Joshua Tree National Park Abandons General Management Plan Revision, Blue Ridge Parkway Proceeding With Its GMP

How helpful is it for a national park to craft a general management plan that looks 10, 15, or even 20 years down the road? After all, in today's economy the dynamics that impact a unit of the National Park System seemingly can change overnight.

At Joshua Tree National Park in California, officials have abandoned efforts to revise their GMP, saying it's fairly sound in its current iteration (developed in 1995), and so they'll instead focus on specific issues within their park. That's much the same approach taken at Yellowstone National Park, which has been developing management plans for specific areas of the park, such as Tower-Roosevelt, Old Faithful, etc.

But at the Blue Ridge Parkway, officials are moving ahead with efforts to craft a GMP that outlines a long-term vision for the parkway.

Joshua Tree officials last week announced their change in direction in a letter that Superintendent Mark Butler mailed out to stakeholders and citizens who had participated in earlier meetings seeking input on a GMP.

"The current GMP still provides a useful (workable) framework for overall park management and what is needed is more focused and targeted planning around several key issues," Superintendent Butler said in announcing the decision. "Therefore, the multi-year GMP development effort will not be continuing. The NPS will shift its focus to more targeted planning efforts that will aim to address some of the most important and most urgent issues facing the Joshua Tree National Park."

Work on updating the GMP for Joshua Tree was launched last year with a series of public scoping meetings and open houses held in communities surrounding the park. Joshua Tree officials say they received many valuable ideas during those meetings. Through those workshops, a number of key issues were identified that will serve as the focus of future planning efforts:

* Urban encroachment, renewable energy development, and other adjacent land uses;

* Open space and conservation efforts outside the park boundaries and throughout the region;

* Wilderness status and conditions;

* Visitor use issues (e.g., transportation facilities, local community needs, user conflicts, user capacity); and,

* Natural and cultural resource degradation from visitor use.

Joshua Tree officials say they'll hold onto those comments as they pursue future targeted planning processes. One product of the GMP effort is the development of a Foundation Plan for the park. This document identifies park purposes, significance, resource values, and interpretive themes.(The Foundation Plan and the summary analysis of the initial public scoping comments can be found on the Planning, Environment, and Public Comment website: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?parkID=310&projectId=31449 )

At the Blue Ridge Parkway, meanwhile, a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the parkway’s GMP is available for review and comment by the public through December 16, 2011. Four public meetings have been scheduled along the entire 469-mile length of the road to permit people to comment on a plan expected to guide management of recreation, the environment, and historic and cultural resources for more than 20 years.

In a letter announcing the review, Superintendent Philip Francis said “this will be the parkway's first comprehensive management plan. Developing a vision for the parkway's future—and the management strategies to create that future—is the primary goal of this planning effort.”

The full document open for review (available at www.parkplanning.nps.gov/blri) includes three “action plans, including one “no action” alternative that reviews current policies. Of the two “action” alternatives (plans B and C), Parkway management prefers Alternative B, which Superintendent Francis says “emphasizes the original parkway design and traditional driving experience, while enhancing outdoor recreational opportunities and regional natural resource connectivity, and providing modest improvements to visitor services.”

Superintendent Francis describes the preferred plan as one that, “seeks to reinvest in the parkway's aging infrastructure, update inadequate visitor services and facilities, and protect a biologically diverse natural environment that is only surpassed by two other units in the national park system.” He believes that Alternative B, “echoes the original thinking of the parkway founders during the Great Depression—to invest in building the parkway to create a catalyst for long-term, regional economic vitality.”

The public is encouraged to attend the meetings (where exhibits and information about the plans will be available), comment at the link above, or to submit written comments by mail to: Superintendent Philip A. Francis, Jr., Blue Ridge Parkway, 199 Hemphill Knob Road, Asheville, NC 28803.

Public Meetings:

Date: Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Location: Folk Art Center
Milepost 382 Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville NC
Time: 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Date: Thursday, November 3, 2011
Location: Blowing Rock Art and History Museum
7738 U.S. 321 Bus, Blowing Rock, NC
Time: 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Date: Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Location: Nelson Memorial Library
8521 Thomas Nelson Highway, Lovingston, VA
Time: 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Date: Thursday, November 10, 2011
Location: Brambleton Center
3738 Brambleton Avenue, Roanoke, VA
Time: 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.