Photographer Hoping To Document Sites With Potential To Be Included In National Park System

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If he raises $20,000, a Washington, D.C.-based photographer will crisscross the nation to document sites he believes should be in the National Park System.

A Washington-based photographer is hoping to spend six months on the road documenting sites across the United States that he believes have the potential to be included in the National Park System.

Zack Frank, a professional photographer with a long list of credits, has identified 54 locations, ranging from the North Woods of Maine and Blackwater Falls in West Virginia to "a second Yosemite in the mountains of Wyoming." If he can raise $20,000, he'll set out on the road to photograph locations that will go into a 200-page landscape photography book to be called Undiscovered America.

Over the last 7 years I’ve been researching these unknown natural landscapes and the major difference between these places and the National Parks is that these areas weren’t lucky enough to be championed by people like John Muir, Timothy O’Sullivan or Ansel Adams. As a result they’ve gone overlooked by most artists and travelers. Fortunately, it’s not too late to give these locations the attention they deserve before they end up overly commercialized like Niagara Falls or destroyed like West Virginia's eroded mountaintops. The locations range from privately owned lands and American Indian reservations to state preserves and lesser-known Department of the Interior sites. The environments include: the deepest canyon in the United States (deeper than the Grand Canyon), a second Yosemite in the mountains of Wyoming, the greatest undeveloped wilderness in the east, the largest remaining natural habitat in the Great Plains, canyons carved out of the painted desert, caves, badlands, mountains, forests, wetlands and much more.

Pledge levels range from $5 all the way to $3,000, a donation that would gain you "official sponsor" status of his project. You can learn more of Mr. Frank's project, watch a short video explaining it, and donate to it, at this site.


NIce project to support.

I disagree. Putting aside his ego and his generalizations about photographers and looking at the project itself, I do not find that these places need National Park status. In fact, I believe that Park status will degrade many of the places he lists.

Some of the places he lists are already under National Park care but with the added benefit of not being National Parks. National Park status increases visitation, use, and commercialization of a location.Those sites will become a check box on a list of places to visit, nothing more than a passing photograph on a family vacation.

I have been to 31 of the places on his list. Not because any of them are National Parks but because they are wonderful locations. Those places are not "undiscovered" they just aren't as promoted or commercial as most National Parks. I would kind of prefer to keep them that way.

Very good points, dahkota. I guess I'm wondering this: if these places do indeed lack protections from commercial interests, would alerting people to their existence help generate public support for their preservation (whether or not the project ultimate results in "national park" designations)? And if they did result in these designations, there does seem to be a trade-off. On the one hand, the "national park" designation seems to draw interest from the public in the preservation of these places; on the other hand, this interest seems to occasion "commercialization," etc. I tend to get a bit disillusioned by what strikes me as the overdevelopment of Yosemite, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, etc., but then I figure the frontcountry pays for the preservation of the backcountry. Thanks for showing the other side of this issue.

After spending time in the Smokies, Yellowstone, and Yosemite, I don't see the backcountry areas in any of those places as overran. Yellowstone's backcountry especially is not that heavily visited. It's a lonely place if you go into it. Same can be said for the Smokies, and Yosemite. I know spots in both places, where you can go, and not encounter a lot of people. As beautiful as Yosemite Valley is, I just see that place as a quick stop before going somewhere else.

I tend to agree though, that not everything should be a national park. I'd prefer that the park service works to expand current parks, and add wilderness in the parks they have, and focus less on acquiring new parks. Although, i'd like to see some more national monuments upgraded, but not everything needs to be a national park. Sometimes, it is better left as a USFS/BLM wilderness, or NRA. I always think Cuyahoga would have been better left as a NRA.

This reminds me of a quote:

“The motor tourist is a motor tourist. He sticks by the road. He can be concentrated because he refuses to be anything else, and concentration of crowds within definite selected areas means saving the vast bulk of the System’s wildernesses from trampling and deterioration.”

I agree, SMM; to clarify, it's the frontcountry that feels overdeveloped to me, but the crowds in each of those parks dissipate pretty quickly once one gets into the backcountry.

This to is an interesting discussion, your right justinh there are two sides here. The Sierra Nevada parks and wilderness areas, I feel, are not to crowed, but it is important to remember that that one reason why is the trailhead quote systems developed back in the early seventies by a NP scientist who is now a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the USGS. I think about this reservation system as it relates to other reservation systems proposed for the heavily used parks during peak visitation periods. Needless to say, it is an added trip planning effort, but it works extremely well. Of the some 75 plus trailheads in Yosemite, typically only 10 fill on a daily basis, so often times you can not get one of those trips but usually there is an alternative. The Half Dome cables, like the Whitney trail are exceptions. In any case, I am not sure all these proposed additional sites need to be National Parks, but the points being made are interesting.

Thank you for your interest in my project, but please allow me to speak to your issues with my project.

Not all places 'need' National Park status, I am merely pointing out places that are often lesser-known than, but equally interesting as the National Parks. That being said, Every president since since 1890 (excluding Truman and Nixon) have signed legislation creating a new National Park, so there will be more. I am only showing people a list of potential candidates before political or economic short-sightedness destorys them.

