Some Things We'd Like 2009 To Bring to the National Park System

Some thoughts on how we'd like to see 2009 dawn on the National Park System. Photo of sunrise in Acadia National Park from Cadillac Mountain by Atutu via flickr.

Well, here it is, January 1. Out with 2008, in with 2009. And that means it's time to look ahead to the new year and dream about what we'd like to see happen across the National Park System in the coming 12 months.

Call them New Year's Resolutions, or New Year's Hopes, but here's an incomplete list (in no specific order) of what the Traveler would like to see occur in the system in the year ahead:

* That the incoming Obama administration fully funds the National Park Service and, with Congress' support, arrives at a workable solution to the agency's nearly $9 billion maintenance backlog.

* That the next National Park Service director not only be freed of political blinders, but conduct a top-to-bottom review of the agency to eliminate redundancies, excesses, wastes, and, ahem, snafus.

* That sound resource stewardship, based on sound science, guides NPS decisions, not politics. In other words, let the scientists do their jobs and respect their findings and suggestions.

* That the Congress, if it deems new units of the National Park System appropriate, provide a reliable funding mechanism for those units when it passes enacting legislation.

* That more parks turn to mass transit in an effort to not just cut greenhouse gas emissions, but make it easier and more enjoyable to navigate parks.

* That the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial in Concord, California, receive the full stewardship of the National Park Service and that Congress pass legislation that would convert the memorial to a fully administered park unit. Currently, no resource exists to staff maintenance or educational programs, and because the site is on an active military base with security concerns, people who want to visit the site have to apply two weeks in advance.

* That the federal Office of Personnel Management drop its concerns about the Alaska Local Hire Program and recognizes that local hire is an outstanding way for Alaskans to share their local knowledge and skills and begin a life-long career with the National Park Service.

* That the National Park Service adopt a definition of "traditional activities," for which some motorized access is permitted, that disallows recreational snow-machine riding in the 1980 additions to Denali National Park & Preserve.

* That the state of Alaska acknowledge that liberalizing the hunting rules for wolves and bears in Alaska's national preserves to enhance hunter success for moose and caribou is contrary to National Park Management Policies and as a result will roll-back bag limits and season length to pre-1994 levels (1994 being the year the state adopted its policy of increasing hunter success for some wildlife by manipulating the populations of others - i.e., predator control).

* That the National Park Service make a binding commitment to phaseout recreational snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park.

* That there is increased tolerance for Yellowstone bison attempting to access winter habitat and a corresponding end to the bison slaughter.

* That no more cell towers are erected in national parks.

* That the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power drop its proposal to build a 500-kilovolt transmission line along a 10-mile-long swath of desert floor, destroying habitat and bisecting the wildlife corridor that leads from Joshua Tree National Park’s rugged wilderness to life-sustaining water.

* That the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve be added to Joshua Tree National Park, as well as the land between what is now the park and Big Morongo’s spring—the same land that bighorn sheep and other wildlife travel to find water.

* That somehow, some way, an amicable solution is reached over the issue of off-road vehicle access at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

* That the National Park Service receives adequate funding so individual parks can afford to hire interpreters and scientists and not have to outsource those positions to volunteers or other institutions.

* That we see a fully implemented settlement for the North Shore Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our wish is to see a new agreement between the four parties (Swain County, North Carolina, Interior Department, and the Tennessee Valley Authority) that provides Swain County an appropriate monetary settlement with a significant down payment, and eliminates the possibility of any road construction along the north shore of Fontana Lake.

* That the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan gain some traction.

Thanks to Greg Kidd, Jim Stratton, Ron Sundergill, and Timothy Stevens of the National Parks Conservation Association for their assistance in compiling this list.

Comments

Excellent! You have my support on every point.

Nice list. I have two minor additions, both of which have to do with apparent disinterest in African-American history in the NPS:

* that the NPS web site be fixed to include the African-American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. It used to be there, I stumbled across it back in 2005. But now it's completely gone from the web site. This is a travesty. Yes, the AACW Museum is privately owned & operated, but the memorial itself is still within the NPS as far as I can tell. The George Mason Memorial still has it's page, why not the AACWM?

* That the African Burial Ground NM visitor center receives its own entrance, so visitors do not have to go through the metal detectors required for entrance to the federal building. This is easy to do, there is a revolving door right there, they can build a wall through the lobby separating the two areas. They may need to build restroom facilities, so that would be a problem, but it's not unworkable. Very few NPS sites require metal detectors & security screening, I can only think of two (the Liberty Bell and the Statue of Liberty). I don't think it's required here if they had their own entrance.

With all the history of mistreatment of minorities in this country, these two issues are serious thorns in the lion's paw.

[I editted this for typos, that's why it appears below Bob's reply to me. Sorry about the confusion -- Barky]

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My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

Funny you should mention African American representation in the Park System, Barky. I recently finished an African American-themed quiz for the weekly series and loaded it for "release into the wild" on Wednesday, January 21st. I'd be interested to know how you do on this quiz.

I think that it is good to make lists like this, and we could do with more of them. I am working on a list of exotic fauna, flora and animal-population issues in the Park system, with an emphasis on those that might use hunting & harvest as a management-tool.

* Obama leadership. We are experiencing one the most severe economic problems since the Great Depression, and we fully anticipate it could get worse. Hard to say how the funding matter will shake out: If Obama's plan calls for creating a colossal 'stimulus' fund and then looking for contexts in which to 'fertilize & water' the economy, then funding everything the Parks can come up with might fit with the plan. On the other hand, if the plan runs to something more seemingly direct & to the point, like looking for every context in which we can trim, shave and flat drop every expense that we can possibly live without ... then obviously we should be prepared for austerity.

