Recent comments

  • Paying To Understand U.S. History in the National Park System   5 years 33 weeks ago


    Absolutely & dramatically, Olympic Nat'l Park is counting visitors multiple times. Furthermore & worse, I believe they are counting those who merely drive through at certain points, because the highway cuts through the Park.

    Specifically, I recently sought out the NPS statistics page for ONP and saw they break down the visitor count by month & major 'destination' within the Park. They list "Lake Crescent" as receiving a quarter million visits a month at peak season. This is an outrageous exaggeration of what the Lake Crescent facilities could accommodate. No, the vast majority of those people are simply driving past anything & everything at Lake Crescent, using the highway to get from point A to point B.

    And it gets worse. The highway that goes by Lake Crescent is virtually the only way to get from the West End of Olympic Peninsula to the East End ... were all the main lumber mills and all the log export is located ... while the great bulk of logging takes place on the West End. Since the Park is evidently using a traffic-counter on the highway to count 'visitors', they are counting logging trucks and multiple forms of business traffic, plus quite hefty portions of local residents traveling back & forth (a delightful part & circumstance of the lifestyle here).

    On the Olympic Peninsula, logging trucks make 2-3 trips from west to east each workday and are in all likelihood counted as a 'visitor' 4 to 6 times each day!

    I see no reason to doubt that other Parks are not likewise enthusiastically padding & spinning their visitor-count. I would not be surprised if the 'error' at ONP is a full order of magnitude. RoadRanger's figure of 50 million could be twice too high.

    If any are interested, I will find & post the link to the NPS stats page again, but I have to get off to work now.

  • Paying To Understand U.S. History in the National Park System   5 years 33 weeks ago

    Re Kurt's comments on the 275 million or so visitors in the parks last year. Those who support fees as a means of significant funds for park budgets need to keep in mind that this figure counts visits, not visitors. Does the NPS have any idea how many individuals made multiple recreation visits to parks last year? I'd say we probably have more like 50 million Americans that make at least one visit to a national park in any given year. That figure may be high, I simply don't know. When you run these smaller numbers with the $2.4 billion budget, that American the Beautiful pass at $80 is beyond reasonable.

    I believe this is a valuable way to measure interest in parks, potential constituency, etc. Urban parks with significant recreation components - C&O Canal, Chattahoochee River, Timucuan, Golden Gate, Gateway, etc. - could easily have thousands of visitors who make 200-300 or more visits to a park in a year. In the last twenty years, several of our smaller historic parks in urban and suburban settings have watched the primary reason for visiting the place shift from "history" to "recreation." That translates into a huge increase in multiple annual visits by a small group of individuals. I'd like to know the impact of this shift on Gettysburg's usage. I suspect it is growing, but will be tempered by an increase in use - and an improved revenue stream - when the buffs visit during the CW Sesquicentennial.

  • Paying To Understand U.S. History in the National Park System   5 years 33 weeks ago

    This Libertarian approach equates the National Park System with your local Wal-Mart or Wall Street enterprise, and it never was intended to be.

    I must respectfully disagree. (And may I ask that you use the small-l "libertarian" here to distinguish between the political party and the philosophy?). The libertarian philosophy of land management does not advocate managing parks for the profit of shareholders or a private family. Rather, libertarian philosophy advocates cutting political influence and encourages park management to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining; historically, at least one national park was meant to be self-sustaining. In 1914, William Steele, "father" and superintendent of Crater Lake National Park, wrote:

    The frequent changes of administration in this Government, together with the unsatisfactory condition in which the national park service is left by Congress, are so pronounced that capitalists are unwilling to advance funds on park concessions in amounts adequate to their needs. . . . Under such conditions it seems to me imperative that the General government acquire possession of all hotels and other permanent improvements of a private nature within the parks. . . . This would be an important step toward making the parks self-sustaining, which they should be. With the road system completed, this revenue, together with that received from automobiles, would make the Crater Lake Park self-sustaining from the start . . .

