Upon Further Review: Preferential Treatment for Local Residents at National Parks?
A basic principle of national parks is that they're just that—national, rather than local sites—so a family from Houston has the same opportunity to enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains as one from Gatlinburg. Officially, there's no preferential treatment in national parks for local residents, but it's only human nature for some people who live near a park and use it on a regular basis to develop a sense of "ownership" of the area.
The same can be said of people who enjoy visiting a favorite park or campground year after year; perhaps they even like to stay in the same campsite whenever possible.
Whether they're local residents or repeat visitors, the fact that people view a place as "my park" isn't necessarily bad. Such attitudes can encourage people to take better care of the area, or perhaps get involved and help out as volunteers. Proprietary interest can, of course, get out of hand, and in at least one situation it caused a classic case of foot-in-mouth disease.
Willow Beach is a popular fishing area in the far northwestern corner of Arizona, within Lake Mead National Recreation Area. That's a rather sparsely populated part of the country, and during my years there as a ranger more of our visitors came from the Las Vegas area and even southern California than from Arizona. We also had a high percentage of repeat visitors, some of whom had been coming to that same location for many years.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning, the sun shone brightly from cloudless skies, a gentle breeze helped cool the desert air, and the sparkling blue water of the lake beckoned to a host of boaters lined up for their turn at the launch ramp. Parking spaces near the ramp were filled to capacity, and latecomers were relegated to an overflow lot some distance away.
One of our regulars had arrived early and found a prime parking space, immediately adjacent to the marina. His spot afforded a good view of the hustle and bustle and occasional unintended entertainment that occurs when too many people are in a hurry to launch their boats at the same time.
The man in question was well-known to other locals for his rather grouchy disposition, so I'll just call him Oscar in honor of a famous character on the children's television program Sesame Street. Oscar was slouched against his pickup truck and surveying the busy scene as I walked by. He spotted me and decided to offer a comment about the world in general and the crowded conditions in particular.
I recognized him immediately, greeted him in return, and paused briefly to see if he actually needed some help or just wanted to make conversation.
"Looks like you've got your hands full today," Oscar observed astutely.
"Yes sir, it's a typical Saturday for this time of the year," I replied.
Oscar scanned the sea of cars, trucks, RV's and boat trailers in the jammed parking lot and the line of vehicles waiting their turn on the boat ramp. He then glanced back at me and made the Comment of the Week: "Well, this place would be pretty nice if all these yahoos from out-of-state would just stay at home."
Since we happened to be standing in Arizona at the time, the irony of this remark wasn't lost on another group of visitors who overhead Oscar's remark as they happened to be walking past. They'd almost completed their hike back to the boat ramp from the overflow parking area, and had worked up a respectable sweat in the process.
One of them stopped, wiped his brow, glanced first at the Nevada license plate on Oscar's truck, and then back at our self-appointed philosopher.
"Man, you're exactly right! Maybe we ought to ask the park to reserve these prime parking spaces for people like us who live right here in Arizona." He paused briefly for effect, and then tossed the zinger. "What state are you from, by the way?"
I don't think the distinct reddish tinge that suddenly appeared on Oscar's face was entirely due to the abundant desert sunshine.
"Well," he huffed, "I'm from just up the road in Vegas. I was talking about all them Californians." Pointing across the water to the cliffs on the opposite shore, he wrapped up his defense. "That's Nevada, just across the river. All the same here at Lake Mead…Nevada and Arizona."
"Oh, okay," concluded the new arrival as his group resumed their walk. "I thought maybe you were from the State of Confusion!"
This story is adapted from the book Hey Ranger 2: More True Tales of Humor and Misadventure from the Great Outdoors © Jim Burnett and Taylor Trade Publishing, used by permission.