Recent comments

  • Archaeological Survey At Big South Fork River National River and Recreation Area   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Your comment about the challenges posed to such surveys by the thick vegetation reminded me of a comment by a ranger who worked for me at Lake Mead. He was a geologist by training, and had spent his entire life in the West. He was sent "back East" for some training, and sent us a post card with the following observation:

    "I think there's some interesting geology out here, but I can't tell - it's all covered up with trees!"

    Jim B

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Rick Smith had an excellent take on this question in his post above. This issue has been around as long as there have been parks. Finding a balance between protecting visitors while allowing them to experience a park will always be a challenge, and budget limits are a big factor.

    For better or worse, some of those decisions are lawsuit driven; when something goes wrong, it's probably typical of most large organizations to try to prevent a repeat occurrence. Managers and the agency solicitors (lawyers) don't want to be seen as irresponsible or uncaring when someone is hurt or dies, and the solicitors in particular don't want to lose a lawsuit if the same problem occurs again.

    Here's one example: Not long before I worked at Lake Mead back in the 1970's, a tragic accident occurred when a youngster on an ATV was riding cross-country in the desert, was driving too fast to react to the terrain ahead, and drove off into an open, vertical mine pit. If memory serves correctly, the family had been warned by a ranger not to ride in the area, but did so anyway. In the wake of that accident, the park invested a huge amount of time and money in an attempt to locate and fence "all" of the abandoned mines in a very large park - given the rugged terrain, an almost impossible task, but the effort was made. That area is riddled with abandoned mines - some vertical shafts, some horizontal tunnels. Many of them are very difficult to reach on the ground, and many are not shown on any maps.

    Rangers spent many hours on the ground and in the park's small plane looking for those mine entrances - the pilot flew around and around in concentric circles while the lucky spotter tried to pick out suspected mine openings and mark them on a map for follow-up verification. That's a ride on a hot, summer day that's guaranteed to find out if you're susceptible to motion sickness!

    When I transferred to another park, that project was still underway, but a lot of progress had been made.

    A similar project had been completed in parts of the Buffalo National River in Arkansas before I arrived there in 1986. A number of mostly horizontal tunnels were left over from a Zinc mining boom decades ago, before the park was established. They were dangerous due to rock falls, sudden drop-offs, etc. and all of the entrances were fenced and signed, warning of the danger and advising that the area was closed for safety reasons. It was an on-going battle to keep the fences intact and replace stolen signs.

    In such cases, the park can only do as much as possible, and hope to avoid an incident. Some people are determined to get themselves in a jam, no matter what the park does.
    I described them in the introduction to my first book with a quote from the novelist Will Henry: "The Lord pours in the brains of some with teaspoons, and still gets his arm joggled even so."

    Jim Burnett

  • Update: At Grand Canyon National Park, an Abandoned Uranium Mine Must be Cleaned Up   6 years 9 weeks ago

    A few comments on this article seem to be in order. During at least the early operating period for this mine, much of the uranium that was produced in this country and in Canada was for use by the US Government in producing nuclear weapons for the Cold War. This is also true for much of the milling capacity that was in existence at the same time. Most of these historic mills are now reclaimed. In many cases, the older Title I mills were reclaimed using funds from the Department of Energy under the UMTRA program since they produced during the 50's and early 60's strictly to supply the AEC with feed material for the weapons complex. The point is that at least some if not all of the costs to reclaim this mine are due to the Cold War and not nuclear power.

    An additional point is that there is an Abandoned Mine Land program run by the Office of Surface Mines in the Department of the Interior that is funded by a fee collected on every ton of coal mined in this country. The latest annual report (at indicates that $3 billion dollars has been spent to address abandoned mines since 1977. This money is used for coal and non coal mines. In 2006, the Navajo Nation received over $2 million dollars from OSM for abandoned mine work. Unfortunately, the NPS bought the property and may not be eligible for these funds.

    The comments about uranium in well water neglects the fact that uranium is ubiquitous in nature and is found in naturally-occuring concentrations well in excess of drinking water standards in areas where there is no history of uranium mining. The USGS ran a program in the late 1970's to identify potential uranium resources, in part by sampling groundwater. This data (called the National Uranium Resource Evaluation) helps to show the prevalence of uranium in groundwater all over this country, but particularly in the Colorado Plateau/Four Corners region, so it should be no surprise that some wells on the Navajo Nation have high uranium concentrations. This is not to say that the wells cited by the commenter were not affected by abandoned mines in the vicinity; it is meant to point out that there may be other causes of high uranium. If they are affected by abandoned mines, this is the purpose of the AML program mentioned above and the Navajo Nation should be addressing those mines. See the NURE data at

    Finally, the make-a-mess-and-walk-away attitude of the past applied to all industries in our country...not just mining. Anyone around at the time can recall the Cuyahoga River catching on fire and Love Canal. Thanks to these disasters, we now have stringent environmental laws under NEPA but are unfortunately still dealing with the legacy of the approach by past generations. Among the worst of these sites are those associated with weapons development for the Cold War. Take a look at the billions spent by DOE (and yet to be spent) to clean up the old weapons complex sites. As far as the nuclear power industry, it was alway blessed with stringent safety and environmental standards under regulations by the NRC.

