiles, car alarms, crowds, do more than "offend the dignity of some" and are more than "irritants ... of personal perception". They ruin the ability of people to enjoy solitude and silence in national parks (even in some of the remotest areas), and I believe that is a main reason why national parks were created in the first place and are needed now more than ever.

I live in the city and someone is building a monstrous building across from my house. During the day, I must endure shouting construction workers, hammering, and the incessant beeping of heavy equipment. When I visit national parks, I do so to escape this urban hell and to get away from anything I can experience in the city.

I contend that noise and noisy entertainment and noisy visitors in national parks are in fact harmful, contrary to Ted's assertion. They threaten fundamental principals national parks were based upon: quiet contemplation and solitude. They make it so that no one can escape the drudgery of modern, "civilized", urban life, and this noise pollution tarnishes the purpose of national parks. We wouldn't defend most forms of pollution in our national parks, so why is noise pollution dismissed as simply a matter of personal perception?

Back to the thread: more entertainment in national parks will lead to increased noise pollution.

Frank;

I believe the real idea behind making Parks, that made making Parks (etc) a Great Idea, was the notion to preserve the physical resource itself. Why is the physical preservation of an area a Great Idea? Because it is a concept that many people can relate & resonate to ... and can agree upon.

In this view, anything that physically alters the preserved resource is to be avoided, while conditions that do not change the resource, but may irritate some visitors, are of lesser or no importance.

Have there indeed been those figures (as you quote) who championed the subjective experience of a person who is not being 'bothered' by other persons? Yes, of course. But these notions are not what made the Parks-idea a Great Idea.

I do not confuse or confabulate road-building etc (a physical change) with non-physical, transient conditions such the presence of a crowd, or shouting, dashing, excited children. And neither should anyone else. Physical alterations of the preserved area are one thing, and subjective but non-physical conditions are another.

I wish nobody had to endure the urban onslaught that you describe in your life, Frank (I shudder) ... though I also know there are those who find it stimulating & satisfying. My empathy is with your plight ... but I cannot concur that because the urban living situation is stressful for some of us, the Parks ought to therefore be defined as "quiet space". Not as a priority.

Parks are properly - in my view - "natural space". If people whooping it up don't alter the "nature" that inhabits the space, then my irritation at their revelry is really just a 'personal problem'.

Almost unavoidably, attempting to define Parks in terms of "silence and solitude", etc, is to exclude people from the public resource, for no other reason than to create ... an absence of people. Well, strictly speaking, who is to enjoy this solitude: how are we to say, "All you people, stay out, so this one person can have solitude"? Everyone: silence please.

No. That is not the route to the solution desired by those who feel stressed and want an 'escape'.

But the solitude they seek does exist. Both SaltSage236 and myself have described it forthrightly. Get off the roads. Get away from the campgrounds. Walk. Away from the trailhead: then, away from the trail.

There is silence that ROARS right through you ... with the seething horde pulsating through their migration-routes & water-holes elsewhere. There is solitude that will CRUSH you, while the crowd-addicts get their fix at the usual opium dens ... elsewhere.

Please, re-read SaltSage236' comment that begins, "Thank God national parks often have...", and my reply to him/her, which begins, "SaltSage236; You are really so right! I felt silly...". You will see in these two comments, that we both consider the values you seek to be a central part of our own value-system. The only difference is, we go out and get them ... right through & past the madding crowd.

What you want, Frank, is out there ... but you must go where it is, not where it isn't.

To me, this isn't about whether Frank can get to his solitude now, but whether his children or grandchildren will have that option. It's a fact that a majority (vast majority, in many cases) of the land in each park is wild, kidless, and free of anthropocentric sound. Take Ted's beloved Olympic. There are about 5 or 6 places, each the size of a soccer field or two, that everyone gathers. And Olympic is gigantic. It takes 7 or 8 hours to drive around the thing at 50 mph. Even tight little parks like Acadia provide shelter from the masses with a quick trip off-trail. Finding solitude now isn't the issue. The problem is the fact that wilderness is not entertaining, kid-safe, or user-friendly. Thus, the screaming masses that speak with their wallets in the cafeterias detest wilderness. The more wilderness that is converted to tourist-friendly land, the better off the parks will be - financially, if not morally. If I was in need of a thousand-dollar medicine to save my life and had not a penny to my name, you might find me holding up a convenience store. Likewise, I believe it's prudent to be wary of the behavior of the NPS should its financial woes worsen.

Ted, I went hiking up the Queets valley a couple weeks ago. Neither words nor pictures can do justice to that place. But I'm also picturing the slope at the trailhead being a waterslide that shoots out the river. They'll be lifeguards there of course. ( I almost drowned fording it on the way out.) The gravel bar between the Sam's and Queets will have a little Tiki Bar. I can see the dollar signs now. We'll need to pave the road in, of course. The winter floods might be a problem. Perhaps a dam up near Service Falls. That canyon could hold a lot of water...

That's the nightmare I have every time I hear the parks aren't entertaining enough.

Kirby et al,

An important part of my reaction to concerns expressed here on the National Parks Traveler that we are at risk of 'Shock & Awe' development in the Parks, stems from my experience with Olympic Nat'l Park. I have only superficial & spotty exposure to other Parks.

