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