Recent comments

  • A Major Overhaul at Ford's Theatre National Historic Site Raises a Few Eyebrows   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Thank you for another excellent article. Your reporting will surely help folks navigate a site that used to be somewhat visitor-unfriendly. I'm eager to return there and judge the experience for myself. I've sat through performances in those old chairs and they are indeed extremely uncomfortable!

    I lived in the Washington, DC area from 2000-2005, and during a small portion of that time period I worked for an NPS partner at Ford's Theatre NHS. It was an incredible place to work, my interactions with visitors were never boring, the days never long (at least during the Spring and Summer months!) The diversity of visitors to Ford's Theatre NHS is rarely matched in other parks across the country, such is the national and international draw of the Lincoln legacy. (And of John Wilkes Booth as well: I was astonished at how many visitors couldn't wait to see the gun that Booth used to assassinate Lincoln, not out of reverence for a fallen president, but out of glee to see the weapon that killed an "enemy" of their ancestors.)

    This article brings to light some important points about Ford's Theatre that were always a challenge for visitors to deal with.

    Until I worked there myself I did not know that the current performance space was in fact a reconstruction. The majority of visitors I interacted with on any given day didn't know this either, but some did indeed care. I wondered why the Park Rangers did not include this piece of information in their talks, but I quickly learned that I could easily have a negative effect on a person's visit by "educating" them about the history of the structure in which they were standing. This piece of information was best left to self discovery.

    Another challenge was access to the theatre space itself. Because the reconstructed performance space is used by a professional theatre company, rehearsals and performances often meant the theatre space itself would be closed to visitors. While this fact was of course advertised, many visitors were not aware of this logistical detail. Even repeat visitors, returning for a second or third or fourth time, were once again not able to enter the theatre space to see the presidential box because they had not realized that the professional company's schedule would have an effect on ability to see the space.
    The new ticketing system not only solves the problem of long lines and wait times, but solves the availability problem as well. The ticketing schedule posted on the FTS website clearly outlines when the performance space itself will be available for viewing and ranger talks. This is a great improvement from a visitor satisfaction standpoint I think. Though surely there will still be some disappointment if the space is unavailable on any given day, proactive management of the process can only help.

    Thanks again for the excellent article, and for providing the forum to add additional comments!


    For the NPS/history/architecture buffs out there, I have an excellent out-of-print publication to recommend.
    I picked up a used copy a few years ago at the suggestion of one of the incredibly knowledgeable interpretive rangers on duty at FTNHS.
    "Restoration of Ford's Theatre", Historic Structure Report, by George J. Olszewski, Historian for the National Capital Region at the time the report was published, 1963.
    It contains an incredible wealth of photographs from 1865, 1893, and the 1960s, ephemera, architectural drawings, a full listing of productions that took place at the theatre... just a great resource for anyone looking to fill out their Lincoln collection.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   6 years 9 weeks ago

    @Zebulon: Of course it is the governments role to determine which kinds of use are allowed on which parts of the public lands. Bikes are permitted in National Forests, on BLM land and in more than 40 national parks including spectacular routes like the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park. But other parks are closed to bikes - particularly on single trails. That's perfectly fine and in accordance with the mandate of national parks.

    And regarding the detrimental effect on the experience of hikers: Please think about all your encounters between bikers and hikers on single trails. Who stops, steps aside and lets the other pass? Can you think of a single case in which the biker left the trail to let a hiker pass? I can't. It doesn't happen, not once. This infallible rule makes the hiker feel second rate and this ruins his or her experience.

  • Muir Woods National Monument is More than Really Old, Really Big Trees   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Muir Woods is simply wonderful. I remember going there last year with my wife. Teddy made the right decision to declare this a national monument in the name of John Muir. I must say, it's one of his administration's legacies. Something that the next generations will surely appreciate and preserve.

  • 4-Year-old Dies in Fall off South Rim of Grand Canyon   6 years 9 weeks ago

    LOL! You're right Russell.... they probably haven't had kids.

    I heard this story a long time ago and every once in a while it would drift out of the back of my mind because of just the sheer horror of it and what the parents must go through. I finally decided to try to verify the story and I googled child fell down grand canyon and this story came right up. I was very disaapointed that this wasn't another urban legend.

    We and our kids need a lot of prayers just for them to make it through childhood. I had a young girl child once and we were standing at the crosswalk waiting for the light to turn green when she looses her footing and begins tottering toward the street as a couple cars were approaching. I had to grab her by the hair to make sure she didn't stumble into the street.

