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What We'd Like To See Across The National Park System in 2010


A fresh, new year is upon us, full of promise and possibilities for the national parks. Photo of sunrise through Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, by QT Luong,, used with permission.

A fresh new year is upon us, one still brimming with hope, confidence, and high expectations. So, what better time to sort through our list of things we'd like to see happen across the National Park System in 2010?

To help fine-tune this, we're breaking our wish-list into two categories, one that's somewhat big picture and system-wide, and the other that's more specific in terms of definable actions and park programs. And we'll count on you, the readers, to help flesh out this list.

System-wide Needs

* Bring all National Park Service websites onto the same 21st Century page. Let's see all park sites offer photos and multi-media from their parks, as well as "factoids" specific to their parks. Let's see at least a bare minimum of consistent information such as geology, nature and science, history and culture, and things to do.

* Bring sanity to the chaos that revolves around the ridiculous number of designations for units of the National Park System. Do we really need both "National Military Parks" and "National Battlefield Parks", or both "National Rivers" and "National Wild & Scenic Rivers & Riverways"?

* Let's hope that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, upon seeing the boost in visitation to national parks last summer when he ordered the National Park Service to waive entrance fees on three weekends, permanently ends entrance fees. Keep the rangers at the entrance gates to welcome visitors, answer questions, and hand out brochures and pamphlets, and install a donation box. We think the NPS would be amazed by the amount of donations it would receive.

* That the NPS find a way to push introduction of wilderness legislation where necessary. There's no reason that today, nearly a half-century after passage of The Wilderness Act, that neither Yellowstone nor Glacier have officially designated wilderness.

* Let's hope we find more rangers --full-time and permanent-- across the system to answer our questions, lead us on hikes, patrol the trails, staff the visitor centers, and entertain us around evening campfires.

* May we find that members of the congressional committees that hold sway over the National Park Service actually have an interest in bettering the parks, not using them as pawns.

* That a stronger investment, dollar-wise and personnel-wise, is made in resource managers to help track climate-change impacts on the parks and investigate ways to help the parks and their resources adapt. There should be a happy ending to this wish, as Interior Secretary Salazar wants $10 million invested in this very area.

* That the upwelling of interest and support in our national parks created by The National Parks: America's Best Idea continues unabated.

* That the legalization of carrying firearms in many national parks does not produce a single accidental shooting.

* That Congress pass legislation that provides adequate, long-term funding for the National Park System and eliminates the existing $8 billion-$9 billion backlog in maintenance needs.

* That youth find an interest in national parks not through their iPods and iPhones but through interpretive programs and working in the parks through groups such as the Student Conservation Association.

* That the Vanishing Treasures program, designed to preserve vestiges of the past such as rock art and turn-of-the-century cabins that are disappearing from the National Park System, is reinvigorated.

* That National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis re-establish an ethic of principled leadership and decision-making in the NPS that reduces or eliminates the recent tendencies to favor political whim and narrow special or commercial interests.

* That Director Jarvis elevates workforce (especially leadership) development to a higher priority to, among other things, improve the morale and satisfaction of the dedicated NPS staff.

* That the NPS and Interior Department work very closely with the Congress to begin to implement key recommendations of the National Parks Second Century Commission.

* That the NPS, Interior Department, and the Obama administration make observable progress toward re-establishing the significance and importance of the National Park System for all citizens of the nation.

Specific Needs

* That Director Jarvis, who has a science-background and believes science should play a pivotal role in the National Park System, makes a strong statement underscoring that belief by seeing funding provided to restore the two paleontological staff positions that were cut from Dinosaur National Monument last spring in the name of "core ops" budgeting. At the same time, funding should also be provided for a staff geologist at Grand Canyon National Park and a landscape architect at the Blue Ridge Parkway, just to name two glaring deficiencies.

* That funding is found to update outdated brochures as well as interpretive panels and displays and to replace vandalized roadside exhibits that can be found across the park system.

* That a solution to the dispatched Flamingo Lodge in Everglades National Park is found.

* That visible, and meaningful, progress is made on arriving at a sound development plan for the Yosemite Valley.

* That the unceasing litany of lawsuits over winter-use in Yellowstone ceases and officials identify a science-based and supported plan that keeps all parties happy and provides the strongest protections for the park's resources, visitors, and employees.

* That mining threats to the north of Glacier National Park and to the west of Waterton Lakes National Park are quashed by Canadian officials.

* That Asian carp are kept out of the Great Lakes and so don't imperil the fisheries that are part of the many national park units that dot the lakes.

* That funding be found to open additional cliff ruins at Mesa Verde National Park, such as the Mug House, to the public.

Thanks to Bill Wade and Rick Smith of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees for their contributions to this list.--Ed.

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Regarding Dinosaur, I'd like to point out that at John Day Fossil Beds NM in Oregon, the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center opened only in 2004. There visitor center, museum, lab, and more is under one roof and visitors can actually look into the labs through large windows, watching the preparation of fossils and other work.

I seriously doubt that such a building is more expensive than having separate facilities, so if Dinosaur needs to build a new VC at the quarry site anyway, JODA really should be the example in how to do it right.

