With National Park Week having come and gone, and the kickoff of the summer travel season still a few weeks off, it seems a fitting time to raise some questions about the overall state of the national parks.
* Why do different units of the National Park System show differing levels of concern when it comes to endangered and threatened species?
For example, why does Cape Hatteras National Seashore use 1,000-meter buffers to keep off-road-vehicle traffic from nesting piping plovers, a threatened species, while Padre Island National Seashore officials don't prohibit ORV traffic on their beaches when Kemp's ridley sea turtles, the most-endangered sea turtle, come ashore to nest? This question is particularly relevant in light of a recent photo from the seashore of a Kemp's ridley hunkered down -- and fairly well camouflaged -- in a tire rut on the beach.
And why do Big Cypress National Preserve officials feel comfortable with permitting 130 miles of ORV routes, and who knows how many miles of secondary routes, in prime habitat for the Florida panther, possibly the most-endangered mammal in North America? Not only did a variety of conservation groups condemn this decision, but so did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
* How is the National Park Service addressing scalping of campsites obtained through www.recreation.gov? Making news recently was word that some Yosemite National Park campsites were being sold for $100 or more on sites such as Craigslist. With more and more park campgrounds going into the reservation system, will this just feed a bidder's war for park campsites? Can this be solved as simply as stating reservations cannot be transferred?
* Is the National Park Service an overly insular agency, one where the culture holds itself above outside criticism? That's the take put forth by Paul Berkowitz, a former special agent for the Park Service who just came out with a book examining what went wrong with the agency's investigation of alleged embezzlement at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site (reviewed elsewhere on the Traveler today). Unfortunately, top Park Service officials decline to discuss this issue, citing ongoing legal matters stemming from that investigation. But can't the two be weighed separately? After all, the issue of insularity dates back more than a decade and didn't arise with the Hubbell investigation.
* Is there a more fascinating philosophical debate currently in the park system than the issue of whether the Park Service should infuse some new genes into Isle Royale National Park's wolf population? Among the obvious issues are 1) the Park Service's general position to let nature run its course; 2) the wilderness setting, and 3) the world's longest running prey-predator study, now in its 53rd year.
* Should the National Park Service be concerning itself with healthy food in the parks? There's no mention of that in the National Park Service Organic Act, and it's not like the agency's plate isn't already full. (Really, no pun intended.) Many park concessionaires already are moving -- if they haven't already -- to healthier entrees. And really, you don't have to buy that chili burger with extra cheese....
* While most national parks suggest you keep your dogs at home, and as officials at Golden Gate National Recreation Area are grappling with an effort to rein-in free-running dogs, canines were celebrated the other day at Prince William Forest Park. While it's certainly great to see the Park Service showcasing canine teams that do invaluable work on search-and-rescue missions, would you say it was also appropriate to bring in commerical operations -- dog resorts, dog spas, and even dog magazines -- to showcase their services for dog owners?
* In light of the vast, vast collections of historical, cultural, and natural resource artifacts and memorabilia that seldom see the light of day from storage in Park Service facilities, should the agency have one main museum facility that not only traces the history of the Park Service, but also offers exhibit space to rotate through for the public various pieces from its more than 110 million-item collection? The late Art Allen, whose lengthy Park Service career included a dozen years spent as chief curator of the agency's Division of Museum Services at the agency's Harpers Ferry Center, long advocated for such a facility.
* Appreciation has to go out to the search-and-rescue teams at Grand Teton National Park, who went into very, very challenging and dangerous conditions in a week-long search for two missing backcountry skiers.