What Suggestions Do You Have For the National Park Service?

Got any suggestions for the National Park Service? Suggestion box photo by rblock via flickr.

The National Park Service likes to promote that visitors give the National Park System a 96 percent approval rating. That's pretty lofty, but is it accurate?

Remember the "good ole days" when you could buy a National Park Pass for $50, one that would get you into as many national parks as many times as you wanted during one calendar year? Remember the days when a backcountry permit was free? Remember when you didn't have to pay to park in a park?

Traveler reader Gary Wheeler remembers those days.

"I'm a huge national park fan and often get a yearly pass (that $80 will be hard to recoup this year)," he told us. "I also want to say I soured a great deal on the pass after recent trips. I found I had to pay at Devil's Postpile (National Monument) to take a shuttle into the park. I had to pay parking at Rushmore. ... Rushmore was particularly frustrating: 'We have free admission, but you have to pay to park.' If that's the case, then why did I buy a parks pass?

"I am finding way too many places where my pass does me no good and I am hit with hidden fees," says Mr. Wheeler.

To that end, he has a reasonable suggestion: The National Park Service on its website should provide a clear and easily understandable table "of all parks and monuments along with admission fees, parking fees, additional fees, etc. That would be so informative and so easy to implement."

Now, don't misunderstand. The national parks remain an incredible resource in this country. But from time to time everyone can learn from others and find better ways to operate, ways to improve business. With that understood, what suggestions do you, the true national park travelers, have for the National Park Service?

Comments

Denali (and any other parks with a traffic issue or shuttle system already in place) should use the type of busses that Zion has - quiet, clean, great windows for viewing, comfortable seats. The old school busses in Denali are horrible - the noise factor alone is egregious for travelling in a park where peace and quiet are part of the experience!

My wife and I bought a Senior Pass in May and set out on an 11,000 mile journey to visit the national parks in the west and southwest. The Senior Pass is one of the greatest bargains out there and made it possible for us to visit about 20 parks during our six week trip and stay on budget.

We were extremely impressed with the dedication of the Park Service and the Rangers. They were courteous, patient and most helpful at every turn. On more than a few occasions, however, it appeared that some Rangers seemed to take "ownership" of the parks and monuments a bit personally. It was as if they owned the properties instead of the general public. I suppose that any dedicated public servant can slip into that mind-set on occasion.

The most poignant moment of our trip occured at the Grand Canyon. A young man in a wheel chair being pushed to the south rim of the Grand Canyon was heard to say, "I can't believe I'm really here." Well, brother, we couldn't believe we were there either!

The Park Service seems to have taken the airline approach to funding, "nickle and dime" users. Why not just raise entrance fees?? An annual park pass in Canada costs over $100 US and daily passes for just a few days exceed the cost of an annual pass. In addition, many countries charge nonresidents double or more the resident rate.

As a senior, I do appreciate the Golden Ages Passport, however, on an individual basis, seniors use the parks more days per year than other age groups. There should be some sort of fee for us as well.

The park service is severely under funded through the thoughtlessness of our elected officials. Write your congressmen and let them know that they are letting our national treasures go to waste.

Just seems like at every turn there are more and more restrictions, less and less access, more and more fees. Should be the other way around.

I visited the Smoky Mountains in June. I didn't have to pay to park or pay to get in. Free to get in is part of the parks history. I had a great time. The only thing that I didn't like was when I went the the gift shop (yes, the parks) to get some post cards to send back home. I picked out the ones that I liked. Then I turned them over to read the back, and there it was MADE IN CHINA?????????????? WHAT????? What a disgrace!!!!!

I feel these are America's parks, yet they are visited more by vistors from other countries. Perhaps because large familes and retirees can not afford all the fees. Maybe there should be a discount put in place for all Americans who wish to enjoy their parks.

Here are some suggestions:

A. Either get rid of all the hidden fees or lower the parks pass back to $50
B. Create a Senior Citizens and Student Pass for half price (or some relevant discount)
C. Create an extended parks pass, that lasts up to 5 years (at a cheaper per-year rate than is currently offered)

The strong and common restrictions against dogs are annoying. I understand that there are reasns for the restrictions (mostly irresponsible owners who let dogs off leash and don't dispose of waste), but it seems like the park service should make accommodations. Yellowstone, for example, is the size of a county and quite far from a town where a dog could be boarded. For large and remote parks like that, I would like to see the Park Service maintain local kennels, even for a small fee.