    Of course, Will Steele, was a bit of a development nut. He advocated a road inside the Crater Lake caldera and a road up Wizard Island as well as a parking lot on top of Mt. Scott, so . . .

    But my larger point is that at the early 20th century, the overall goal seemed to emphasize a self-sustaining nature of national parks:

    Roosevelt's Bureau of the Budget in 1935 instructed the Service to develop a fee structure for all the national parks and the national monuments as well, the object being to make the National Park System more nearly self-sustaining.

    I've seen historical evidence in the other parks I've worked that parks were originally intended to be self-sustaining, although I do not have access to those resources. So, I don't think that the claim that parks should be dependent on federal funding holds much historical weight.

  • Paying To Understand U.S. History in the National Park System   5 years 33 weeks ago

    Two words: Corporate Sponsorship. Anyone been to a sports stadium lately? Who wouldn't want to visit the "Frito Lay National Military Park at Gettysburg"? Or perhaps "General Motors National Park"? (It's in Maine. The tallest mountain there is already named for a GM brand.)

    -Kirby.....Lansing, MI

  • Paying To Understand U.S. History in the National Park System   5 years 33 weeks ago

    Sounds good Frank....until you work the economies of scale, no? You're not talking about one or two locations, a city zoo here, or an art museum there.

    At last count there were 391 units of the park system (and countless more in the incubation chamber we call Congress). The Park Service's annual budget, at last tally, was around $2.4 billion/year. There were roughly 275 million visitors to the parks last year.

    A rough estimation -- and correct my math, please, if necessary -- is that each of those 275 million visitors would have to pay around $875 a year to meet that $2.4 billion. We're not just talking adults, either; we're talking teens, tweens, and toddlers. Family of six? That'd be $5,250 for your annual parks membership. Kinda makes that $80 America the Beautiful Pass seem downright reasonable, doesn't it?

    And then, of course, there are the parks that don't have large visitations and yet still have to pay the bills year-round for their infrastructure. How do they pay the bills? Or do you sell them off? If so, to whom? Who would want them if they can't be self-sufficient? Mining and logging companies perhaps, or gateway communities.

    Sure, I suppose you could have federal taxes pay part, but not all, the bills, but how do you come up with that formula?

    Part of the problem I see is that if you start charging folks not just to come through the entrance gate and to pitch a tent but also to hike this trail or that trail, to paddle on that lake or down that river, or pay a membership fee, ala the local country club, you are indeed going to create an elitist preserve. It's going to be so elitist, in fact, with the dropoff in visitation, that the parks decommissoning commission will be back in a heartbeat.

    This Libertarian approach equates the National Park System with your local Wal-Mart or Wall Street enterprise, and it never was intended to be.

    I would much rather see Congress bite the bullet and adequately fund the parks. How they do it in the end is up to them. Put all the money in the appropriations bill, create endowment funds that individuals and corporate partners could contribute to, start a national lottery with ticket sales going to the parks for five years, and then the interstate highways for five years, and on and on, whatever.

    The problems I see with charging more and more and bigger and bigger fees to fund the parks is 1) it's never going to be equitable across the 391-unit board, 2) it puts the parks out of reach for a larger and larger segment of the population and, 3) the resultant decline in visitation will force those fees to grow at a more and more rapid pace.

  • Plague Kills Many Prairie Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets in Grasslands Near Badlands National Park   5 years 33 weeks ago

    Nope, missed the sarcasm completely due mainly to multiple references in prior threads pertaining to the same culprit as the basis for all the world's ills, along with the same self-righteous fool of an ex-VP being touted as the "hero" of the planet. Global warming advocates consistently point to carbon dioxide as the sole evil, which is by far not accurate, and also quote the Goremeister chapter and verse without any qualification or background on the matter, just parroting his position as though the research was their own. The planet is cyclical, like it or not, and unfortunately the "how, why and when" behind the process of it's timing to shift magnetic poles, alter orbital paths or axis orientation along with multiple other factors are not currently within the comprehension of mankind. Alas, it becomes a sensitive arena within which to open a conversation.