For those who know the Olympic situation, worries about amusement park-style commercial ventures in Parks across the nation are something of a head-scratcher. "Really?"

There is no sign of the slightest tolerance for any rinky-dink Tiki bars on the Queets River, nor anything of the sort anywhere else. Exactly the opposite: the Park is unrelentingly hostile to all in-holders, with especially intense animus for businesses of any sort. The unit management have been pressuring all concessionaires throughout my lifetime (and before), and when they finally 'break' them, they close & raze the facilities.

For those who do not know, the Olympic Park hosts one of the highest-profile hydroelectric dam and reservoir-lake removal projects in the United States (or world). The Elwah River (draining the north-central Olympic Peninsula & Park) contains two dams, one within the Park. Both totally block salmon-migration (A really stupid (I daresay, "criminal") oversight ... or, was it purposeful - to take the salmon away from the Elwah Tribe?).

Both Elwah dams are slated for removal, quite soon. This will be a historic project that will receive high media coverage. Congressional funding has been approved.

There is zero prospect of a dam on the Queets. Nor anywhere else in the Park (or even outside it). Dams are totally yesteryear - certainly in this part of the nation.

New roads? Better paving? No sign of it. No, the Park closes roads, dawdles for long periods to fix serious damage, then leaves the roadway in a condition that clearly communicates, "Please realize, we maintain this road at all, only under protest. We hate it, and it will be gone at the first excuse we can find".

That is the reality in Olympic Nat'l Park. In 50 years, the only new facilities I know about in the northern & western parts of the Park, have been a few new toll-shacks in the roads. I am not quite saturation-familiar with the eastern & southern Park - but I have never heard of anything supporting new business anywhere in Olympic. Any attempt to say, develop a little in-holder parcel on the Queets River into a cute tourist-trap would meet a raging, fire-breathing dragon in the Park bureaucracy. No fooling.

The Park itself develop new tourist venues? That's a ha-ha.

I'm surprised to read so many posts lauding the not-so-noble pursuit of hiking off trail! From the standpoint of recreation impact, a gaggle of tourists who stay on the trail will generally have fewer impacts on the natural world than an off-trail rambler in search of mystic connections with the landscape. The pretentious attitude of too many park enthusiasts is that their activities are right and everyone else's are wrong. Placing a birding guide in your daypack does not make you a field biologist, and donning a pair of leather hiking boots does not make you John Muir. Encouraging a broader spectrum of recreation options in national parks won't destroy them, and might significantly improve support for them, so long as the activities are well managed. Of course, some folks will always feel that they are exempt from bothersome restrictions like avoiding off-trail travel ... after all they're pursuing something noble, while the great unwashed are merely getting in the way.

Mark: I, as a member of the Grant Grove Bushwhackers Club, condemn your view of off trail hiking. The best hiking is to be found off-trail, but you are right that it's not for everyone and putting on hiking boots does not automatically qualify you to be John Muir, although my hikers are far more suited to off trail than Muir's (pictured here).

The pretentious attitude of too many park enthusiasts is that their activities are right and everyone else's are wrong

Well, I don't know about value statements like "right" and "wrong". I do know that certain activities are "wrong" for me, however. For example, as a park ranger at Zion, I hiked all the front country trails. And hated them. Then I hiked the back country trails. I hated those, too. Finally, I got off trail. Why? Because on the Emerald Pools Trail, people hiked in high heels while talking on cell phones and blabbered incessantly about the most inane, inconsequential topics (I'm my pretentious opinion, of course.). In the Narrows, a group of Boyscouts were hooping and hollering at the top of their lungs while ripping chunks of moss off the water falls upstream from Orderville Canyon.

So, I went off trail, exploring Zion's magnificent side canyons. I stayed off cryptobiotic soil and walked on slickrock or in washes, often without even leaving a footprint. I saw things very few have seen, and when I was there, I was the only one. Rock art, Anasazi ruins, big horn, waterfalls, fox, deep pools, cooled canyons. I am among the elite hikers who has seen these places without leaving a trace, so I will proudly wear the badge of an elitist.

For me, this is what feels right in national parks: silence and respect. I hold no pretension that this is what's right for everyone. I do know that the way I choose to enjoy national parks doesn't interfere with anyone else's ability to enjoy a national park. Day tourists and entertainment seekers would do well to consider that.

And we would do well not to increase any entertainment activities in parks that would interfere with other's ability to enjoy quiet contemplation or solitude.

Frank, I'm sure you had a great time knocking around in those canyons, and that they're no worse off for it. Same goes for the idylls I've enjoyed in a host of remote locations while hiking, running, climbing and biking. The occasion for the original essay is the Economist speculating that American parks are in trouble. Managing them in a way that invites new users in and gets them involved with the parks is a necessity ... otherwise the parks become an expensive (and expendable) preserve for a tiny, aging and annoyingly intolerant sliver of society. If preservation were the only mission of the NPS then their mission would be simple: keep everybody out. The reality is that we're all "entertainment seekers" out there. All park visitors have impacts and all of them need to be managed. Besides. you and I both know that anyone who is willing to hike, bike or paddle more than a few miles from the parking lot is usually going to find a whole lot of solitude. If I have to go a few miles farther because the parks are filling up with enthusiastic supporters I'll consider it a blessing.