The Park Rangers do a nice job of keeping visitors on the well beaten path and restricting access within the park, especially Yellowstone. These actions do help to preserve and defend the National Parks from destruction. However, if we do not figure out a way to reduce initiation of manmade forest fires and then control them once started, visitation will go way down to a trickle of travelers on loud motorcycles and noisy diesel trucks who want to see burned out forests from the highway. When it is all burned up, there will not be much to protect. The firefighters on the line do the best they can with the given resources but I say we need to do a better job in responding with more people and/or technology. How about a forest "surge" when it is needed. Heck, I pay inflated foreign oil surcharges for everything to get to the park, why not charge a surcharge for firefighting?

I am a real fan of the national park system and, unfortunately, I am handicapped. I found it almost impossible to make it to the Arch in St. Louis - there are no provisions for the disabled and a really long walk from parking to the base of the Arch (the entrance). I had few problems at Yellowstone and some problems at Denali (I agree that the tour busses need to be updated and, I agree that what is sold in the parks should be Made in the USA.) but I think the parks are a bargain! I know there are hidden fees but my only complaint is that they are hidden, the national park system is one of the best values in America and every one I have been to has been educational, interesting and just plain FUN.

The focus on park fees takes this question to perhaps its lowest level. My suggestions are...

First, fire everyone, from the top of the NPS on down, who has been hired or promoted for any reason other than simple seniority since the third week in January of 2001. Rehire those who seem to truly understand and believe in the NPS ideal instead of the failed ideology of selfishness that we have had stuffed into us over the last eight years.

Second, close all the parks in the system until the NPS budget, by park, has been reinstated to what it was, adjusted for inflation, in 1976. Let the gateway towns and visitors scream; the aerobic benefit of the hyperventilation will do them all a world of good; and it is way past time that we take a stand for the parks themselves, the park ideal, and the resources that they are there to protect.

Third, set the following priorities for the use of the newly restored funds: 1) do the necessary repair, rebuilding, restoration, and modernization of the infrastructure with special attention to those structures, protected though neglected within the parks, that are truly national treasures; 2) hire back the naturalists, zoologists, biologists, botanists, geologists, historians, and other resource specialists that used to be the first line of welcome and educational interface with the public (in 1976, there were, as I read it, as many of these people at Canyon alone as there are in all of Yellowstone today); 3) fund the projects needed to protect and preserve the natural resources, including a shift to mass transit if needed; and 4) hire the law enforcement personnel needed to deal with what so many among us have let themselves become.

Finally, place the resources first. Eliminate any use or activity that goes against long-term resource protection, the dignity of the parks, or the highest embodiment of the park ideal. Again, if the rednecks squeal, let them. Our parks were created to protect and preserve the most precious treasures of our civilization and not as base camps to support the codependent enabling of those among us who choose to wallow their way down the lowest road they can find.

Implement these suggestions and you can quintuple my entrance fees without any protest from me.

I'd like to see more of the hiking areas opened up to allow leashed dogs. I am disabled, and thus, cannot climb up, say Clingman's Dome, with my husband. One of the first dreams he had after we got our (very well behaved) Golden Retreiver/Lab mix was that finally he would have someone to climb Clingman's with him. I can't tell you how disappointed he was when we went online to research it and found that dogs aren't allowed on the trails. It seems to me that the responsible pet owners who keep their animals in control and pick up their "deposits" are being punished for the idiots who don't do these things. These are probably the same people who let their children run amuck screaming at the top of the lungs and weaving back and forth at full speed as they run up and down the trails, regardless of the people they run into or knock over. Maybe the next step is to ban kids from the parks, eh??

Find a way to prevent Congress from saddling the agency with pork laden redevelopment projects that commemorate such things as the copper smelting heritage of upper Michigan and the industrial legacy of Patterson, New Jersey. This is NOT what the founders of the NPS had in mind for the agency when it was birthed by Mather and Albright early in the 20th century.

The national parks have become little more than political footballs in the postmodern era for the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Ted Stevens to kick around on the field of play known as Capitol Hill.