    I offer my sincere apologies to any offended contributors. But I don't recant my position.

  • Paying To Understand U.S. History in the National Park System   5 years 33 weeks ago

    National park funding should be switched from tax-based to one that is at least partially user supported. The current double-dipping system is unfair, though. Shouldn't be able to have it both ways.

    At the summit of Devil's Rest, I asked my friend, a retired ranger, if he would pay to hike the trail we'd just enjoyed, and he said he would pay $10 or $15 to hike it. I, too, would pay. Some of the people who hiked the lower part of the trail, the Wahkeena #420 trail, might not willing to do so, but as an elitist, that's acceptable to me. It might exclude people like the guy who was heavily intoxicated and drinking beer near Fairy Falls. "I had a long week landscaping," he slurred as I passed. I sure hope that guy made it down the slippery trail without plummeting to his death. (But on a more serious note, I think that if anyone can pay to drive to the National Scenic Area, they can probably pay an entrance fee. And perhaps the entrance fee can be flexible, a "suggested donation as it is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.)

    I also asked my friend, "Wouldn't it be great if you could buy a membership to an individual park or a system of parks? What if that membership came with voting rights so that you could vote for the board of directors of that park or the system?" He liked the idea.

    What if such memberships could fund a substantial portion of a park's budget? I would gladly pay hundreds of dollars a year to be a contributing member, like I do for the Oregon Zoo or the Portland Art Museum. If that membership came with voting privileges, I'd pay even more. Wouldn't you be willing to do this to fund our national parks?

    I agree with the contributors who suggest piecemeal user fees. It's commonplace in portions of Europe I've visited. All fees should supplement the membership revenue described above and go directly toward park operations.

    It works for zoos and museums. It works for the Tower of London, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is governed by an unpaid board of trustees. It could work for national parks.

  • Plague Kills Many Prairie Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets in Grasslands Near Badlands National Park   5 years 33 weeks ago

    Actually the extended allergy season has nothing to do with goldenrod. The pollen of goldenrod is too large to be carried by the wind and cause allergies. The real culprit is likely ragweed.

  • The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial You See Over There By the Tidal Basin Is Not the Original   5 years 33 weeks ago

    My aunt last year gave me a locally-published small book about the history of the logging community & industry on the "West End" of the Olympic Peninsula (NW Washington State). The book and all the stories & (many!) photographs are centered around the slightly-legendary town of Forks (where she lives and I was born).

    Prominent in this delightful book is the story of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt coming through in the 1930s on a tour of the Olympic Peninsula.

    An interesting story and attendant photo relate a plan by the local booster-squad to do something special for the President. They wanted his motorcade to stop along the road, where they would demonstrate the topping of a large, tall tree (to make a natural spar).

    The President's managers nixed the plan. No, it is too dangerous for the President to be halted at a prearranged location. Evil-doers would then know where to find him, immobilized.

    So the local enthusiasts found a way to halt the motorcade at a previously undetermined location - that is, they neglected to inform the Secret Service about it. With the President stopped, they would then put on a show for him.

    Roosevelt was scheduled to make a side-trip to the Quileute tribe village of La Push. This involved going past the Rayonier timber company rail sorting yard. At a rail-sort they had hundreds of rail car loads of logs, and they would "sort" them into separate trains consisting of sensible lots of product. Basically, it means moving numerous trains back & forth a short distance. Move train A out of the way a short distance and park it briefly, then move train B into the position previously occupied by A, then move train C ... and so on. Could go on for hours. Sorting & shuffling cars in & out of the different trains as ya go.

    The road that went past the sorting yard was frequently blocked by a train of log-cars parked just outside the yard. Sure enough, when Roosevelt's motorcade wound along the little road to La Push - here was a train sitting across the road. Imagine that.