    The bottom line is that the premise of this story is incorrect. The costs of cleaning up this mine near a national treasure are not a hidden cost of nuclear power but part of a huge public cost of cleaning up sites that are a legacy of ignoring the environmental impact of most anything that we did up until the last 3 decades.

  • Archaeological Survey At Big South Fork River National River and Recreation Area   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Chance is right,

    Because the people who would pay for the study at my park are NPS (In fact they don't own any land). The Boston Harbor Islands ais really a park that should be owned and operated by BLM, for a lot of reasons, but the owners of the park's land being the City of Boston (mostly Boston's Fault) and State of MASS didn't like (not hate) the idea.

    The Park well run because it is not "run" by NPS, but NPS still could fund a study if they had the money. Right now NPS is trying to get Harvard to do the Study.

  • Heavy Rains and Flooding from Hurricane Ike Remnants Left a Mess at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore   6 years 9 weeks ago

    It's hard for this national park to establish a clear identity, being as fragmented and urban-entwined as it is. And I agree that lakeshore is not a conceptually tidy term, Anon. Can you suggest another, more appropriate descriptor? I can't........

  • Heavy Rains and Flooding from Hurricane Ike Remnants Left a Mess at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore   6 years 9 weeks ago

    I accede to your point on the National Captcal Parks. I have followed discussions on this site and am familiar with Indiana Dunes. I think the fact that local papers do not recognize a national park here is a critical point. The name lakeshore is too confusing. The park is in the city limits of more than a dozen cities and towns, but has no single identity. Hence. making sure that people do not think that the City of Portage runs this site is very important for the park in order to maintain a sense of its public identity as NOT a city or state park.

    “Those dunes are to the midwest what the Grand Canyon is to Arizona and the Yosemite is to California. They constitute a signature of time and eternity: once lost, the loss would be irrevocable.” Carl Sandburg 1958

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   6 years 9 weeks ago

    While I appreciate information provided to help me make an informed decision, I don't want the government to protect me from myself, whether the "danger" is what I read/watch, what I smoke, or where I swim.
    This includes the NPS.


  • Archaeological Survey At Big South Fork River National River and Recreation Area   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Mr. Mutch,

    I certainly understand what you are saying. Indeed, I have witnessed firsthand several surveys that are only taking place because of NEPA regs or some other project. However, having lived and worked this summer with many of the individuals cited in this piece, I can assure you that surveying BISO's rockshelters and other archaeological resources, is an ongoing effort that is not the results of other projects, and that - at least at Big South Fork - it is taken very seriously and is not being done in a hodge-podge fashion.

  • Heavy Rains and Flooding from Hurricane Ike Remnants Left a Mess at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Thanks. I made the correction. [***Weaselspeak alert!!***] Newspapers -- including the Post-Tribune right there in NW Indiana -- referred to the new facility as a "park". This, plus the fact that the facility is within the city limits of Portage, contributed to the confusion. As for your park-within-a-park comment, well, that's a loose caveat at best. There are lots of units within national parks that are formally called parks. National Capital Parks-East, for example, has at least five sub-units that are officially named "park."

  • Update: At Grand Canyon National Park, an Abandoned Uranium Mine Must be Cleaned Up   6 years 9 weeks ago

    That is an interesting point about the contaminated well water that I hadn't considered. Is there any hope of cleaning up the wells or has the damage already been done beyond repair? Most people do not understand the true imapct that mining has, and really I think we are still learning the far reaching effects of it. The dollars and cents of it is just one little aspect of it.

  • Heavy Rains and Flooding from Hurricane Ike Remnants Left a Mess at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Just a correction - Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk is not a "park." Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a park. The Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk is a section of the lakeshore - not a park in itself any more than Mammoth Hot Springs is a "park" within Yellowstone.