    That seems extreme to me but anyone with kids knows how this is! A child restraint leash is good but I don't even think taking a child up to the GC is such a good idea.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Joan, all great points. Let me address them if I may.

    "I can still use the trails, I just need to walk them". How would you feel if we turned the argument around and banned hiking? You could still use the trails, you would just to ride a bike like the others. I don't believe it's the government role to decide for us how to use a trail, as long as said usage does not impact negatively the trail/environment.

    Not allowing mechanized transportation. That good old reason to ban bikes from wilderness. Nobody sees any problem with other form of mechanized transportation such cross country skiing, kayaking, carbon fiber hiking poles. This is clearly not a solid reason to ban bikes. As for the difference between a gas powered machine and a bike, it should be self explanatory.

    Destroy the experience of hikers on trails!!! Now, we get to the heart of the matter which is simply that a category of users refuses to share a public good. I can certainly understand how one would not want to share wonderful trails with another user group (personally, I'd love it if there were no hikers or equestrians), but then again, national parks are nobody's private Idaho either. :) This is especially silly since most trails more than 2 miles outside the trailhead are usually mostly empty.

    As for the damage done to trails, I've seen trails torn to bits by horse riders, but that clearly does not bother anyone. I've also seen major damage inflicted by hikers shortcutting a hillside leading to major water erosion. Yet, I'm not asking that hikers be banned from all trails. Multiple scientific studies have simply shown that cyclists don't cause any damage to the trails. That's just a fact, unless of course all these people were out to get hikers. ;)

    To get back to my initial posting, it'll be interesting to see whether Mr. Obama decides to cater to the Sierra Club wing of the democratic party or stick to a more moderate stance and let the rule stand.

  • Don't Try this At Home: Driver's Life Saved By Vegetation and Ledge at Colorado National Monument   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Our local news paper has a slide show of the wreck:

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Really Joan? Waaaaayyyy more damage than what I'd would see on the foot-travel-only section of popular hiking trails? Say, the Appalachian Trail? The Colorado Trail? The Wilderness sections of the Colorado trail? Come visit the later and take a good look at he sections that allow bikes and those that are restricted to foot travel. Then tell me if the bike sections are more degraded than the foot sections.

    Try it and I think you'll sing different tune on the relative impacts of bike/foot travel. But then you'll likely say, "Well I just don't feel safe near/like to see/believe I can share trails with ... bicycles."

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   6 years 9 weeks ago


    Nobody is banned when mountain bikes are restricted. You are still able to hike the trail along with the rest of us. It is only your mode of transportation that is restricted.

    There is no reason to allow mechanized transportation, including mountain bikes or snowmobiles, on trails in the parks. They may be appropriate on dirt roads, but they totally destroy the experience for hikers on trails. And despite certain biased studies showing that they do no more damage than hikers, all you need to do is go to a heavily used mountain bike trail, and you will see incredible damage - way more than you ever would see from hikers.

  • It's Not Too Early To Start Planning This Summer's National Park Vacation   6 years 9 weeks ago

    We've been helping families plan National Park camping trips for 10 years and our Trip Consultants have a good feel for when each Park normally begins selling out. In 2008, we reserved about 2500 nights in NPS and NFS campgrouds across the west, but we expected things to progress much more slowly this year. Yet, so far 2009 looks about the same as previous years. Families who may have been planning a trip to Europe, a cruise, or a Disney vacation tell us that they want to simplify this year's summer vacation and save some money. The National Parks are often the first thing that come to mind.

    Dan Wulfman, Founder
    Tracks & Trails - Western Driving Adventures

  • It's Not Too Early To Start Planning This Summer's National Park Vacation   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Kurt -

    Good advice. A friend started checking in mid-summer last year on lodging in Yosemite for this coming summer - and found very slim pickings, with the possible exception of the higher-priced spreads. He was told by a reservations agent for the concessioner to plan a year ahead for peak travel periods in mid-summer at Yosemite.

    It will be interesting to see if current economic conditions change the equation, but I'd second your comments - plan ahead for popular sites or facilities.

    A related suggestion is to go just before or after peak season if it fits a person's schedule - and if things you want to do are open for the season. We had a great experience in Alaska two summers ago in late May and early June. We got some great buys on lodging - one spot we stayed near Denali was significantly cheaper than the same room would have been only two weeks later. An added bonus - we encountered virtually none of the infamous Alaskan mosquitoes, and were told we were about a week ahead of the bugs. I don't know if that was typical or if we were just lucky, but it sure made our time out and about a lot more pleasant!