    And moreover, in the adjacent timber-stand, here was a big, isolated tree with a climber high up, cutting out the top. When you cut the top out of a big tree, the combination of lateral thrust from the toppling top, and the windage-resistance from all the foliage, pushes the long, tall & cleanly-stripped spar-trunk sidewise quite some distance. As the top falls away, the bare spar then whipsaws back & forth quite dramatically ... with the tree-climber & faller roped to the very top of it (generally hollering, waving his hat, etc).

    The President's men were having fits. They could not find anyone to get the train off the road. But Franklin was having a fine time, watching the show. It was gradually becoming evident that the boys from Washington (D.C.) had been had. Then Roosevelt exacerbated the situation by demanding, "Bring me that man!". And so he was, of course - shaking hands with the President, the two sharing great big smiles.

    With the cameras popping away and media-hacks (Where did these guys come from?!) getting their scoop. Then the train obligingly rolled aside, and the tour continued on to La Push.

    A prize photograph on the cover of the book.

    This was, of course, FDR's inspection for the proposed Olympic National Park.

  • Plague Kills Many Prairie Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets in Grasslands Near Badlands National Park   5 years 33 weeks ago


    For sure, I took your sarcasm hook-line-and-sinker. ;-)

    The reason I did, of course, is:

    • Going by Anonymous, I have no idea who's talking, and...
    • ... I read identical (but earnest!) language every day!

  • Plague Kills Many Prairie Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets in Grasslands Near Badlands National Park   5 years 33 weeks ago


    I most certainly hope that the referenced statement does NOT come from a previous background or current program of study in biological sciences. My reference is specific to the position that had I been reviewing a thesis related to topics in virology, E&E research, pathogenic microbiology, biochemistry, molecular or genetic research on the specific pathogen mentioned in the article or other subject matter akin to communicable diseases in the rodent species on North America I would have most certainly not conferred upon the applicant the advanced degree that they were seeking. Even though my personal experience was with an advisor who wasn't above keeping things light-hearted in the lab during difficult times, by the same token he also made sure the research projects were directed such that we didn't tangentially alter our thought processes when things went awry. And the above quotation from anon would have most assuredly qualified as thought processes gone awry, unsubstantiated by common sense, current publications or conventional wisdom within the field of knowledge.

    No, it didn't strike a chord with me as though the statement came directly or indirectly from anyone's program of study. Thank God.

  • Plague Kills Many Prairie Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets in Grasslands Near Badlands National Park   5 years 33 weeks ago

    Perhaps you didn't recognize the sarcasm! Everything bad gets blamed on global warming and my comments were intended to be tongue and cheek. In fact in VA they recently attributed the extended goldenrod season and resultant elevated allergies on global warming - egad! Actually, Bob wrote a pretty good article on the plague effecting the prairie dogs & ferrets and I should have left it at that. Sorry, Bob.

    "To what evidence do you attribute this lame-brained notion, that the sporadic / periodic appearance of virulent diseases is a man-made event, or a phenomenon with direct correlations to atmospheric conditions?"

  • Paying To Understand U.S. History in the National Park System   5 years 33 weeks ago

    As science fiction great Heinlen said, TANSTAFL, There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. I might accept that there is a compelling interest for the government to set aside area deemed special for historical, geological/ecological, or aesthetic reasons (although I'm not sure where the Constitution gives it authority to do so), but as a basic rule:

    People should pay for what they use. It makes no sense to charge a tax-payer who never goes to the parks for their upkeep.


  • At Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Presidio Trust Ponders Where to Put a New Art Museum   5 years 33 weeks ago

    On August 28 the Landmark Advisory Board declared the site on the parade ground of the Main Post "would not be compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features of the historic Main Post buildings, and would therefore violate the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards."

  • Plague Kills Many Prairie Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets in Grasslands Near Badlands National Park   5 years 33 weeks ago

    Lone Hiker, I'm a bit puzzled by that reference to "your dissertation." What makes you think that the (anonymous) person who made that statement has a doctorate or is working on one?