John Muir is surely spinning in his grave.

amen to you anon and your four suggestions.....scary thing is --it would work!

Yes, the problems with the National Park Service are not problems of the National Park Service, they are the problems of Congress and the Executive Branch. They simply do not care enough about the parks to adequately fund them.

Without a Congress that cares enough to adequately fund the parks, the NPS doesn't have a chance of doing any improvements.

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My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

Beamis, let me interject two important points of clarification. First, Mather and Albright didn't birth the National Park Service. Congress did that in 1916 with the Organic Act. Mather and Albright were administrators. While they were given limited authority to make rules and regulations, they were never given authority to designate or proclaim national parks. Secondly, even before Mather and Albright were hired (in 1917), Congress had made it clear that nationally significant historic sites -- that is, sites commemorating human events or the works of humans -- had a place in the National Park System. Those things said, I share your concern about the politics surrounding the designation and management of our national parks.

As touched on briefly above, I don't want my "national" parks to be in the business of supporting overseas interests. I don't need "Native American" artifacts made in China, clothing stitched in Cambodia, DVD's produced in Mexico, and disposable cameras from Japan. Have we as a country descended down the path of ineptness to the depths that we are no longer capable of manufacturing products in this country that until recently, were accepted by the world as the benchmark of quality? Has outsourcing become such an accepted way of doing business, centered solely around the corporate bottom line, that we've grown too lazy to do it ourselves, even when we are the ones who stand to directly reap the benefits of our labors? What better forum to display OUR ability and genius than in OUR national treasures? Unless we, as a nation, have no national pride and insist on being the doormat for every international refugee what comes along, to the point of "not wanting to insult or denigrate their heritage by demanding they conform to our society" as the quote goes. What about OUR heritage? Or have we completely lost track of what pathetic little history we've created within the bounds of these shores?

Maybe due to the fact that I maintain a much earlier schedule that do most of you, I've never found parking to be an issue, per se. Finding a convenient spot is one thing, paying an additional fee is indeed totally unacceptable. If there is any justification for the collection of additional access fees it would most assuredly be to recoup the costs incurred from providing a regular, reliable and convenient shuttle service. Until the shuttles are provided and available system-wide as the norm rather than the exception, I find fee collection and the associated congestion and pollution issues to be an abomination within the NPS. You don't have to be of superior intellect to institute routing for each park. But the initial influx of revenue to purchase the equipment and erect the infrastructure is awaiting Congressional approval. Or more accurately, awaiting Congressional interest, of which there exists precious little in Washington. It's a shame and a sham how politicians are allowed to ruin public lands while protecting the interests of pathetic little maggots such as oil barons and foreign investors. But since that manner of person invests heavily in purchasing puppets who wear the label of Senator and Congressman, what more should "we the People" expect from our representatives, who only pay lip-service to OUR interests during election year campaign speeches, which as anyone should be able to diagnose, as nothing short of a large, stinking pile of crap aimed solely at the mindless American once-in-a great-while voter?

The best suggestion I have for the NPS is to free itself from the political toilet that is our "democracy" and create its own federal entity, unbeholden to the garbage that currently is responsible for allocating funding, and function as a self-sufficient "federal business". Become the land managers, preservationists, environmentalists, wildlife managers and ecologists that you were trained to be; exercise and develop those skills that you have not been encouraged or allowed to demonstrate due to constrictions placed on you under the guise of "federal guidelines" enacted by the subservient jesters of special interest "America", your political representatives and mine. Grasp the reigns of a runaway system away from those who have proven they have neither the education nor inclination to "manage" our unique national treasures. Only then, with internally managed allocation of resources, could we expect the see the "right things" done: rebuilding existing and expanding the required infrastructure, improvements to trail access for ALL, oversight of concessionaires on a system-wide basis, in short......less political influence and more of a focus on national pride. We're alleged to be a "first world" nation. It's time we demonstrated to the world that our commitment to every other nation's real estate extends to our own shores as well.