About "visitation, use, and commercialization" I would suggest that the the American landscape should be special to every American. Keeping these places only for our ourselfs is selfish and only endangers them in the long-run, as it's easier to sell off beautiful lands if only the traveling-elite know about them. They won't all become National Parks, but they should be celebrated with equal pride. Additionally, only the most famous parks have these problems. I've yet to hear one person complain about the commercialization of Capitol Reef, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Gongaree, Pinnacles, Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains, Theodore Roosevelt, Mesa Verde, Great Basin, Lassen Volcanic, etc...

Also, I'm absolutely sure that some things on this list will stand out to you as places you recognize well, especially if you're from that area, or travel frequently. It's easy for someone in New York to say the Adirondacks are well-known, but if you grew up on the west coast you might not have no idea what they look like... but you'd still be able to picture the Everglades, Redwood, or Death Valley because there is iconic imagery of them. That's what I'm trying to do here, give these places iconic imagery that we can all connect with, so these sites will be in our cultural consciousness with Yosemite Valley, Old Faithful, and the Grand Canyon.

Backcountry vs 'frontcountry' is an interesting problem, however I'm not advocating for making an army of new roads in these areas. 53 percent of National Park System lands are Wilderness Areas (43,890,500 acres, more than any other federal agency), and I see no reason this should change. People can visit these places without ruining them.

I'm also thrilled you've been to 31 of these sites, but the vast majority of people have not. I'm just trying to let others know about them, so it's not only you and I who get to enjoy them.

Thank you for taking the time to hear me out!

I tend to agree with you that just designating a place a National Park will not instantlly turn it into a Yosemite Valley. This is usually never the case. Many of the parks that have been upgraded since the late 80s are still not on many people's radar.

Yes, that designation alone doesn't mean that someone would selfishly build a house right up next to the national park or exploit the public land for a go kart track or theme park.

I think he should add the citico creek wilderness and slickrock wilderness to his list. It would be great if the Great Smokies National Park expanded the park boundary to include that region south of the park, and then the same rules and legistlation applied to the area. I"m going to have to talk to my buddy lamar about this.

zrfphoto, please excuse me being off tropic a little brining up reservations systems, I was still thinking about some previous posts. I think your proposed work is constructive, a real adventure, thank you for your explanation and best wishes.

I agree with dahkota; most of these places are better protected from development and more pleasant to visit by not being national parks.

Thought some might be interested in this very good article about pioneer Rangers at Arches, who, like myself, "...take a dim view of today’s Park Service ….According to [Lyle] Jamison, “the Park Service is bloated, overextended. Everybody has office jobs, and nobody is in the park. It’s just a big bureaucracy, and that’s a shame. It used to be we knew everybody in the Park Service; we were like a big family, and our paths crossed all the time. Now, it’s a faceless organization.”

Lloyd Pierson sees the day when the Park Service will have to split itself up into smaller units before it sinks under its own weight. “They need to break it up into Natural Areas, Historic Areas, and then these damn Recreation Areas. And stop transferring people back and forth between them. Pick your field of interest and stay in it. None of us who wanted to be in a natural area felt that working in some horrible place like Lake Powell was anything like a National Park."

“The other problem with the Park Service is their management attitude. They want to manage everything, and sometimes the best way to manage is to leave it alone. Sometimes you’ve just got to sit on your butt and not do a damn thing. Let Nature take its course … the Park Service doesn’t understand this."

I wish Zach great success on this project, however here are a few constructive comments that may improve it:

"The vast majority of pro photographers only shoot places you know well (e.g. Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon) because they know they can make money off them. " This is untrue and also slightly offensive.

"If this project is successful I may have to leave my comfortable job.": If you are a "professional photographer" as you claim, isn't photography your job already ? Or are you part of those "professional photographers" who don't make their living out of photography ? If so, why all this emphasis on "professional" ?

"The locations range from privately owned lands and American Indian reservations to state preserves and lesser-known Department of the Interior sites." What you call "Department of the Interior sites" are in fact NPS sites, which many consider to be "National Parks", so how could they become future National Parks ? And who decides if they are "lesser known ?" Your project would be a better contribution to conservation if it would include only lands which are not already federally protected.

Mr. Luong, I consider you an inspiration and appreciate you commenting (although it would have been more gratifying if you had spelled my name correctly). That being said, I agree that I've been somewhat hyperbolic in my statements, as I am trying to 'sell' the project to people who aren't as park-aware as you and I. Because of that I understand your viewpoint, but I also disagree with your comments.

I do find that the vast majority of photographers focus on iconic locations. There are many reasons for this; wanting to photograph the grandest sites, making money from their jobs, and physical limitations of reaching undeveloped areas. I object to the idea that photographers don't limit themselves for those reasons. You (and select others) are outliers, but most photographers simply don't have the ability to visit all of the lesser-known places.