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   6 years 9 weeks ago

    JD, you're misinformed and factually inaccurate. Multiple studies have shown that bicycles do no more damage than hiking and way less than horse riding.

    Betty, our parks belong to all of us and not to a favorite minority of users. Whether there are other places to bike is completely irrelevant to whether local parks should decide whether to let bicyclists on existing trails. Last and not least, lumping a human powered activity like cycling with snowmobiling is at the very least disingenuous.

    This all boils down to the fact that entrenched users simply don't want to share a public good with other legitimate human powered recreational users.

  • Yellowstone National Park: Poster Child For Goofy Gun Laws   6 years 9 weeks ago

    That laws respecting the right to carry arms have been somewhat liberalized by this rule change is a good thing in and of itself. Civil liberties are like that, but their rightful expansion often comes with some confusion and getting-used-to.

    Greatly relaxing carry laws or removing the licensing requirements would surely make for less confusion, but such moves are probably unwarranted or unlikely. I firmly suspect that the best solution is a national reciprocity bill, and we are sure to see one coming along soon. There can really be no other way ... currently, 48 of 50 states issue (in one form or another) licenses to carry protective arms. They too issue driver licenses ... but at this time, carry licenses are not nationally-reciprocal like driver licenses are. There can be no other way but to make the licenses nationally-reciprocal, and draw boundaries around some maximally-restrictive standard.

    Indeed, the best solution is to make all carry licenses nationally-reciprocal, and to define some maximally-restrictive standards. That way, carriers would know what is maximally restrictive ... and more liberal states could relax those maximal standards as they see fit.

  • Climate Change: Fact or Fiction?   6 years 9 weeks ago

    It's sad that our lives are being manipulated by a chosen few on the issue of our planet's "weather" cycle. It's even more curious how after decades and decades of abuse from mankind, his "intellect" now drives him to right past wrongs which he doesn't even completely understand. A guilty conscience might be a terrible thing to bear (like Bogie in Treasure of the Sierra Madre) but acting rashly based mostly on ignorance is even worse. Yes, Kurt, reams and reams of data have been complied, but to what end? Nobody and I mean NOBODY really understands the full scope of the evidence. Reams of data have also been compiled on topics such as cancer, HIV, the relationship between socio-economic status and a propensity for violence, the evils of cannabis, the odds for success when raised in a single parent home, etc. Most, if not all of these issues are less complex than is the history of our atmospheric development, but we, being the ego-centric organisms that we are, have some notion that we can accurately decipher life's intricacies when we've yet to demonstrate an ability to grasp the finer, more subtle concepts of our daily existence. So if one of my brethren throws down some rather hefty report on any given topic, we're all supposed to bow down and do homage to the Great Lord of Knowledge? These data, while available for our perusal, have the nasty habit of neglecting to mention the specific hypothesis and methods used to drive the study. Unfortunately, those are key elements in ANY proper study. Gathering data sets is all well and good, but if not effectively directed, the processes and corresponding evidence that have been compiled are generally useless. I know other posters to this site have rallied behind the good ol' boys at NASA and their supposedly irrefutable reputation. That's fine. Everyone needs a standard to rally beneath. All I'm saying is that while there can be no dispute that the climate of our planet is anything but a static process, our files pertaining to the rates and specific cycles is pathetically inadequate to correctly assess where we currently stand within any given cyclical event. Warming? Cooling? Yes, on both counts. Normal? Extreme? Not enough historical data to base a long-term prognosis upon. Reversible? Possibly, but by what degree is literally anyone's guess, with the operative term being GUESS. Should we be doing all we can to limit future impact on the system as a whole? Damn straight buddy. Why didn't we start earlier? We weren't, and still haven't been given the tools to do the job effectively. We've been strangeld by Big Business again, who sold our collective souls to feather their personal (and corporate) nests. And to this day, the bottleneck in any attempt to correct the flaws in this whole program is still at their doorstep. Long live Big Oil indeed..........

  • Climate Change: Fact or Fiction?   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Dan raises some valid points. Issues such as climate change and guns in the parks will not be settled at the Traveler.

    But I'd disagree that this is the wrong forum to discuss them. They are both, in their own ways, highly relative to the national parks, and a key mission of this site is to report on and explore issues pertinent to the parks.

