Reader Participation Survey: Let's Build A Top 10 Most-Endangered Park List

Do air quality issues make Shenandoah National Park one of the ten most endangered parks in the National Park System? This is how haze can obscure the views from Dickey Ridge in the park. NPS photo.

OK. You knew this day was coming. After reading stories about imperiled parks week in and week out on the Traveler, it's time that you tell us which parks you think are most imperiled.

Lord knows there are plenty of candidates. Glacier National Park has its mining issues (not too mention its waning glaciers), Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park struggle with air quality issues, Yosemite National Park has traffic woes in the Yosemite Valley while Yellowstone National Park has its snowmobile saga.

And those are just for starters.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore has issues with ORV traffic -- depending on your point of view, the seashore doesn't provide enough leeway for the rigs, or allows too much. Grand Canyon National Park has river corridor problems due to the lack of natural flows of the Colorado River, Acadia National Park struggles with high ozone levels in summer, Rocky Mountain National Park has too many elk and too much nitrogen.

What else? Hmmmm. Virgin Islands, Biscayne, and Dry Tortugas national parks are threatened by warming, overly acidic, ocean waters that are damaging coral reefs, Everglades National Park doesn't have enough water (and too many pythons!), and those parks that touch any one of the Great Lakes are threatened by non-native species.

We could go on, but you get the idea. So, help us put together a Top 10 Endangered Parks list and we'll forward it to the powers in charge.


Great Smokies has to be on the list - air quality is downright embarrassing there.
I'd also suggest Congaree - SCDOT is messing around with some highways in the area that are choking off the bottomlands, although Bob would know more about this than I.

Joshua Tree is threatened both by a massive landfill project just on its borders, and by climate change, which may extirpate its namesake tree from the park.

This park is first on my list of endangered parks--surprised it didn't even make your list!

The Pineland's National Preserve in my homestate of New Jersey is often overlooked. But this ecosystem supports more singular, rare, and endangered species that almost any other on earth. In addition, it boasts a trillion-gallon aquafir of the purest water on earth. This water is a resource that many have tried unsuccessfully to plunder over the decades. The threats brought to the attention of the world in John McPhee's book, The Pine Barrens, are still very real today.

Well, Yosemite certainly gets my vote for the most "loved to death" national park in the "lower 48". At one time I remember talk about closing Yosemite for 20 years to allow it to recover from over-use. I still think idea merits serious consideration for Yosemite and other parks suffering the effects of high visitor use.

In Alaska I am concerned about Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks due to the purposed Pebble Mine (the largest open pit mine in the world) which could permanently alter the surrounding ecosystems of Katmai and Lake Clark National Park and Preserves.. Can you imagine going to Brooks falls in Katmai and not seeing bears catching salmon? It could happen, because of pollutants from the mining operation could (most likely will) kill the salmon.. In an area that is not only seismically active, but has active volcanoes nearby, it is an environmental recipe for disaster just wanting to happen.


The Pine Barrens ecosystem deserves better protection alright, Lawrence, but the Pinelands National Reserve isn't part of the National Park System. It's an Affiliated Area operated in connection with the National Park System. The gist of the legalese is this:

In 1970, Congress enacted legislation defining the National Park System as “any area of land and water now or hereafter administered by the Secretary of the Interior through the National Park Service for park, monument, historic, parkway, recreational or other purposes.” That piece of legislation specifically excludes 'miscellaneous areas administered in connection therewith,' that is, those properties that are neither federally owned nor directly administered by the National Park Service but that the National Park Service assists." [National Park Index: 2009-2011; italics are mine]

Organ Pipe Cactus - it's just too dangerous to risk hiking there.

I remember visiting Grand Canyon NP and going outside the park for lunch and a viewing of Grand Canyon IMAX at National Geographic's Grand Canyon Visitor Center in Tusayan. There was an NPS park ranger selling passes there, but I didn't assume that this was an NPS site per se. The NPS has cooperative efforts with a lot of agencies and some businesses.

I'd also add the lower elevation areas of Sequoia - Kings Canyon National Park where drug cartels are growing marijuana with fertilizers and irrigation systems and their illegal gardens are guarded by thugs. If portions of a park are a no-go area for hikers due to safety concerns, that park is endangered.

Shenandoah and the Smokies get my vote for the bad air quality. On a hot and hazy day, a long hike can actually make someone dizzy and sick.

While I have no doubt that the illegal pot farms are a serious problem, the growers generally want to stay low profile and generally don't want to attract attention. I've heard of some that were a bit bold and tried chasing down hikers who came across those pot farms, but I think the smart ones don't do that. They're kind of screwed if they decide to shoot a hiker since that can mean SAR may come searching for said overdue hiker and then discover the illegal farms. I've heard of once case where someone claimed to have come across one of these farms, and the heavily armed guard simply told the guy to leave and forget that he even saw the place. I don't think anything was said until after the farm was discovered by the Feds. From what I gather, these illegal pot farms mostly get discovered via aerial reconnaissance.

There have also been pot farms found at Yosemite and Point Reyes. I understand that in the USDA Forest Service is having a heckuva time dealing with pot farms from coast to coast.

If hikers fear going into an area of the park because of fear of running into an illegal pot operation, then that part of the park is effectively closed. The pot farms also endanger the park by fertilizer runoff into streams, irrigation lines and mounds of trash from the illegal operations.

I would have to agree with Dave about Lake Clark and Katmai National Parks. I have been fortunate enough to guide in both parks for the last 7 years, taking backpackers, rafters and kayakers to some of the most remote, least visited and spectacular places within each park. Our business also owns a home in Port Alsworth, the gateway community to Lake Clark NP and home to park headquarters.

The Pebble Mine prospect has the possibility of being the largest open pit mine on the planet, less that 15 miles from Lake Clark NP's SW border, and at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay salmon run. Not only are we in danger of having a huge mining development within a stones throw of one of the country's most amazing NP, but we are in danger of losing the salmon run that helps feed this rich ecosystem. This mine could spell disaster for the National Park.

Check out the Renewable Resources Coalition website for Pebble information.