Plight of the Parks

The Yellowstone Precedent

As the latest decision on permitting snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park draws to conclusion, the question of the impact that decision will have comes up. To those closely following the issue, the National Park Service's stance could have devastating effects across not just the park system, but over all public lands.

House Resources Considers Legislation To Increase National Park Properties

The House Natural Resources Committee today is considering legislation that calls for studies to determine whether the national park system should grow even larger and whether the National Trails System should be expanded.

Mountain Bikers Encouraged to Seek Access to Rocky Mountain National Parks

The International Mountain Bicycling Association has a friend in the National Park Service's Intermountain regional director, Michael Snyder. In a recent memo to park superintendents in his region, Mr. Snyder says IMBA can provide "some great partnership ... that you may want to take advantage of."

New Orleans Businesses Want National Park Service to Stop Free Tours

Long one of the beauties of a national park visit have been the ranger-led tours, tours that traditionally have been free. While some parks sadly are beginning to charge for interpretive tours, others aren't moving in that direction quickly enough to suit some in private enterprise.

Lyle Laverty Confirmed as Assistant Interior Secretary Over National Parks

Lyle Laverty; Denver Post photo.
Lyle Laverty was somewhat quietly confirmed by the U.S. Senate as an assistant Interior secretary with responsibilities that include policy oversight for the National Park Service. But how quiet will his term be?

Big Cypress National Preserve: The Latest Battleground Over ORVs in the Parks

In the not-too-distant future the swampy landscape of Big Cypress National Preserve will become a key battlefield over off-road vehicle use on the national park system.

Is New Jersey Delegation Unduly Forcing Great Falls of Paterson Park on NPS?

USGS Photo
I grew up in New Jersey, so I have no qualms about questioning the efforts by the Garden State's congressional delegation to force the National Park Service to add a waterfall to its collection of sites. This is just the latest instance of politicians simply looking to bring the Park Service brand closer to home for economic benefits.

Kids Detached From Nature? Here's One Example

The Boring Woods of Sequoia Kings
Think electronics aren't getting in the way of kids and nature? While it might not be true in every nook and cranny of the country, it is happening in some areas. Take California, for instance. Tommy Nguyen told the San Francisco Chronicle trees are pretty boring.

Groups Sue Cape Hatteras National Seashore Over ORV Traffic

Southern Environmental Law Center photo.
Back in July I predicted that the managers of Cape Hatteras National Seashore would be sued for allowing off-road vehicles to navigate the seashore without a valid ORV management plan in place. Well, that lawsuit has arrived in court.

NPS Director Bomar Not Inclined to Overturn Yellowstone's Snowmobile Backing

NPS Director Mary Bomar; NPS Photo
The fate of the snowmobile issue in Yellowstone National Park likely will turn on how the science conducted the past three winters in the park is interpreted. National Park Service Director Mary Bomar sides with those who say science indicates snowmobiles can be used in the park without harming the resource.

Is America Failing the World's National Parks Movement?

Alvaro Ugalde; Slate photo by Natalie Angier
"America's Best Idea." It is a mantra that has been repeated for decades when talk turns to the United States' national park system, an idea that some proudly say has been exported around the world. But during the National Park Foundation's Leadership Summit in Austin, Texas, at least one participant voiced concern that America is failing the global national parks movement.

Parks Philanthropy: It Shouldn't Only Be About Bricks and Mortar

National Park Foundation Leadership Summit
Thank you Morton Meyerson. In case anyone at the National Park Foundation's Leadership Summit on Partnership and Philanthropy was wondering, giving to the national parks shouldn't be focused solely on brick and mortar projects.

National Park Foundation Leadership Summit: What Will it Foster?

National Park Foundation Leadership Summit
Does Autumn not exist in Austin, Texas? I left drizzle and 45 degrees in Park City, Utah, yesterday morning, and here in Austin it might as well be mid-summer, with the highs approaching 90 degrees. Is that a good atmosphere for incubating "the next century of our parks"?

PEER: Centennial Challenge Might Exacerbate Park Service's Backlog Woes

I've previously written that the Bush administration's proposed Centennial Initiative appears to pay little attention to the National Park Service's ballooning $8 billion maintenance backlog. Some others are beginning to notice that, too.

Yellowstone Snowmobiles: Has Apathy Arrived?

Yellowstone National Park; 'oh_candy' photo via Flickr.
Run a breathtaking, and alarming, video of brown bears about to be slaughtered and there's an outpouring of emotion, angst, and vitriol against the National Park Service for allowing such a hunt. Mention that the National Park Service is fully behind snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, where science has demonstrated they're a blight on the landscape, and there's a collective shrug of the shoulders. Has apathy settled in on this issue?

NPS' Washington Headquarters Supports Snowmobiles in Yellowstone

Yellowstone Snowmobiles, March 2000; Photo, Jim Peaco NPS
The decision by Yellowstone National Park officials that up to 540 snowmobiles a day should be allowed in the park come winter is supported by the National Park Service's Washington headquarters, which more than likely means another round of court battles is in the offing.