  • Archaeological Survey At Big South Fork River National River and Recreation Area   6 years 9 weeks ago

    One of the main obstacles to inventorying and monitoring archy (federal term for archaeology/archaeological) sites/land on federal lands is that funding is based on mitigating for other projects. So, archaeology is funded by other management branches and has VERY little money of it's own. Some of these other projects include prescribed burning/thinning, logging (Forest Service/BLM), road/building construction, and etc. For example, when the fire crews want to burn or maintenance wants to expand or build a road or structure they have to (theoretically) get archaeology to sign off and use their project funds to pay for the archy survey.

    Thus, there is no over all plan to survey public lands within whatever management area you are in. It is done in a hodge podge manner.

    Rob Mutch

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Well, I assume Sebattis and most other readers know many NPS beaches do have fees, where collecting fees is practical. The larger issue Mr. Smith and Kurt cites is the real issue, and the blithe way the fee issue is discussed in the Sebattis contribution seems to be the real red herring here.

    But to address the hanging-fee point: accompanied by the forceful urging of the Department of the Interior and by the House Appropriations Republican staff, that fee money is focused on maintenance, not lifeguards or park rangers. Projects, not salaries. At a beach not far from where I live, it has always seemed to me the fee-paying public must assume the fees are actually going to lifeguards and park rangers, but they do not. Inasmuch as President Bush made paying off the NPS maintenance backlog his major NPS plank when he ran for President, but has not requested the appropriations to keep that promise, it was considered a cute way to keep a campaign promise without paying for it.

    The larger point of fees, appropriations, partnerships, and ALL the combined forms of available money is: there is not enough of it. It is conservative ideology not to pay for government employees, probably specifically because that employee generally is working for the good of all Americans rather than special interests. As now, with the Wall Street meltdown, or with the Events of September 11, when we realized the consequences of privitizing airport security, someone must be assigned by the people of America to focus on the main objective of a given agency's Mission.

    The main Mission of the NPS is to protect the parks unimpaired for public benefit and enjoyment. Increasing privitization of a government function ALWAYS eventually has the unintended consequence of pushing the government manager to work on behalf of the funding source, the special interest. In the case of parks, the threat of an imbalance of private funding is compromising the primary NPS Mission. Just like with food safety, drug safety, financial security and even national security. There are revenue-generating opportunities that may not undermine the Mission if applied properly, but revenue generation is not (despite the Sebattis presentation) a panacea. These are facts, and we need to avoid ideological myth-making when addressing the realities.

    The larger issue here is exactly as Mr. Smith and Professor Sax, in his "Handrails" book describes. Hypersafety practices can ruin what makes parks special. The smaller issue, that there are places where surpervised beaches and use of safety features may be permitted depending on the character of that specific place.

    NPS should not control every visitor experience, provided it can be accomplished without undermining the park purpose. NPS should have the resources it nees to provide safe experiences and facilities were that is appropriate. Right now NPS does not have the money it needs to accomplish the modest kind of management required by the Mission.

    No red herring. An important topic that should not be cynically obscured.

  • Update: At Grand Canyon National Park, an Abandoned Uranium Mine Must be Cleaned Up   6 years 9 weeks ago

    The costs are one side, but outside of the National Park is the land of the Navajo Nation. People and livestock there use water that is contaminated by abandoned uranium mines that are all over the tribal land. In a study of the Ojato Chapter of the Navajo's land done by EPA every well on the Arizona side was contaminated and all but one on the adjacent Utah part.

    This map shows abandoned mines, wells and contaminated areas:
    Attention: The file is huge.$FILE/Oljato.pdf

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   6 years 9 weeks ago

    I've always considered the role of park rangers to protect the environment from the visitors, not the reverse. Despite all the warnings and instructional material about the dangers in the parks, we still have visitors recklessly approaching wildlife, climbing over barriers to the edge of cliffs and bluffs, and ignoring other danger signs. We have the adage, "Buyer Beware"; we should add "Park Visitor Beware".

  • National Park Quiz 21: Railroads   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Nice catch, Sabattis. I revised the quiz item.

  • Climber Dies In Accident In Grand Teton National Park   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Well said, Bob, Beamis, and fhasti.
    Everything can change in the blink of an eye. When my mom called from the Tetons on that Wednesday to tell me my dad was missing, I feared him dead because he does not get lost. He is also the strongest, fittest person I know, besides his soon-to-be son-in-law Ironman competitor. With decades of experience in climbing, hiking, and adventuring, including the Matterhorn and the Grand Teton (three times), none of us would have expected anything to ever happen to him. News of his rescue was a relief, but we found out soon after he would have to keep fighting for his life for some while. Of course, my dad is my hero, adopting me at 16 years old and now being a great "Papa" and role model for my young kids. Were it not for the heroic efforts of all those involved in Richard's search and rescue, however, we wouldn't have my dad now. The courageous men and women who do this great service in this and other parks are true professionals. We are grateful.

