Recent comments

  • Centennial Projects: Mountain Biking in Big Bend National Park   6 years 30 weeks ago

    All ready there is 150+ miles of trails and 260+ miles of roads stuffed into 801,163 acres,
    and they are going to slash a brand new trail through the park!?!
    How is this preserving nature for future generations?

  • If You Have to Ask the Price, The Ahwahnee And Jenny Lake Lodge Are Probably Out of Reach   6 years 30 weeks ago

    I had the privelege (not the right) to spend about 30 days camping in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone when I was about 12 years old. My dad and mom took me there (from Cheyenne, FE Warren AFB) and it was what I talk about over 50 years later to my grandchildren. I am also lucky enough to have some old black and white browney pictures to show them. I plan on returning to take them there.
    Please - Please - take care of "GODS COUNTRY"

  • Centennial Projects: Mountain Biking in Big Bend National Park   6 years 30 weeks ago

    I like Grand Canyon where some of the paved roads are closed to vehicular traffic in the high volume months but allow bikes to share the road with the occasional bus -- that's more akin to "safe, family-friendly biking" where sightseeing while riding is possible without a huge risk of killing yourself. I enjoy both the road and trail. I'd prefer to see USFS, BLM, and NRA lands be the focus for trail riding (plenty of scenery to go around) and keep the National Park bike trails on the paved, gravel, and dirt roads. "Providing for the enjoyment" of the public doesn't mean every type of enjoyment you can dream up. Perhaps places like the Blue Ridge Parkway could close to vehicular traffic one or two weekends during the year rather than attempt to add new trails. One of my most memorable park experiences was riding through Teddy Roosevelt National Park's Scenic Loop Drive on my bike -- on the paved road. People enjoy offroad vehicular travel too, but like I said, we don't need to accommodate every form of entertainment or recreation in the National Parks.

  • Centennial Projects: Mountain Biking in Big Bend National Park   6 years 30 weeks ago

    While I can't comment on what the Park Service has actually written regarding cutting new singletrack, trails 5 feet in width are far wider than most singletrack utilized by mountain bikers.

    As an avid backpacker and mountain biker, and as someone who has hundreds of hours under his belt building multi-use hiking and biking trails in and around Texas, it is more than possible to build a multi-use trail that would make far less impact than those referenced by this article, and would be quite sustainable. Whether or not the Park chooses to take advantage of that knowledge is the real issue.

    As for complaints about bike erosion, it can be an issue, but if trails are closed when they're wet (definitely possible in a park setting where the trail originates near Panther Junction), it becomes a relative non-factor if the trails were built properly. This does require proper planning and would fly in the face of many trails I've found in national parks that were built directly up a fall line, had an inslope cut, etc. Guadalupe Mountains National Park comes to mind here. Again, in my experience, horse trails have far more impact than mountain bike or hiking trails combined, and Big Bend already has a multitude of Equestrian trails.

    Not all mountain bike trails have to bomb directly down a steep slope, and a majority of mountain bikers in that region of Texas look for smooth sweeping narrow singletrack such as that found in Terlingua and Lajitas right outside the park (but on private land, hence the desire for public trails).

  • Centennial Projects: Mountain Biking in Big Bend National Park   6 years 30 weeks ago

    I disagree with the last two posters. Mountain biking can be a wonderful addition to other methods of self propelled travel in national parks.

    I did a 5 day "bike-packing" trip in Big Bend in Spring 2006. I biked the Old Ore Road and the Maverick Road carrying all my food and gear with me. Big Bend, like many desert areas, is a landscape that is very appropriate to mountain biking. And I expect that Bike-Packing activity will continue to increase. It's a wonderful way to travel in areas where water stops are few and far between. You guys shouldn't knock it until you've tried it.

    Mr. Williams is utterly wrong. Sometimes mountain biking IS the same as a "family pedaling their Schwins from view to view." Sure, there are mountain bikers who focus on technical challenges but the majority are no more than what I call "hikers on bikes" who just enjoy another method of self-propelled sight-seeing. Also he is wrong that mountain biking has done great damage to the resource. Mountian biking has done no more damage to the resource as any other form of travel such as hiking, camping, trout fishing, river running, or stock use. Certainly, I could make an argument that well-managed mountain biking is less damaging than these other uses.