Opposition Mounting to Higher Entrance Fee At Olympic National Park

Ca Ching!; Don Melanson photographer.
A trend seems to be developing in the West against higher entrance fees in the national parks. Already Yosemite and Crater Lake national parks and Lava Beds National Monument have had fee increases spiked, and now the folks around Olympic National Park are complaining about a proposed increase there.

Will Greatness Mark the National Park Service's Next Century?

Toward the Centennial. National Parks Traveler illustration, Mather photo from NPS Historic Photograph Collection
Is the National Park Service's Centennial Initiative as "audacious" as Director Mary Bomar claims it to be? Will it truly prepare the agency for its second century, or is it lacking in its current form some critical aspects that are necessary for the Park Service to attain greatness as protector of arguably the world's best park system?
Pitcaithley Centennial Essay.pdf125.78 KB

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park: A World Heritage Site in Danger?

Montana's two U.S. senators are seeking to have the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park declared a World Heritage Site in Danger because of proposed energy development near the headwaters of the Flathead River. This is just the latest flare-up over how British Columbia officials are managing energy development near the two national parks.

Public Lands Day. Wahoo.

Well, it's "Public Lands Day," which means you can get into your favorite national park for free. Newspapers across the country are heralding this rare event, but I find it hard to jump on the bandwagon. Frankly, I wish they'd focus on the substantial issues the national park system is facing.

GOP's Fred Thompson Open To Drilling In Parks for Oil

The silliness of the 2008 presidential campaign has finally made it to the national park system, and in a very bizarre way. During a recent stop in Florida, Republican Fred Thompson allowed that he'd support drilling for oil in Everglades National Park if major reserves were found there.

Death Valley Looking to Electronic Rangers to Raise Money, Lure Younger Generations

Did you hear about the "electronic rangers" you can now rent in Death Valley National Park? For $15 a day these gadgets, which you place on your rig's dashboard, will give you a guided tour of the park. Park officials hope these devices, among other things, will generate a new revenue stream for Death Valley.

NPS Snowmobile Plan for Yellowstone, Grand Teton Bucks Science, the Public, and Itself

Yellowstone Snowmobiles, March 2000; Photo, Jim Peaco NPS
Yellowstone National Park planners seem to have shunted aside science, the public, even their own management guidelines, in their desire to see more snowmobiles in the park by backing a final Environmental Impact Statement on snowmobile use that favors more of the machines in the park than have been in use in recent years. Yet to be seen is whether Park Service Director Mary Bomar will override Yellowstone officials.

Centennial Projects: Mountain Biking in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend's Lone Mountain; photo by Jeff Blaylock, used with permission.
Among the 201 projects "certified" to meet the criteria for celebrating the National Park Service's centennial in 2016 is one to establish a dual-use, hiking and mountain biking trail in Big Bend National Park in Texas. What seems odd, though, is that this project made the list at a time when the Park Service is in the middle of a five-year study examining mountain bike use in the park system.

GAO: Interior Failed to Provide Park Service With Tools To Cope With Climate Change

Folks for some time have realized that there's something going on with the climate, and whether you believe it's human-caused or cyclical is besides the point. What's key is how we react to it. And the federal government's Government Accountability Office says the Interior Department has failed to adequately help the National Park Service react to those changes.

Grand Teton Bears, Update

I recently was wondering how many citations Grand Teton National Park rangers have handed out to folks for either feeding bears or making food available to them. Well, so far this year 43 warnings have been written, along with 63 citations.

Centennial Projects: Do They All Prepare the National Parks for the Next 100 Years?

National Park Service Centennial Logo
A $12 million jazz museum. Marketing the parks for a specific industry. Installing composting toilets. These are some of the centennial projects that the National Park Service believes will "add sparkle to America's 'Crown Jewels.'" Am I the only one wondering how?
Summary-of-Park-Centennial-Strategies-1.pdf293.14 KB

At Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, The Facilities Seem Almost as Old as the Fossils

Though the facilities at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument aren't as old as the fossils the site protects, at times it seems like they are.

The Park Service's Historic Buildings Can Be Saved Without Resorting to Leases

It's no secret that I've been troubled by the National Park Service's seemingly quick reliance on the private sector to preserve historic buildings on its properties. The agency's ongoing efforts to allow a private developer to lease three dozen buildings at Fort Hancock in Gateway National Recreation Area are being done in the name of preservation. Yet there are parks that are managing restoration without resorting to privatization.

Are Car Campers An Endangered Species in National Parks?

Generations of Americans got their first taste of national parks via car camping, that venerable tradition of driving to a park and setting up a tent or two in a roadside campground. That genre of park visitation seems to be slipping these days, though, and at least one car camping veteran blames it on economics -- there's more money to be made in lodgings than campgrounds.
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