As a local supporter of Dinosaur National Monument I was pleased to see "funding provided to restore the two paleontological staff positions that were cut from Dinosaur National Monument" in your specific needs list. However that is only part of the needs for those positions. The plans for the reconstruction of the Quarry Building and Visitor Center contain no paleontology Lab or fossil storage. This was justified in the planning process by stating that a curatorial facility was to be built next to the Utah Field House of Natural History Museum in Vernal. Promises were made to Utah State and the local community by the Park Service to build the facility back around 2000. That project, that has been fully designed, has yet to be started and shows no signs from ether side that it will be funded. Without this facility those two positions will have nowhere to perform their tasks of fossil preparation and curation.

Could you explain yourself a bit more, anonymous? Are you suggesting parks be mined and logged and dammed?

Is there any information about people who think national parks should be used as a natural resource for the sake of humans than to just ignore nature and its beauty, if there is please tell me cause it would be really helpful for my project.

The superintendent of Pictured Rocks NL mentioned when he spoke for our class last winter that he was happy with how the NPS fared well with the Stimulus bill, and he believed they would do alright with the federal budget, specifically because of the improved budget management. He said (if I remember correctly) that like never before, the parks have the software to monitor every dollar that comes in, along with alert the maintenance (and whoever else needs to see) when routine maintenance is needed, from changing the air filters on the AC, to replacing tires on the vehicles. Hopefully these apparently recent improvements will in fact lead to more funding from both parties.

I haven't been around much lately, but one of my New Year's Resolutions is to hopefully read Traveler more - and I wanted to jump in on the fee discussion.
Yes, our taxes already pay for National Parks - but I think that also misses the facts that there are at least two distinct kinds of benefits that one receives from National Parks, and taxes are the payment method best-suited for one of them, but not the other.
All of us benefit from the protection of National Parks. There's only one Yellowstone, one Yosemite, and one Gettysburg. The fact that these places are protected for our future use, the use of future generations, and for the general good benefits us all. Taxes absolutely should pay for the protection of these places.
On the other hand, there is a special kind of benefit that comes from visiting a Park - the use and recreation that one gets out of the visit. Perhaps more importantly, there is also a distinct cost to our visitation on the Parks - whether its wear and tear on the roads or visitors centers that need to be maintained, or the time of an interpretive ranger. I can't think of any good reason why visitor's shouldn't pay for the enjoyment they receive from their visit - and the cost of providing the services for those visits. If no entrance fee is charged, then frequent visitors to the Park System will get "more bang for the buck" from their tax dollars. This would benefit not just those who happen to live near National Parks - but since frequent Park visitors tend to be upper-middle-class folks with plenty of discretionary income to spend on travel, not having entrance fees also arguably has a "regressive" impact on the tax code as well.
Finally, I think that user fees can have other beneficial impacts as well. I can't prove it, but if you look through the past decade's worth of GAO reports on the Park Service's Maintenance Backlog, you somewhat get the sense that one reason the NPS's budget hasn't been larger under Administrations from *both* parties is that there may be a lack of confidence in the NPS's budget management and ability to control cost - although it seems like the GAO reports are pointing towards improvements having been made from what they were. Having more control over your revenues can help foster greater control over your costs as well. And as others have noted, when certain Park resources are being "loved to death", fees can both help mitigate demand for the most fragile resources, and can also help fuel expansion of visitor services. Not enough camping sites on summer weekends? Raise the camping fees enough to support the campground expansion project in the general management plan. Not enough Rangers to support additional guided tours to Mug House? Maybe user fees from that "special tour" could help cover the cost of that extra interpretive position.

The "we've already paid for it with taxes" reason for having no park entrance fees doesn't wash. We also pay taxes for buses, subways, water systems, sewers, etc. but each of those things charges a user fee. We pay for public four year and community colleges through taxes but the actual users of those services still pay tuition. It's reasonable for the actual users of the parks to pay more than the average taxpayer. (Even more reasonable when one considers that 40-some percent of people in this country pay no federal income tax at all.) And many of the park users are foreigners who've never paid any U. S. federal income taxes.

The challenge for the park system that I see is how to handle the overabundance of visitors. Disneyland stops selling tickets when they get too full. Some of the over-used national parks should consider doing the same.


No where did I state or suggest that Democrats should govern like Republicans. I said that, in my opinion (although it makes such clear sense in my head, that I can't believe other realistic folk wouldn't agree) that Secretary Salizar would be a fool to eliminate a huge source of NPS income, when funding will be drastically dialed back when Congress switches hands in eleven months. I suppose I can see how you could say that I'm suggesting Democrats govern like Republicans, however I see it more as a simple smart business decision...why would any business manager eliminate a source of income when they know that within a year, they will lose another huge chunk?

And yes, of course, the parks shouldn't need to be run like a business; I understand that. But at this point in our history, what else can you do? I can understand if you're philosophically against the ideas I've stated, but philosophies will not fix up our treasured lodges and repair roads and increase mass transit systems in 2011. Though I'm sure my standing on the political spectrum is apparent, when it comes to the parks, and some of the environmental issues, I assure you, I'm on your side, big picture.

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