Reader Participation Day: What Needs Fixing In The National Parks?

The latest estimate for the National Park Service's maintenance backlog stands at $12 billion, though that number might be padded just a bit by lofty renovation plans. Still, there's a lot to be fixed around the parks.

Roads that are potholed, buildings that could use more than just a little paint, electrical systems that were designed for the 20th, not 21st, century. There are chairs that are not sturdy, door frames that are cracked, tiles that need to be replaced, asphalt trails in front-country areas that are crumbling, boardwalks that could use some replacement boards. And that's just the short list.

What maintenance needs have you seen in your travels about the National Park System? Let's build a list of what needs fixing out there.

Comments

I recently visited the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument. http://www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/recreation/las_cruces/trackways.html. This is a rather new facility. The road leading up to the entrance trail and the parking area was in great need of maintenance and maintained public bathroom facilities. I used my hiking poles to navigate the trail to the Trackways site and was thankful for the additional footing aid; I had to be careful to not roll my ankles. Access to the track site was especially challenging as it is a bit of a climb; although that challenging access and isolation has probably served well to protect the unique tracks from local vandalism or theft on a limited budget. But once at the site where the Trackways were located, I was rewarded with a sight so exquisite! The preserved Early Permian Trackways at that National Monument are so ancient, so rare and yet so exquisite that I found myself standing at the site with a great sense of "WHERE IS THE STAFF PROTECTING THIS PLACE??" This site is not just a National Monument...it's a unique National TREASURE! And it is sorely in need of whatever form of passive or authoritative protection can be provided to preserve it's valuable treasures for future generations! Specifically I list: 1) additional protective fencing 2) a developed trail including: potable drinking water available at the beginning of the trail, constructed steps and installed railings in specific locations along the trail to facilitate hikers to trail's end and back safely 3) an onsite educational facility at trail's beginning for limited mobility visitors and visitors unable to make the challenging hike to the trail's end. Such a facility would increase patronage and provide much needed additional onsite information at the trail's beginning. (Most informative signage is located at the trail's end.) 4) an onsite park ranger facility capable of providing shelter for a rotating staff of 8-10 park rangers + equipment for providing first aid to visitors in need of assistance on the hike up to the trail's end. A maintained staff of park rangers located at the site would provide a continuous presence of authority helping to preserve the important contents of the site. They would be a great aid to preserving and protecting against acts of vandalism and theft of fossil rocks. They would also serve to help provide first aid and assistance for visitors; looking out for the safety and well-being of the visitors and enhance the experience of visiting the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument.

Darlene -

Sounds like a reasonable list of needs! I checked on the link you provided for this site, since I was curious about a national monument that didn't sound familiar to me. Turns out it is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, not the National Park Service. The BLM has some fine and dedicated employees, but as a general rule their areas are not as heavily staffed nor as developed as similar NPS areas in terms of visitor services.

At one NPS site the paint on the employee housing is in such poor condition that if you happen to brush against it, it comes off on your clothing like chalk dust. Through some inexpiable bureaucratic ineptness rent was not deducted for several employee housing units for more than a year resulting in a loss of maybe $15,000 to the park. When those in authority were told by seasonal employees that the rent wasn't being deducted from their pay they were told 'not to worry that they would not have to pay before their seasonal terms ended.' The mattresses in these housing units were in such sorry condition that they caused back injuries to employees.
It's probably safe to say that just about everything in our parks needs at least some attention. But completely aside from that, while looking at information about Prehistoric Trackways, I noticed a little tab at the bottom of the page that caught my attention. NO FEAR ACT. Interesting. Here is a link: http://www.doi.gov/pmb/eeo/no-fear-act.cfm Maybe someone should pass this around in some NPS offices.

What needs fixing? Let me count the ways.

In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Boogerman Trail, one of most popular trails in the park, has been missing at least four bridges. With the new (acting) superintendent, there's a chance that the main bridge will be replaced. The other three on Caldwell Fork go across smaller streams and may wait a while.

Another popular trail, Ramsey Cascades, is missing a crucial bridge. I'm leading a Friends of the Smokies hike on the trail in May. I sure hope it is fixed by then. I have another candidate hike in my back pocket but Ramsey Cascades is something to see.

The three parks in St. Croix, the Virgin islands, could use a lot more attention. See http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2014/02/exploring-parks-christianst...

And Tuskegee National Historic Site where I'm going next could at least have enough personnel to answer the phone.

As a form of cyclic maintenance, a thorough housecleaning of NPS management should be at the top of the list: http://bestplacestowork.org/BPTW/rankings/detail/IN10

Meanwhile, plenty of wasteful, flavor of the month, pet projects are fully funded. The Pro Ranger program first comes to mind as it attempts in their own words to 'create the rangers of the future' while people who are ready to hit the ground running get bypassed so they can expend scarce resources on a program to create a whole other set of candidates who fit the PC criteria. But hey, I guess creating some new wonderful "innovative" program looks a lot better on a resume than just making sure the basics, like maintaining trails, are taken care of.
The real problem is the continued mismanagement. The NPS priorities are so screwed up that they have allowed this problem to grow out of control. From the top of the DOI and all way down we need a serious personnel purge. The priorities I have seen are LE and regulation related, purchases for new guns, tazers, cameras, and "no" signs. Maintenance, visitors and visitor services are last on the list.
According to www.usaspending.gov, Hatteras spent $203K on signs from FY09-FY13. The park spent $74K on weapons and ammo during that same time period. That spending represents 1% of the $27M that NPS contracted in goods and services for Hatteras.
$74K on weapons and ammo seems a bit excessive. 203K on signs is beyond excessive and most we're "closure" related. They collected millions in permit fees but could not afford to pay for lifeguards, something IS wrong here.