Reader Participation Day: How Would You Design A National Park?

If you were given a blank piece of paper and asked to design a national park, what would you consider to be indispensable?

What, if any, commecial services would you include? Would there be lodging, and if so, how much and at what room price? What about roads? How many miles of them would you allow, and where would they lead? Would you place a hard limit on the size of buildings (both height-wise, and interior space)?

Would you set a specific limit on how much of paradise could be paved over? What visitor amenities would you see were provided? Would you want to restrict recreational amenities to activities that are in concert with the natural setting?

These are all timely questions in light of the effort to better manage the Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, to restore and rehabilitate things at Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park, and as Grand Canyon National Park officials continually wonder how they can reduce the human footprint on the South Rim of that wonderful park.

Tell us, travelers, how would you design the perfect national park?


Entrance gate-->scenic drive-->Visitor Ctr, campground, and Lodge: a gateway to a vast roadless wilderness beyond, for hiking, backpacking, folding kayaks, and packrafts.

I'm pretty much with Justin, less is more for me when it comes to design. I can do without the lodging or campgrounds or even visitor centers being inside a park in many cases. But 'perfect'? Surely that's a matter of individual and institutional perspective. I suspect NPS management would have a quite different opinion as to what constituted a 'perfect' park and how to strive for it. Here's some examples from my decades at Mount Rainier:

Build the highest density of roads in any western national park, but keep most of then closed to vehicles, full or part-time, except for "administrative use". They make access so much easier for Science and the many overworked managers in need of R & R at one of the numerous backcountry patrol cabins.

First, build a $2M Emergency Operations Center literally on the edge of a lahar-prone river. Then, build a $25 million visitor center at a world-record snowfall station, so you must spend a million per year plowing the road to it daily, but close that road to the public at the flimsiest excuse. When design changes and ten-fold cost overruns delay VC completion, close the entire park to the public for six months and blame flooding, while construction continues through the winter.

Write a General Management Plan emphasizing the need for mass transit while the superintendent speculates in real estate outside the park. Present the terrain and climate as too dangerous for most visitors. To the greatest possible extent, have the public board buses at one concessioner's gift shop and exit at a different gift shop, preferrably with the minimum number of intermediate stops where escape from the canned tour might be possible.

Justin, I agree with your great summation. I might add the things that stand out about Yellowstone's set up, that make it a great park to almost anyone. For those old or disabled the road takes you near many park features that they can see with less effort. There are many attractions that have short or moderate hikes. There is loads of backcountry for the adventurer.
Ideal National Park would balance wilderness with access. National parks are for everyone, not just the young and fit or people with cars. Every proposed road, trail or bike path would be measure on that balance. Roads would be narrow and without shoulders, no more than 10.5’ lanes, and include bike lanes on either side or sharrows where the road is too narrow. Occasional pull-offs for scenic vistas or trailheads would be built. Roads would blend with the land and environment as much as possible. Some road sections may even ban large RVs and buses to minimize impact. Roads would allow access to some of the important park features but never intrude directly upon them. Overall, it should be more difficult to drive in Ideal National Park than to use a park bus, walk, hike or bike. Commercial services would be minimal, inclusive and reasonably priced. Any building would have to fit within the rugged character of the park and blend seamlessly with its surroundings. A few scattered hotels would serve as hubs for the park, with limited amenities open for all such as a swimming pool, restaurants, amphitheaters and park guides. These hubs should also have trailheads for hikers to discourage driving to a nearby trailhead. The hotels and other buildings should not be enormous and should be mostly invisible from surrounding peaks and valleys. Any mass transit would stop at these hubs. Generally, these hubs would not be too close to any of the parks major attractions.
I agree with my fellow posters, in that the ideal park, the more lavish amenities should be limited to the front-country, and there should be adventures accessible to a wide variety of ability levels: some that can be driven to, some that involve short hikes, and a large area left in a natural state for the most hardy. Ideally, when a park's boundaries are established, some additional area not in the critical natural area should be included for such things as visitor centers, campgrounds, ranger residences, etc. That way, the main area containing the scenery the park was established to protect can be left mostly uncluttered, containing only that infrastructure necessary to accommodate appropriate visitor uses (necessary parking & roads and/or shuttle bus stops, trails, interpretive signage, etc) and administrative functions (ranger stations, service/fire roads, etc.). Of course, the world's not ideal, and many parks were developed at a time of different priorities and incomplete understanding of natural processes. But the Park Service can and should look for ways to sensibly address these matters in existing parks.
If at all possible, all lodging and other services should be just outside the park or very narrowly confined inside. Shuttle services should be a high priority.
My ideal national park would be as approachable for people with limited financial resources as it is for those with lots of money. There would be definite demarcations between front country and back country -- but the sights the park is famous for would be as accessible as possible within reason for the non-able-bodied, and somehow controlled so that they're not overwhelmed with too many people at a time. It would be possible to park one's car and walk to all the sights in a particular part of the park before moving on to the next part, with lodging so that one can park one's car and not have to get into it for as long as one is staying in that part of the park. Where feasible, shuttles within parts of the park and for getting from one part of the park to the next should be provided -- and required if you're just making day jaunts from a 'home base' campsite or lodge. Lodging, visitor centers, and other services for each area should be clustered together in as small a footprint as possible.