  • Is Technology Compatible With The National Park Wilderness Experience?   5 years 33 weeks ago

    I think it falls on each of us to determine what experience we want in the backcountry. I just don't want some do-gooder, thinking they know better than anyone else, pushing for a rule to prohibit us from taking along things I think will make the experience more enjoyable for me. Two weeks ago, while backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (up by Da Yoopers!), my wife took along her Creative Zen to listen to some music. She never turned it on all week. There is just too much to do, see, and hear. Besides, she probably couldn't hear it anyway above her breathing as we went uphill, downhill, etc.

    I do, however, draw a line where safety is concerned. We took along the PLB, a weather radio, GPS, compass, water filter, etc. We did take along a cell phone to use as an alarm clock and, if possible, make a call to the daughter to say "Guess where we are and you aren't?" But as expected, no signal.

    If I wanted to really rough it like they did in the old days, I would have joined my mom and dad when they attened their buckskinner encampments. In pre-tech days, there were fewer people and fewer rules. I would have taken a horse where horses are no longer allowed. I would have hunted along the trail for food where hunting is not allowed. I would have been able to drink from streams where I now need to filter the water.

    Noise from other campers is usually not a problem in the back country. Trees, hills, etc., really limit noise. But I expect to never hear music from another campsite and if I do, I may have to get my axe out of my pack and put on a hockey mask!

  • Glacier National Park Officials Plan to Scale Down Search for Missing Hiker   5 years 33 weeks ago

    Anonymous (Sept. 1);

    It seems to me that "risk" & "daring" are important parts of the overall formula that attracts many visitors to our Park venues.

    See for example the recently-revived Considering a Hike Up Half Dome? post, in which a fairly dramatic risk-component draws rather average tourists onto terrain one would think more suited to real (and well-equipped) mountain climbers.

    I expect many would balk, at any systematic & effective approach to risk-curtailment.

  • Plague Kills Many Prairie Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets in Grasslands Near Badlands National Park   5 years 33 weeks ago

    Anonymous queries:

    "What dreadful man made act has caused this plague."
    The Wikipedia Misanthropy entry defines & describes it as:
    "... a general dislike, distrust, or hatred of the human species or a disposition to dislike and/or distrust other people. ... A misanthrope or misanthropist is a person who dislikes or distrusts humanity as a general rule."
    Our English word for it comes from the Greek civilization, over 2,000 years ago. Other cultures & languages have their own words for the same thing. The phenomenon of misanthropy has been plainly visible to & described by alert observers since the advent of organized societies.

    Green/Liberalism, environmental activists, and especially the concern for anthropogenic climate change have taken on increasingly dramatic & strident tones of misanthropy in recent years. In former decades, the preferred distinction of an environmentalist was to be a fine naturalist, but today it is considered more conventional & distinguished to style oneself as a warrior against humanity.

    The Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition displays strong misanthropic themes. Mankind is fallen. Man is in sin. All must repent. Humankind must be punished. Environmentalism is not "religion", but is has increasingly taken on several of the peculiarities & liabilities of it.

    It is hard to explain the prevalence & persistence of misanthropy, considering that it is patently a psychological & emotional disability. In this sense, it resembles a less-debilitating analogy to schizophrenia, in that it is a very widespread & common mental infirmity, or disease, which we would expect to be reduced to a much-lower incidence, by naturalistic processes.

    Like other diseases, misanthropy ebbs & flows. There are times when it seems to have been in recession, while at other times we see it sweeping through the prairie dog colonies of human society, laying waste not so much to bodies & lives, but to the institutions that are the weave & warp of our culture.

    Fascinating natural phenomenon, misanthropy.

  • Plague Kills Many Prairie Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets in Grasslands Near Badlands National Park   5 years 33 weeks ago

    It appears that the rampant global warming that we have caused by our abuses has bought some time forre the treatment process.