I have been visiting National Parks since a baby here in Utah and have gained so much more in life because of it. Any extra cost is worth it, if a person can pay $40 for ONE DAY at a Six Flags I think we can manage $80 for a year worth of National Parks and the additional parking fees. However, the parks should notify patrons of the parking fees or supply a list of parks that charge these fees.
I also have another recommendation: Free Days. In Ogden, Utah there is a program called R.A.M.P that charges a tax in order to have the local museums offer a day free. This allows people of lower income or people who would normally not pay to go to local parks/museums a free day to try it. This program has led to me buying multiple season pases to local museums, because I did not realize what they had to offer. National Parks should offer this to build up visitation, thus lowering costs or just to allow people the chance to view.

These suggestions are aimed at Congress for the management of NPS and its units:
1) NPS units should never -- ever-- be designated solely to boost tourism revenue for nearby towns. National Parks should exist to educate and celebrate and preserve ecosystems, landscapes, landmarks and our natural and cultural history.
2) Ditch the entrance fees. The importance of our national parks and the education and enlightenment visitors receive there should be entirely taxayer-funded. No potential visitor should ever have to question whether he or she can afford to enter a park after spending a fortune to get there.
3) Maintain the no pets rule. NPS should never be in the business of managing dogs and cats and their excrement. Park resources are too precious for their managers to be distracted by pets and their testy owners.
4) Put resource protection above infrastructure improvements -- period. Controversial, I know, but the sleekness and extravagance of a visitor center (the new Arches NP monstrosity is a perfect example) is far less important than protecting the very resources the parks were presumably designated for in the first place. That said, when infrastructure must take priority, do it right. New visitor centers should be humble, accessible and artful, following the tradition of the best and least gaudy Mission 66 and previous projects while not being extravagant and grandiose. Economical aesthetic value is important: When Arches erected new roadsigns last year, they lacked the traditional (albeit scant) NPS aesthetic value, looking like boring instutional block-letter highway signs. Please show the least bit of artfulness.
5) All new structures and infrastructure should fit the landscape and should employ "green," energy efficient architecture.
6) The goverment should attempt to purchase land around national parks that can serve as buffer zones between development and the parks themselves, each acting as a transition between the developed environment and that of the protected park setting.
7) Congress and the NPS should vigorously oppose any and all energy development surrounding national parks. Canyonlands NP last year had a giant drilling rig set up within view of the Island in the Sky entrance station, while flaring oil wells can be seen at night from Arches National Park's Windows section. Such development (most of it on public land) degrades our parks and their air quality. Congress should pass a moratorium on any resource extraction on public lands within 10 miles or or within view of a national park boundary regardless what anti-park locals have to say about it.
8) It should go without saying that pumping tax dollars into our parks is an investment in our heritage, national identity and future. Neglecting parks and the resources they protect is an affront to all Americans. What we choose to protect and celebrate is a telling commentary on who we are as a nation and a people. Don't squander this opportunity.

"The National Park Service likes to promote that visitors give the National Park System a 96 percent approval rating."

Kurt,

One of the problems I have with this statistic is with its implications when compared to the total visitation to our parks. For example, if we were to say that current park visitation is on the order of 100 million per year, and if there is a 96% positive approval rating, then this means that 4 million park visitors per year are having a less than totally positive experience. This is a lot of people for whom a park experience is less than optimum. That's far too many negative impressions to conclude that the status quo is acceptable.

The NPS is making great strides to professionalize and increase its staff of law enforcement officers. I would hope similar strides could be made by the NPS to regain its former leadership in interpretation/education/ resources management and scientific research. On the other hand, I would hope that all uniformed employees of the NPS, including law enforcement and resources management specialists have, as part of their professional mission and training, the objective to engage the park visitor to enhance their park experience. This objective should be shared by all NPS employees; it should not be a specialty mission reserved for the park interpreter-ranger.

With respect to the issue of park visits by pet owners: This is a very important and growing segment of society. Many families, and even seniors, are having second thoughts about a park visit because of a perceived anti-pet policy. This did not seem to be the case on my recent (2006) visit to the Canadian Rockies where pets (dogs) on a leash seemed to be permitted on all park trails, other than those routes posted for Grizz.

On the trails of Banff National Park, the few dogs I encountered were on the leash and well behaved, and I had no difficulties with barking, droppings, etc. Many family pets were encountered with groups hiking in mid-September to Larch Valley above Moraine Lake.