    National park visitors need to know about both issues. Obviously, there are many folks interested in being able to arm themselves in the parks, and just as many if not more who object to such an action. Why shouldn't the merits be discussed on the Traveler?

    As for climate change, it is happening, regardless if there's unanimity in the driver. How that climate change is being expressed on the ground I'd argue is of interest to park visitors, whether it's in the form of retreating glaciers, warming waters, disappearance of long-native flora or fauna.

    Anglers rightfully want to know why in late summer fishing often is banned in some Yellowstone streams because the waters are too warm and so the trout too stressed by being hooked. Why are moose seemingly disappearing from Isle Royale? Why is Glacier expected to be glacier-less within three decades? To ignore these topics on the Traveler would be a mistake.

    If the Park Service can in its approach to reducing its carbon footprint educate visitors on how they can do the same in their own lives, what's wrong with that? If climate change is not being motored primarily by humankind, the only damage done will be a cleaner planet.

  • Lost to Hurricanes, the Flamingo Lodge at Everglades National Park Will be Hard to Replace   6 years 9 weeks ago

    My wife and I stayed at the lodge in December 2000 and had a great time despite unusually cold weather. The birding was fantastic. It's sad that nothing has been put in place to allow people who cannot camp to experience this special place. Camping wouldn't bother us but it is not feasible to bring the necessary equipment from home (England). Why couldn't the National Park Service provide some fixed tents for rent? They do that in The Gambia, West Africa in remote areas with great success. Hope something is done before too long.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Those of us who appreciate peace and quiet in natural surroundings are not always "liberals". We are just folks who love our great natural areas and will hike to great lengths to get away from it all so we can enjoy nature in its most natural setting. There are plenty of places outside our National Parks where people can enjoy their mountain bikes, snowmobiles etc in backcountry settings.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   6 years 9 weeks ago

    I hope they're banned. The damage done by mountain bikes is enormous. The decision will be political but hopefully with an environmental foundation.

  • At New River Gorge National River, an Iconic Bridge Attracts Suicide Jumpers   6 years 9 weeks ago

    I too have been touched by the loss of a loved one on this bridge since the last entry. I try to get past the anger and fruitfulness of a young life lost because of the finality of the act. We do not know the desperation and hopelessness one feels because they had chosen not to let us. We can not change things nor can we find answers, we can only hope and pray that our lord will grace our loved one's soul with the peace that they could not find with us.

  • Climate Change: Fact or Fiction?   6 years 9 weeks ago

    This debate reminds me of the ongoing flame war about concealed carry in the parks. Not only is the argument getting nowhere, but I think this is an especially bad forum for the debate. There are big, ongoing debates about whether the climate is changing, whether this change is caused or exacerbated by humans, and to what extent that change is harmful or beneficial.

    Two photographs of a glacier do not constitute evidence in this debate, any more than would two sample temperatures, taken roughly at midday, in the same area, 60 years apart. Retreating or advancing glaciers are not naked-eye evidence of climate change, per se, because glaciers are the products of systems that are far more complex than mere temperature. If glaciation trends constitute a single data point, or perhaps a small series of data points, their relevance to the debate is still dependent on many other factors.

    Regardless of this point, the ongoing, multi-faceted global warming debate will not be settled on National Parks Traveler. Neither will the ongoing, multi-faceted debate over the place of firearms in society. If these debates are ever settled, it will not be here. This is Kurt's house, and if he wants to raise these topics, that's his prerogative. Clearly, topics of high controversy drive traffic, and that's perfectly reasonable.

    But I worry about the role of the National Park Service in the greater climate change debate. I worry that what should be a non-political organization is taking on a partisan role (whether single-issue, or broad-based). The NPS's Visitor's Bill of Rights promises visitors the right "to be treated with courtesy and consideration," and "to receive accurate and balanced information."

    That promise of accurate and balanced information is a tricky one, particularly in this case. Shall we tell visitors accurately that the sky is blue, or should we balance that with the possibility that the sky is green? To some people, climate change is as real and settled as the color of the sky, and anyone who says otherwise is some combination of ignorant, corrupt, and evil. To others, climate change is real, but not anthropogenic. To a third group, climate change is a complete fraud. Shall we bow to the first group, which is undoubtedly the most vocal, and treat anthropogenic climate change as fact?