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Its quite the red herring to suggest the possibility of the National Park Service with the responsibility "to have lifeguards overseeing each inch of beach, lake shoreline, or stretch of river?" I can just imagine lifeguards on the Alagnak Wild River.... Har!

    More seriously, this question can be rephrased as - "should the National Park Service eliminate unsupervised swimming in National Parks?" I think the answer should be obvious - of course not!

    So rather than beat this red herring further, I think this discussion is a useful starting point for discussing the role of user fees in National Parks. Lifeguards are interesting in that they have almost "resource protection" value, they are there to provide services to visitor - primarily recreational swimmers. So why should the public purse, with so many demands for funding from replacing crumbling bridges, to hurricane relief, to AIDS and cancer research, to feeding starving people in Africa, to bank bailouts - pay for lifeguards for recreational swimmers? Why shouldn't the swimmers who desire lifeguarding services pay for it?

    Or to put it another way - this article directly poses the question of "what is the optimal number of lifeguards at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore"? Right now some people think there should be more lifeguards - but how do we tell what the right number is? Well a great way to do it (and the way we decide how much of most things to produce in this country) is to start charging user fees for use of lifeguarded beaches - if the beach starts to fill up, keep raising the fee until you can add more lifguards or until the beach isn't full anymore. Its as simple as that really.... And this would put paid to Superintendent Dillon's protestations of not being able to find qualified lifeguards or of needing to balance other duties - if the lifeguards are paid for out of the user fees, then the lifeguards aren't competing with other budgetary and programmatic priorities. *


    * - that's not totally true due to a quirk in Federal law, but this would presumably be corrected by any Congressional proposal to fund lifeguards through user fees

  • National Park Quiz 21: Railroads   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Only 10 out of 12 this week, after a perfect score last week... Oh well.

    I should point that one can ride your bicycle on the C&O Canal NHP towpath from Georgetown to Sandy Hook, MD in Harpers Ferry NHP, and take your bike across the bridge to the Amtrak station.... and then take the train back to Union Station Washington, DC. It wouldn't exactly be a daytrip, though.....

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   6 years 9 weeks ago

    I agree with the above.
    It is not Nature that requires the handrails but the public's attitude towards Nature.

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   6 years 9 weeks ago


    This is probably one of those questions for which there is no good answer. Rangers and other park employees cannot guarantee the safety of all visitors. Most visitor accidents can be traced to a couple things: unfamiliarity with conditions--it's harder to climb down than up or streams run quickly, or hypothermia robs one of the ability to make wise decisions, etc.--or carelessness--overloading boats, not controlling small children, diving into shallow water--or not properly assessing the potential results of one's actions--getting too close to wild animals, under estimating the physical difficulty of backcountry trips. Your post reminds me of the long discussion on the Traveler about the hike up Half Dome and what the NPS should or shouldn't do to protect visitors. We had a similar thread on Angel's Landing in Zion. The truth is that a visit to a national park takes people out of their comfort zones and puts them in places where their decisions can have tragic consequences. Most of us know what parts of town we don't visit after dark We are familiar with this. Most visitors don't have the same instinctive knowledge about what works and what doesn't work in a park. Professor Joe Sax argues in his book, Mountains without Handrails that if we overengineer parks to make them safe we lose the wildness that makes them special. I agree with him.

    Rick Smith

  • How Did The National Park Service Err So Badly On the Yellowstone Winter-Use Plan?   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Wow, all this talk when their is a simple answer, Political Pressure.

  • Archaeological Survey At Big South Fork River National River and Recreation Area   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Hmm......Good for them now only if we could do the same at the park I volunteer at, The Boston Harbor Islands. In fact the lack of action is somewhat sadding in the park because it was the site of concentration camps during the king phillp's war, and qurrantine hospitals. On one of the island their are an estamated 4,500 bodies buiried but no one has looked.

  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Celebrates Its "Stand-Alone" Birthday and Kilauea Provides the Fireworks   6 years 9 weeks ago

    To see an example of what Jim is talking about, see the photo at this site. I took a similar photo on Chain of Craters Road in 1992, but darned if I know what I did with it.

  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Celebrates Its "Stand-Alone" Birthday and Kilauea Provides the Fireworks   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Thank you for the coverage of the national parks in Hawaii.

    These are some of the most exciting parks in the System. Beyond all the wonderful things about them, I will never forget the experience of standing a only few feet back on the Big Island watching the lava flow wipe out a section of road as it moved down to the sea.

    What was exciting was seeing the newest land in America being created right before my eyes.