In Germany and Norway, pets were permitted in trains and restaurants, as well as in the forests and on trails. While in Austria, our German Shepherd even slept with us in a mountain hut on flanks of the Gros Glockner. Are dogs on trails (on the leash) really that big of a problem? If so why are dogs on or off leash permitted in non-NPS wilderness areas?

I would rather permit pets than firearms in parks. I would rather permit pets than expand campgrounds to provide for motor-home versions of RV's with all amenities hook-ups. I would rather permit pets than expand the capacity of high-end luxury hotels. The price of a room at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite makes me blanch.

I think the NPS should encourage the use of parks for outdoor education. Hiking and traditional tent camping under the stars should be encouraged. I'm abivalent about the use of pack animals and equestrian use because of trail and meadow damage in areas of high visitation.

Some purists would say that NPS campgrounds should not have hot showers. At age 63, I think it would be wise to provide such facilities, otherwise the absence of showers contributes to a self-selection for more formal lodging. The Crater Lake Mazama Campground commercial showers, however, are substandard. There should be some means for the park visitor to issue the NPS and the park concessions a report card at the conclusion of their visit. Maybe in this way, we can increase the percent positive park approval rating from 96% to 99% (where it should be).

There shoud be more primitive, walk-in type campgrounds, however, with no fees and no amenities. Front country walk-in style campsites might have a simple wash house with clean toilets. Of course, the back country should remain as wilderness, and camping should entail minimum impact. Evening ranger programs without slides and recorded music should be encouraged.

For the larger more heavily visited/impacted parks, the NPS will have to wrestle with and establish visitor carryiing capacities. However, I think that if the carrying capacity were to focus on the private automobile, most of the apparent problems, including in-park crime, would be solved.

The economic/political importance of parks to gateway communities and regional incomes, will always have to be considered as an entity in future park planning. To do otherwise, will almost certainly guarantee a shorter-than average career for any aspiring park manager. Nevertheless, where there is a conflict, conservation, preservation, and protection of park resources must take precedence over visitor use and tourism. This paradigm, however, will be easier to say than put into practice. Ask any former NPS Director or park superintendent.

I agree that park developments, including park visitor centers, should be the minimum necessary to facilitate a park visit. They should not become the event in and of themselves. I agree that the Arches NP VC is a bit too much. Certainly the NPS could have done better.

On the other hand, the VC's at the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park and at Natural Bridges and at Hovenweep National Monuments were the right size and outstanding. I even found law enforcement rangers assisting at the information desk and enjoying themselves as they fielded a variety of visitor questions.

Sincerely,

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

After my recent visit to Mount Rainier National Park, I have the following two very specific suggestions:

First, have hand soap in the campground bathrooms. It seems to me that MORA is trying to save money by not having soap in the campground bathrooms. This seems to pose a public health risk. When talking to the seasonal maintenance staff, they said management told them they didn't have soap because campers would bring their own soap. I suppose this has some logic to it, but it's kind of inconvenient to go number 2 and then, discovering there is no soap, to have to open the door with unclean hands and walk back to camp and dig through everything with contaminated hands to find some bar soap and then walk back to the bathroom to wash one's hands. Perhaps the NPS could divert money SEKI is spending on a Rae Lakes eHike, done to make the parks' web content more "hip". In my opinion soap, clean bathrooms, and toilet paper are more important and more relevant to ACTUAL park visitors than hip web content. The NPS could cut any number of social engineering projects and divert that tax money to providing high-quality basic visitor services.

Secondly, hire quality seasonal interpretive rangers who have proven teaching experience and talent rather than hiring people from certain ethnic groups to "diversify the staff". I sat through the worst evening program in my life at Mount Rainier last week. The NPS has moved from Kodak slide projectors in favor of PowerPoint, but newer technology alone cannot guarantee a higher quality visitor experience. The interpretive ranger had PowerPoint slides with far too much text, including grammatical and spelling errors. Each slide stayed up for several minutes as the ranger droned on and on and on without a solid theme. Her public speaking skills were atrocious, and she mispronounced and misspoke numerous words. Small maps on slides were too hard to read. The program was just horrible. I had to apologize to my wife, who had never seen an evening program. I told her about the amazing programs I saw over the last 22 years and how special they were and how you just had this magical feeling at a campfire program. How did this person get hired? Well, she is an ethnic minority, and the NPS has an unofficial policy of preferring "underrepresented" minorities to "diversify" the staff rather than hiring people based on talent and experience alone. No amount of technology can mask incompetence.