    If I had read this statement in your dissertation, your defense would have failed immediately and I would have ousted you from the program. To what evidence do you attribute this lame-brained notion, that the sporadic / periodic appearance of virulent diseases is a man-made event, or a phenomenon with direct correlations to atmospheric conditions? Does your philosophy simultaneously apply across the continents, also laying blame for the epidemics of Marburg and Ebola at the feet of "global warming"? Am I to assume that, since the disease didn't actually exist with any prevalence prior to the mid-60's, that the HIV epidemic is global warming in origin as well? As is mersa, no doubt. To which specific branch of biological sciences do you attribute your degree sir / madam, and might I ask, which distinguished and learned institution of higher education is responsible for fostering these notions within the confines of their programs? Your claims are not only baseless, they are outright laughable, as is the Tennessee lunatic who touts his beliefs above all mankind and preaches conservation while wasting more personally than a community can save annually. Go ahead, send Al the data, and let him produce another movie. Maybe the folks at Sundance will see fit to have it nominated for Best Amateur Comedy of the Year.

    Just when you think you've heard everything.

  • Creature Feature: The Red-Throated Loon   5 years 33 weeks ago

    It took me a bit to find your wonderful site! I too have been trying to find out which birds were habituating the lake my husband and I went camping at this year and last year. I was sure the two birds I have been seeing were loons, but the sounds they made and the red eyes and chest were what kept throwing me off. I am now glad to see that we were right in assuming they were loons. I just spent the 2nd to last week in August at the lake(Huston Lake, Vancouver Island, BC) and there were only the two loons. I was wondering if there should have been young or not with them. I did not see anymore than the two that were there. Great website!! Thankyou.

  • Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historical Site Commemorates a Great Achievement in Early Transportation   5 years 33 weeks ago

    Thanks for putting this article on your site. This is an interesting location to visit if you have not been there. Although not in a heavily traveled area, it is worth the stop to see the ingenuity employed at by the people at that time to solve the problem discussed in the article above. There is much other history in the area of Gallitzin and Altoona, including the the Railroader Museum in Altooona and the famous Horseshoe Curve built by the Pennsylvania RR and opened in 1854. That engineering feat was the reason the inclined plane system was no longer needed.

  • Glacier National Park Officials Plan to Scale Down Search for Missing Hiker   5 years 33 weeks ago

    In the future a hiker chould be required to carry a GPS unit that gives off a signal in case they need to be located. It could require a deposit with a refund upon return. This isn't really an invasion of privacy but a matter of safety for the hiker and those who come to the search and rescue effort.

  • Plague Kills Many Prairie Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets in Grasslands Near Badlands National Park   5 years 33 weeks ago

    Calling plague a bad thing, or laying blame on humans for causing/worsening it, takes us into very tricky ground. Sylvatic plague -- called "sylvatic" because it infects wild animals, not domesticated ones -- is endemic in the prairies. Because this virulently infectious and relentlessly lethal disease is a natural phenomenon, not something that was introduced by human activities, we need to recognize that it has evolved and persisted because it serves a worthwhile purpose. (Ecologists know for dead certain that natural processes are very, very strongly disposed to rid the earth of species whose existence does not support other forms of life in some useful way.)

    It's plain to see what's going on here. Plague emerges in prairie dog towns periodically, kills nearly all of the susceptible animals it infects, and then subsides or goes dormant until prairie dogs and other vulnerable species become numerous enough to support another major outbreak. Viewed dispassionately, plague is simply one of nature's tools for pruning populations that grow too large and create too much ecosystem disorder (described as excessive disruptions in energy flow and matter exchange). It may be one hell of a mental stretch to say that "plague is our friend," but plague is unquestionably good for the prairie dog population (a high-biotic potential species whose numbers must be kept in check one way or another) and good for the biosphere that nurtures us.

    As for the rate at which the disease spreads, and the areas that may be impacted by plague, humans may indeed have something to do with that, though not necessarily what you think. If human activities have indeed contributed to global warming, as many scientists insist, prolonging the warm and dry conditions in the prairies may actually slow, not accelerate, the spread of sylvatic plague. Of course, if human activities somehow increase the duration of cooler and moister conditions, the opposite effect can be expected.