    Also Anonymous II should know that tubing with "coolers of beer" is allowed in many National Parks, such as Yosemite, Zion, and Chattahoochee. The bottom line is this: Mountain biking is and will continue to be one of many different uses that visitors will expect the NPS to allow them to participate in. Choosing a location where the use is appropriate is what the Big Bend Supt is trying to do. Bravo to him.

  • If You Have to Ask the Price, The Ahwahnee And Jenny Lake Lodge Are Probably Out of Reach   6 years 30 weeks ago

    Let's be a little clear hear. In the parks where companies like Xanterra and Delaware North are running concessions, they are already to that extent privatized - regulated, in many cases monopolized (in Yellowstone, there is some competition for some services between those two concessions, for instance), but raked in by a corporation. When Mather and Albright ran the parks, their policy was to monopolize concessions to the greatest extent possible for a lot of reasons, too many to go into right now. What's interesting, though, is that this arrangement actually comes much closer to the true meaning of fascism than most of the popular uses. Mussolini himself defined fascism as corporatism, which by that he meant the melding together of government and corporate interests. While we see this to a much greater degree in the military industrial complex (coined by a conservative - Eisenhower), it's just as prevalent in the National Park System. Perhaps, that's why those ranger uniforms actually tend to give me the creeps (but maybe I just don't have that fetish).

    However, is the answer to open up competition, like say the competition that exists in the gateway communities outside of parks? On the one hand, I'm sure people don't want Jenny Lake to look anything at all like West Yellowstone or Jackson or Gatlinburg. (And guess what! Jenny Lake used to look like that! - which is in large part why Rockefeller and Albright worked in collusion to scam people out of their land in Jackson Hole and then give it eventually over to the Park Service). Competition for gas does make it cheaper outside of Yellowstone than inside (see http://www.yellowstone-notebook.com/news.html). I no doubt can find cheaper rooms and a wider variety outside of the park than inside of it. I may or may not be able to find a cheaper campground. Certainly, I can find cheaper food, better food, and a whole host of other amenities outside the park than inside. People I used to work with thought nothing of driving 70 miles to the K-Mart in Jackson because it was sometimes worth it to them to get things they needed.

    And, yet, I don't know that many people that wanted Grant Village to look anything like Jackson. If anything, people felt that these areas were already over-developed. No one expected life to be easier as a worker outside of the parks than inside of them.

    All of this would seem to argue not really toward opening up competition in the parks - there's an assumption that would lead to more construction (more buildings for more competing services, leading to more workers, leading to more infrastructure needed to support those workers). It would seem to argue for socializing the parks and having the government take over services with mandated price controls that are taxpayer subsidized. But, from fascism, we slip into a kind of socialism. Yet, if equitable, fair, affordable, while maintaining the other values that this conversation is so far missing (environmental integrity, unimpaired landscapes, something different from the gateway towns) is what you want, then how do you get it with the current concessions system? With this systme, profit will still be the main motive driving services, no matter the amount of regulation (since presumably, you need a reason to attract contractors and those who will take leases on concessions).

    Yet, in a country that's becoming increasingly centralized around the power of the federal government, where branches of government are threatening to use things like the Real ID, to control access to public lands, where the government is strapped for money in large part because of the rising costs of maintaining its global economic empire, the use of the government to control public lands is also quite dangerous and comes with peril. We see that repeatedly in the discussions around the parks, around public lands, around anything that the government has a stake in (roads and bridges come to mind).