The best suggestion I have for the NPS is to free itself from the political toilet that is our "democracy" and create its own federal entity, unbeholden to the garbage that currently is responsible for allocating funding, and function as a self-sufficient "federal business".

I absolutely love this idea! Although I fear for it (witness how pathetic Amtrak, a current "federal business", is), it would take the politics out of the NPS. Unfortunately, it would bring the business into it, which, IMO, is just as unethical, shortsighted, and stupid.

If it could be some sort of national trust, with an independent board of directors, like other not-for-profit institutions, it would be better.

We all know our elected officials are failing the parks. Few alternatives could do worse.

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My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

"If it could be some sort of national trust, with an independent board of directors, like other not-for-profit institutions, it would be better."

Ahhh....at last someone else is on to one of my favorite long-term solutions for the administration of the national parks. Take Washington, DC out of the day to day reality of the NPS and let's see what great things could possibly happen. Glad to have you aboard Barky.

As for Frank's bad experience with NPS interpretation, which I also had the misfortune of encountering this year in two separate Utah parks, I think has a lot to do with a general lack of standards and accountability within the management ranks of the NPS. Naturalists are just not as important as they used to be. The major thrust in the agency these days seems to be on bigger guns, specialized law enforcement badges and acronym laden, overblown initiatives that most rank and file employees try to forget the day after they are announced.

Interpretation, maintenance and resource management are all in general decline and importance as law enforcement and fire management is where the action is now. I know of many younger employees tilting towards these areas to become more "marketable" for a career ladder climb.

For all the hype about interpretive "renaissances" and such the average interpretive programs being offered today are far less creative, well thought out and entertaining than they were just 10 years ago. The old codgers who taught me and influenced my programs were most often dedicated seasonals who generally thought outside the box and loved their craft. Unfortunately they are a dying breed that are not being replaced with rangers who attain the same level of intellectual quality and insight. Even worse is that I don't really think the agency cares.

Good thread Kurt.

Raise more money for the NPS, by having a two-tiered pricing structure. American citizens and legal residents pay a reduced price. Foreign tourists pay more. This is done in the EU. EU passport carrying people get in at reduced prices or free at certain museums and sites. This would raise more money for the parks without squeezing taxpayers anymore.

It seems very doubtful that career Park personnel welcomed the new proliferating fee-systems. They did not envision themselves becoming nickel & dime collectors from an irate public. It is harshly dissonant to their self-image, to be rooting & grubbing from an often resentful & doubtful public, to support the Park budget.

Most of the basic citizenry holds that these are our Parks, supported on the public purse, and that fee-systems are a manipulation. To what purpose this irritation of both the Park folks & the public is aimed, is the key question.

That bureaucrats (Park personnel) become comfortable & territorial is a perennial problem for modern civilizations. That Park people have taken on very strong political positions - and even active agendas - aggravates their relationship with Congress, which isn't remotely as green & liberal-preservationist as tenured Park officialdom.

I will speculate, that the idea to have the Parks support themselves through user fees, is a convenient ruse aimed to achieve goals which Congress could not expose to the light of day without a backlash.

Although the public is largely conditioned to accept the situation as natural, it is by no means necessary that Park folks be activists for the Green movement. Essentially, the public tax dollar goes to support a large body of professionals all across the nation, who prefer policies & positions which reflect a minority Liberal-Environmental agenda. Neither Congress nor the public have a makeup or orientation that is reflected in the positions & attitudes of Park professionals.

We in effect subsidize the Sierra Club et al, in the form of the Park payroll.

It seems feasible that these mismatched viewpoints and political adversities have prompted Congress to embark on a cloaked campaign to 'shake up' the Park Service. Fees may be a device to that end.

Excellent observations Ted. This would be a worthy discussion for a future NPT thread.

Frank,

The soap issue has come up in this park as well. Our Chief of Mantainence has said that it is because the bathouses are not public restrooms (unlike the VC restrooms) since you have to pay to use them, and thus, are not subject to the same rules/ideas/standards that public RRs are. The Super is looking into it, though.