I decided the places that I thought were "lesser-known" by looking at visitation, existing photography, and cultural-awareness by speaking to hundreds of travelers about their knowledge of the full American landscape. I'm sure not everyone will agree with all of my selections, as I would not fully agree with theirs. Still, this is my list and my personal opinion, which people are free to support of not. Even if you don't agree with every site, I'm confident anyone could learn of a new location from the areas included.

I strongly disagree that my "project would be a better contribution to conservation if it would include only lands which are not already federally protected." Federal, state, and private lands are protected and accessed differently based upon their designations. Several National Forests for example contain lands comparable to National Parks but they allow mining and logging. I don't feel that wanting to elevate sites deserving of 'National Park' designation is something to be ashamed of. In fact 'National Parks' regularly emerge from National Monument and National Forest lands, so history reflects my goal.

I used the phrase "Department of the Interior sites" because some of the sites are National Monuments, Forests, Reserves, Preserves, etc... so saying NPS sites wouldn't be accurate, as they do cover the entire Interior Department (and it was also the easiest way to summarize). The trip includes private, state, and Indian Reservation lands as well, so I don't think I was being disingenuous. However, there IS a difference between other Interior sites and "National Parks". They are protected differently for example and even the current NPS sites I listed could benefit from greater protection/interpretation/facilities.

As for my job, I work both as a photographer and videographer, including at my current job at the Smithsonian. I photographed landscapes for a decade until taking that job, and I still do photograph landscapes (although now in a lessened capacity). Shooting things other than landscapes doesn't make me "part of those 'professional photographers' who don't make their living out of photography". That is part of the reason for jumping back into landscapes with this project, and if it's successful I do risk losing that Smithsonian job.

As I'm very familiar with your work, I'm aware there are places on my list that you and other photographers I revere, simply have not photographed. I'm sure you've driven by Coal Mine Canyon a number of times, but I have yet to see any photos you've taken of it.

Please don't read any of this as a criticism of you, I merely wish to raise awareness of sites I believe are overlooked. No one in America can be aware of every amazing place, but hopefully my book (if the Kickstarter is a success) will help others, my generation in particular, enhance their knowledge of the natural environment.

Thank you for your interest in my project and I hope that I've made my thoughts and goals more clear. I honestly think we're just looking at this from two different perspectives, but If you still disagree with me I understand but at least I’ve had the opportunity to explain myself.

Thanks for clarification & sorry for mispelling. I am not going to argue further your statements about "pro" photographers, do what you'd like with suggestions. I still think it makes little sense to include NMs and other existing NPS sites in a book about sites worthy of NPS protection. In fact the level of protection of NMs & NPs is *exactly* the same. Case in point Pinnacles was sold to Congress as a mere name change.

With due respect, 19 of the 72 locations that will be in my book (the project says 54, but i've already photographed the rest so I didn't include them in the project) are in the NPS in some capacity. They are all sites that I think would benefit from being expanded. Pinnacles and possibly "Rim Rock Canyons" are being established as they are, without additional lands out of politics. That does not mean that they won't be expanded in the future, but expanision is much more likely as a NP than a NM. That's why NM's are included. The article above says "Potential To Be Included In National Park System" and that's not actually accurate... I'm writing about places that could instead be given the "National Park" designation along with the current 59. The book is only about the "National Park" designation and will represent my thoughts on sites that could be established over the next 150 years.

I also have lists of sites that could be established as new National Monument and Historic/Battlefield parks as well, but they are not the focus of this project.

Thanks again for hearing me out. I'm sure there is more area in which we agree, than disagree. I'm just trying to do my part for the parks.

> The article above says "Potential To Be Included In National Park System" and that's not actually accurate... I'm writing about places that could instead be given the "National Park" designation.

That's a significant difference, you should have pointed out earlier the mistake. Your list now makes more sense to me. Good luck on the project.

I'm glad the list makes sense now! If you know know anyone who might be interested please pass my project along to them. Thanks for your support and for wishing me luck!

The park system has $billions of maintanence backlog and you want to add/expand 72 units? As if taking pictures (which already existing by the thousands) would accomplish that.

Looks to me like you are just trying to get other people to pay for your summer vacation.

The funding issues are short-term problems when considered over the next 150 years. For example, 150 years ago we still had not established Yellowstone. This project is about a vision for the future, and I know that none of these sites will be made National Parks tomorrow. I'm going on this trip to inspire people to protect most of these overlooked natural wonders before our economic short-sightedneas turns them into oil feeds and pit mines. No one is currently trying to raise awareness for these sites, and thats the purpose of my project. this is certainly not a summer vacation.

The funding issues are short-term problems

Really? So what is your "short term" solution for fixing them?

I appreciate that you're interested in my project, however that's a very strange question and it appears you're looking for a fight. I'm happy to address questions about my project but I'm not able to predict the economic ebbs and flows of the next 150 years. My project is similar to the naturalists who campaigned for new parks in the 20th century, in that they didn't know how their beloved landscapes would be funded either, but it didn't stop them from dreaming of conservation.