    It gets even more complicated than that. Insecticide spraying campaigns that target the fleas that spread the disease may dampen or even prevent the spread of the disease to new areas. This is bound to have some negative effects as well as positive ones. That's because killing disease-carrying fleas to protect black-footed ferrets prevents the plague from performing its prairie-dog culling role in areas that need it. Eventually, that kind of human interference with natural processes has a backlash effect (translation: dangerously too-large prairie dog populations).

    Humans can also contribute to the spread of sylvatic plague by accidentally or intentionally introducing the disease vector (animals harboring disease-bearing fleas) to new areas.

    When I consider all of these things, it's hard for me to conclude that there's anything dreadful going on here, but I'll freely admit that I do get a bit nervous about the unintended consequences of the insecticide spraying campaign we've initiated to protect black-footed ferrets. Let's hope that those in charge of this spraying program understand that its impacts should be kept to to the absolute minimum needed to protect those ferrets.

  • Plague Kills Many Prairie Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets in Grasslands Near Badlands National Park   5 years 33 weeks ago

    What dreadful man made act has caused this plague. It appears that the rampant global warming that we have caused by our abuses has bought some time forre the treatment process. Please send former VP Gore the information so he can use it in his next movie.

  • Paying To Understand U.S. History in the National Park System   5 years 33 weeks ago

    Interesting that this post came up when it did. My wife and I are retired NPS with over 65 years of combined experience. Our children grew up in and love the parks. Yesterday, our son and his fiancee drove from Potomac, Maryland to Shenandoah NP to enjoy a dinner and a day on Skyline Drive. When they found out they had to pay $15 to enter the park, they went elsewhere to enjoy the scenery - there's plenty of it outside the park - and their dinner - probably $100 to $140. Trust me, they can more than afford a $15 entrance fee. In response to why they balked, my son said they visited in early spring this year and got in for free. Why pay in the summer when its so crowded? I think he has a point, and it illustrates just one of many issues regarding park fees. I'll make two points about them.

    First, I think the park and recreation fee program has become unnecessarily complex and confusing, partly because the NPS has done such a poor job of defining its core responsibilities. Perhaps the entrance station should be the point where we simply contact every visitor entering the park by handing them a brochure and a menu of services. Let them get inside for free, then pay for services as they are used. Certainly makes the park more accessible. Obviously, an entrance fee that funds all park operations is unrealistic. There are very few questions here that a thorough, professional, independent, multi-million dollar marketing analysis won't answer. It would be a great place to start.

    Marketing analysis lies at the heart of my second point. In 2008, and the current technological environment, any park that expects to "cover the costs" of a $102 million interpretive/resource management investment by charging $8 to see a 22 minute movie does not understand the tourism, recreation, and museum industries. If they paid for an analysis, it was seriously flawed. The NPS and its partners - state and local governments too - have a long and storied history of this egomania, then passing on the debt to taxpayers when the projects falter. I saw it in Washington early in my career when we literally raped Union Station to create a National Visitor Center, and later with the "audio-animatronic" museum at Chick-Chat. Western Maryland's Rocky Gap Resort (in a state park) is a prime example of a financial disaster for state taxpayers if it can't be rescued by hundreds of slot machines as a last resort - sorry 'bout that. There are many other examples in and outside the Service, as well as some close calls. Just Google "museums financial problems" if you would like see a list of major museums that are closing or threatened with closing.

    Friends, I don't even know all the questions, let alone the answers. What I do know is the NPS needs to do a much better job of understanding its guests, why they do and do not visit, and market mission-based experiences based on individual needs. In addition, the Service needs to understand that "build it and they will come" works only when it is verified by that thorough, professional. independent, expensive marketing analysis I mentioned earlier. Doing Choosing By Advantages and patting everybody on the back when you're done won't cut it.