    I think the NPS should move slowly on this point. There is no need to lead public opinion or public policy. No matter what anyone says, the science of climate prediction is not settled. (That statement invariably draws sputtering hysteria. If any reader is tempted, please, spare me.) If the NPS should take up the climate change drum too loudly, it risks alienating some of its supporters, both in political life and among the greater population.

  • Help Ken Burns Chronicle the Parks   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Back in the early 1990s, I met a National Park Service ranger named Donald Scott. He was quite interested that I was the chapter advisor for the Sigma Chi chapter at UC Berkeley. It turns out that when Stephen T. Mather held the conference to write the National Parks Act, he did it at Cal and had the congressmen and other dignitaries stay at the fraternity house. Mather was an alumnus of the house and very proud of his association with both Sigma Chi and the Park Service. As it is told in the history of the park service, Mather wanted to have a collegial, symposia type atmosphere during the conference. At one point he had the undergraduate brothers do a football cheer, much to the horror of the conference participants.

    The house still stands on the same spot today. The same place where Mather built it back in the 1910s.

  • Freeze On New Regs Could Impact Efforts to Expand Mountain Biking in National Parks   6 years 9 weeks ago

    It'll be interesting to see what happens. Will Obama cater to the very liberal wing of the party (i.e. your typical Sierra Club bike hater) or will he be more centrist in his approach (i.e. recognize that the rule simply transfers decision making power to the local park)?

  • Lost to Hurricanes, the Flamingo Lodge at Everglades National Park Will be Hard to Replace   6 years 9 weeks ago

    I so miss being able to come and stay in the Lodge. The Everglades is magical. I enjoyed bringing my children there in years past and have taken many good memories home with me: the prairie warblers and other birds, the bobcat sitings, and the moonflowers which opened at dusk.

  • Climate Change: Fact or Fiction?   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Hanson's data had to be revised and the warmest year was substantially changed. His latest data used the wrong month and than declared that he had no confidence on temperature data that came from Russia. There is substantial number of scientists who dispute the hypothesis that global warming or climate change is man made.

    There is not enough time to go into the entire dispute, but Gore’s carbon actually followed the climate by 800 years. Check out Viscount Monkton data and challenge to debate Al Gore on this subject.

    The planets climate has changed a lot over millions of years. This year cold spell may have more to do with the very low sunspot activity this year. Low sunspot activity has correlated in the past with cold years like the little Ice Age of the 1500-1600 I believe.

    As Lone Hiker states that El Nina and El Nino cycles have a lot to do with weather. Also the cold wells in the oceans that are thermal sinks and affect the warm currents have a lot of effect.

    Carbon probably less than water vapor, which has greater concentrations. However conservation by more efficient systems and CF bulbs that last longer but have more mercury have beneficial effects. Certain areas of the globe seem to be changing, warm areas melting glaciers in the Alps and increase sea ice in others.

    I doubt that there is any real dispute that the glacier depicted had substantially retreated. My point about more useable land is that when the glaciers retreated in northern Europe more arable land was available to grow crops and that enable civilization to rise and flourish. The average temperature in Roman times seem to be higher than currently and then the long cold years of the Dark ages seemed to be a cold period. So humans seem to thrive in warmer climates periods than cold periods.

    Wind power on the coast in oceans like the Delaware project that has constant wind seems to be a good idea. I am not sure if it is economically competitive without subsidies compared to fossil fuel. I am not happy about large swaths of the middle of the country with huge windmills. I believe that is costly and despoils the landscape. I would prefer smaller nuclear power plants for electricity, which is clean and takes up a smaller footprint.

    Personally I prefer the beautiful valley and water in the second photo to the bleak snowfield in the first. I would be able to enjoy the valley more than if it was still a glacier filled.

    There are still many glaciers and Ice Mountains for those who enjoy climbing and hiking glaciers.

  • National Park Quiz 38: African Americans   6 years 9 weeks ago

    A couple of weeks ago, you challenged me to attempt this quiz when it came out. My results ... well, got 8 right. I am irked I got #7, about the Tuskegee Airmen, wrong. I visited that site (actually, it was just a trailer in a field, the NPS was still figuring out what to do with it), and should have known Moton Field was the right answer.


    My travels through the National Park System:

  • National Park Foundation Loses Its Honorary Chairperson   6 years 9 weeks ago

    Are you sure she's not continuing in the position? There's no press release on NPF's website, and there's no reason a former first lady can't be the honorary chair of a foundation.