Are our national parks in need of a facelift to attract tourist dollars? Should our wild places be better at catering to those wanting some luxury and pampering?
Sound typical of the debate over how the National Park System is caught between various masters? Well, this issue was raised most recently not here in the United States but way "down under" in Australia by the executive officer of the National Parks Association of New South Wales. Since there are similar concerns here in the United States, we thought it'd be interesting to share some of Mr. Andrew Cox's views, which were published recently in the Green Left Weekly. With that introduction, here are his thoughts:
Are our national parks in need of a facelift to attract the tourist dollar? Should our wild places be better at catering for those wanting some luxury and pampering?
If you talk to some in the tourist industry, they would strongly agree. And the NSW government right now is blithely playing along with this.
Brand "National Park" is the ultimate advertisement for the modern day resort owner. What better edge on the competitors to claim your five-star lodge is in the heart of Wollemi National Park and its mysterious wilderness?
We don't need to pawn off our crown jewels. Brand National Park belongs to all of us, not those who can afford it, or have the right political connections to lever their snug cabins with soft downy pillows and beds deep inside the park boundaries.
The NSW government says it wants to see more people visiting our national parks and other public parks and reserves. They are aiming for a 20% increase over the next 10 years in fact.
That is an admirable goal, and it is highly achievable.
Yet the tourism industry is not interested in plain numbers. Not mum and dad and the family having a fun walk or a picnic in a national park. No, they are interested in development prospects.
Strangely, the NSW government has started to adopt many of the industry positions.
On the table are a number of ideas to white-ant the very laws that have to date largely kept the national parks unspoilt by crass development.
There is a plan to write "tourism" into national park legislation. At present, "visitation" is there in the legislation as a legitimate purpose. But that isn't enough. It doesn't allow enough of the trappings of tourism - the hotels and chalets, the bars, the trinket shops, spas and saunas, the golf courses and swimming pools and cinemas - to get past first base.
Of course the Kosciuszko ski resorts are the exception, where this has already come to pass. Let's hope that this park remains the only exception.
Tourism does not belong in national parks. National parks are only part of the tourism experience. When you visit a park, absorb yourself in nature, learn something about the complex ecology you are passing through, or get the thrill from climbing a peak, you experience national parks at their best.
National parks offer a special tourist experience, but not the full range of tourist experiences. The extra bits of a tourist's time in an area - the accommodation, the fun parks, evening entertainment, restaurants and takeaway joints - belong in the neighbouring towns.
This is where they will generate the most jobs, have the lowest environmental impacts and best spread the benefits.
By all means, let's encourage more people to visit our national parks. Not only is it good for our health, our sanity and our understanding of our place in the natural world, it will help the parks. How can the next generation of people understand what is worth protecting if they have not seen it.
If our children go into a national park and see less of nature and more of the trappings of our urban life, we will have lost something that is priceless. Let's not allow our national parks to become gentrified. For then they will no longer be national parks.