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Reader Participation Day: Which Is Your Favorite National Park Gateway Town?

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West Yellowstone's ties to Yellowstone National Park are evident throughout town. NPT file photo by Kurt Repanshek.

Gateway towns to national parks can be fun, eclectic, unusual places. There's the electric vibe that runs through Bar Harbor on the doorstep to Acadia National Park, the outdoor pulse to Moab near both Arches and Canyonlands national parks, and the urban environment Tuscon offers Saguaro National Park.

With that in mind, which gateway town do you look forward to visiting on your national park vacation?

Would it be West Yellowstone, Montana, with its laid-back attitude, eclectic Gatlinburg, Tennessee, near Great Smoky Mountains, Estes Park with its Rocky Mountain National Park backdrop, or Jackson Hole with its Old West flavor?

Comments

Bar Harbor, ME outside Acadia National Park


Rangertoo:
A common myth - that the areas designated "parks" are supposedly the crown jewels. It's nonsense. Many "national parks" got their designation through chamber of commerce advocacy or the efforts of the local Congressman. Cuyahoga Valley NP, Congaree NP, Petrified Forest NP, and Great Sand Dunes NP had their names changed expressly as a result of efforts to increase tourism.

I did qualify it with "supposedly". I even thought of saying something about Cuyahoga Valley and Hot Springs, where I know a lot of people question whether or not they deserve the "National Park" designation.

Still - Kurt gave seven examples, and all are the full "National Park" designation. If anyone is planning a "national park vacation", would they really be thinking of New York City? I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Golden Gate NRA is a large collection of disparate sites; technically Fort Point NHS and Muir Woods NM are under the same management. I'm not sure if Mill Valley (I love the "downtown" there and have eaten at Avatar's Punjabi Burritos) or should Stinson Beach qualify. I enjoy Point Reyes Station, which has a history long before the NPS took over. If you're there stop at Cowgirl Creamery for some cheese. Maybe even the St Pat's which is made with stinging nettle leaves (freezing is supposed to take care of the stinging sensation). There are also a couple of National Historic Sites in nondescript towns. I used to drive to Martinez every day for weeks on jury duty, and passed by John Muir NHS every day. Eugene O'Neill NHS is in the bedroom community of Danville. Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park is in Richmond. I took a look at the memorial once, and it was essentially just a city park with nobody else interested in the display.

Now - I have seen my fair share of "gateway towns". It can be debatable what communities are in some cases. Yosemite has a couple in Mariposa and Oakhurst, although both are at least 25 miles from Yosemite. Despite the distance, both are heavily dependent on the Yosemite tourist trade for their economies, and Mariposa is where a lot of park employees live. El Portal is a place on a map with a little bit of lodging and a gas station, but not much else except a few NPS failities. Hawai'i Volcanoes is interesting. Volcano Village is right there, but it's about 3 restaurants, a few bed and breakfasts, and a lot of residential housing. Hilo might even be considered the real gateway town.


I dislike towns that are nothing but T-shirts, motels, and fast food. I do like Springdale, Moab, and Jackson Hole, for reasons noted by other commenters. To that list I'd add Three Rivers, at the southern entrance to Sequoia NP.


A common myth - that the areas designated "parks" are supposedly the crown jewels. It's nonsense. Many "national parks" got their designation through chamber of commerce advocacy or the efforts of the local Congressman. Cuyahoga Valley NP, Congaree NP, Petrified Forest NP, and Great Sand Dunes NP had their names changed expressly as a result of efforts to increase tourism. Colorado State University even did a study showing how the name change for Great Sand Dunes would increase tourism. And Hot Springs National Park? A crown jewel? But the likes of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Glen Canyon NRA with its unmatched Anasazi sites, and the phenomenal Pictured Rocks NL are not? The NPT has devoted a number of articles the haphazard and misleading use of NPS nomenclature. There is a bill before Congress now that would reduce the designations. I hope it becomes law and we can clear up these silly ideas of what park is better than one park based on their names.


Rangertoo:
Since Congress and the NPS itself has made it clear that there is no difference between parks related to their name, I don't see why we can't pick something other than a national "park."

Like I said, it can get too broad.

Gateway (how appropriate for the subject) National Recreation Area has New York City as its gateway town. The National Mall is right in Washington, D.C.. These places are barely associated with the NPS sites in or around them. OK - maybe not the National Mall.

I say "National Park" because all the examples that Kurt cited in his article were the full congressionally designated units, which are supposedly the crown jewels.


I'm fond of "off the beaten path" and being in the farthest corner of the lower 48 I find Bellingham, WA a hidden dream in the North Cascades. Aside from being a quaint low key town with progressive attitudes, North Cascades is a short drive away and you also have the San Juan Islands just across the bay.


Since Congress and the NPS itself has made it clear that there is no difference between parks related to their name, I don't see why we can't pick something other than a national "park."


*Wine Bread* not break


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