* Parks Director. With Ken Salazar at DOI, it seems probable that the Parks post will be filled by a compatible pragmatist. Such a person is unlikely to please the greener end of the spectrum.

* Science. I am quite heavily 'scientific' myself, lacking mainly the institutional tools to fill a formal role in the field. Science is certainly great & powerful stuff ... but unfortunately, like 'business' or 'corporatism', it is also badly crippled in certain of the essential human dimensions. We do not live under a scientocracy or technocracy, in substantial part because the leadership skills of this aspect of the human experience are simply too egregiously underdeveloped. We may as well select extra-bright 3rd and 4th graders to run the world, as place science in a determinative role. I vote to cherry-pick science, use & abuse it as we please, then park it back on the shelf when we've gotten what we want out of it ... and in fact, that seems to be a close description of our actually policy.

* Politics at NPS. As in other areas of national management, politics at the Parks do suck ... but, as always & everywhere else, politics sucks so much less severely than any of the other options that there is simply no chance it is going anywhere ... and if it somehow did, we'd be fighting to get it back. Politics Forever, slime & all!

* Locked Funding. Bad idea. Expenditures for Parks need to vary like all other 'obligations'.

* Mass Transit. I like to see more of the individualism element permitted & accommodated in the Parks. Indeed, I like the backcountry as an escape from the mass-everything of society, and oppose the 'massification' concept ... which I know & acknowledge is motivated somewhat attractively to concentrate & limit 'impact'. Still, what I really want is for the 'controllers' to keep'a their mitts off'a me.

* Alaska. I look forward to watching Alaska further-develop its progressively emerging leadership of the United States and even global Parks theme. Especially in areas of large-scale habitat management & 'preservation', I think the future of our National Parks can be discerned best, by looking to Alaska.

* Predator control. I think we are heading for a wildlife management "train wreck", by setting carnivores up as Sacred Cows. I expect we will find ourselves in a dramatically traumatic social experience, if we do not keep humans established as the dominant predator ... and the outcome of the trauma will be that humans will reassert their dominance, anyway.

* Radio Towers. I am licensed in Amateur Radio, and know that many antenna options exist for whatever communication format we want to support. It is possible to conceal antennas and to make them very unobtrusive. Many amateurs find they must hide antennas, for social reasons, so it is an advanced skill-set. The military also finds invisible antennae an intriguing field of study. It can be done in Parks, too. With the popularity of actually rather inappropriate cell phones as a 'safety measure' in the backcountry, we will probably end up with saturation tower-coverage in all large Parks.

Nice list!

1. Land Acquisition. The most important thing is to protect the land. That means significant funding for the land acquisition program. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, that pays for the land from revenues derived from oil leases, should be funded to the full level indicated by federal oil revenues.

2. Valley Forge. This is a subset of the above. We have many parks that are slowly withering away because of the failure of the NPS leadership to protect land within park boundaries. According to the people, ARC, who want to do a mega-development on private land on an undeveloped parcel on the north side of the park -- instead of the already-developed visitor center portion to the south that SHOULD be the only place new development is allowed -- the ARC people said the NPS leadership was fully aware of the development idea and either encouraged it or went along with it. WHO in the NPS? Why has there been no public planning process for this development, as there was at Gettysburg, when a similar decision was made? The difference is, because of the planning at Gettysburg, an appropriate parcel was selected, but at Valley Forge someone in the NPS seems to have winged it.

Many other parks have similar problems of private inholdings inside parks. Cape Cod, for instance, is a horror with massive development expected inside the boundary, and, like at Valley Forge: NO REQUESTS HAVE COME FOR FUNDING TO BUY THE THREATENED PROPERTY BY THE NPS. How could a superintendent leave Cape Cod, as the last one did, with $50 Million in threatened private land inside the boundary, and be considered a "successful superintendent" when no land funding was even requested? This has got to stop. If you don't first protect the park resources, nothing else is important.

3. Re-professionalization of NPS people. Stop the "outsourcing." The National Park Service needs people on its staff who know what they are talking about, as it once did, but now is losing. The "backlog" program is more than just money: NPS needs professional maintenance and historic preservation professionals who are capable of ON-GOING MAINTENANCE' NPS needs to stop treating maintenance as a construction program. The way it is now, no sooner have you restored a building, than it starts to decay because of the lack of park staff. Another example is the land acquisition staff. The Department of the Interior under George Bush removed all the professional land apparaisers and assigned them to the Department of the Interior (DOI). Under Clinton, the biologists re re-assigned to the US Geological Survey. This means that the NPS loses the ability to make rapid and necessary decisions and redeploy staff when there is an immediate threat. In the case of land protection, it means the NPS no longer can slip to the Congress on the QT the cost of buying threatened land, because the critical staff either work for DOI, or NPS must go out on a contract (with a prior appropriation first from Congress) to protect land. This means, as with Valley Forge, that NPS is not ready when it needs to be.

-- Barky Dionne is right that more attention needs to be paid to the African Burial Ground. Rather than just a separate entrance -- and that is a great idea -- the best idea would be to get the visitor center put somewhere else, outside the building that was responsible for descrating the graves of enslaved Americans. Another real problem is the NPS decided, rather than having a financial partnership with the group that was responsible for getting public attention focused on creating a national park, it has moved to permit a blue-blooded group to benefit financially for park and visitor center sales and interpretation. The beneficiary had nothing to do with establishing the African Burial Ground, but the original partners were engaged at every step. What is happening here, and how are these financial arrangements being awarded?? This was a non-conpetitive award to pals of the leadership of the national park service, not the partners of the park superintendent.