    Thus, I think at most, a government takeover of amenities at parks where concessionaires control those things could never be an ideal or a permanent solution, only a better one than turning the parks into the gateway towns no one wants them to be. Or, worse, private fiefdoms that arise as the competition system fails - private communities, or exclusive towns. However, all of this again calls for seeing nothing but doom if we continue to view issues through the continuum of government control of property versus private control of property (and its various hybrids). If we don't escape that way of viewing things and challenge the fundamental premises, we won't have a way of dealing with the fouled up and lousy choices that are before us, choices that are only getting worse as we crumble under the weight of our economic and political system. Again, we are dealing at a grain size that is too fine for us to make a difference dependent on too many other considerations. Isn't that what ecosystem science has taught people? That, you can't simply tinker atomistically with complex systems? Yet, we think if we adjust the private v. public continuum like we adjust pH balances, that we can somehow find a happy equilibrium. Ummm...come on! Can't we see that neither the emperor nor the billionaire is actually wearing any clothes (and neither are we thanks to them!)

    Jim Macdonald
    The Magic of Yellowstone
    Yellowstone Newspaper
    Jim's Eclectic World

  • This Just In : Fort Hancock STILL a Mess   6 years 30 weeks ago

    Make a decision NPS -- are the buildings worth keeping or not? Privatization and for-profit means that someone somewhere is thinking the thought "is it more cost effective and/or profitable to just tear these buildings down and build anew than to follow historical guildelines and attempt to preserve these buildings?" At some point in the future, greed (or need) will outweigh the desire to maintain these buildings. And then not only has the line been crossed, it's been completely moved and new precedents have been set. Why is it that "business" has to drive the funding of our kids sports teams, our kids' education, national parks, and everything else that we hold dearly? When I have to pay three dollars for a Junior Ranger book at Park XYZ, I expect there NOT to be some company's name or logo on the inside cover of it. Somebody somewhere has a hand in both of my pockets, and I don't appreciate it.

  • This Just In : Fort Hancock STILL a Mess   6 years 30 weeks ago

    I repeat my thoughts on the Presidio of San Francisco: If you believe modern, commercial uses of large, multi-building areas are inconsistent with the purpose of a unit in the National Park system, then take them out of the System and give them to the BLM or create a new agency to manage federal property of this kind.

    But I can't believe anyone would prefer those areas to rot and and fall into decay. There simply is nothing better to do with a former army fort then development and bringing back life. Make sure that one building is set aside as a museum, ensure access of the public to beaches or other attractive places, but use the place. With modern sustainable purposes. If this is not the job of NPS, well give it to someone else.

  • If You Have to Ask the Price, The Ahwahnee And Jenny Lake Lodge Are Probably Out of Reach   6 years 30 weeks ago

    I have deep concerns about privatizing the amminites of the NPS. The next maybe a company from Spain gains the bid for these concessions. Then the 80% of the profits are not even invested in the US. Also once this profit making system is estiblished what next? Will they start to place private security forces in place of forest rangers. We're doing that to fight our wars. To me the land of the free and the home of the brave is forgetting it's first priority- the land! Perhaps it's beneith us, it's more important to deal with lease agrements.

  • If You Have to Ask the Price, The Ahwahnee And Jenny Lake Lodge Are Probably Out of Reach   6 years 30 weeks ago

    I do remember this kind of fiasco with the MCA Corporation. They actively and shewedly screwed the NPS with there Yosemite Concessions and made millions, while kicking in a measly 2% to the Parks coffers! MCA is gone, but talk about a sweetheart deal with back room corruption. This trend still continues till this day! I'm deeply set against any privatization in the National Parks..."give them an inch, they will take a foot"!

  • If You Have to Ask the Price, The Ahwahnee And Jenny Lake Lodge Are Probably Out of Reach   6 years 30 weeks ago

    But the repair is not to allow more competition to start crying out for more ammenities, more recreational use, more conferences, more day-use buses.

    My argument was not for competition to ask for more. My argument was that competition should be allowed. For instance, why should Xanterra be granted an exclusive contract at Crater Lake to operate the lodge, the lodge restaurant, the gift shop, the gift shop snack bar, Mazama campground, the campground store, the campground restaurant/giftshop, and the chalet-style cabins at the campground?

    The idea that fair market competition would lower prices in Yosemite or any other park is absolutely absurd.

    Maybe for lodging, maybe not. But if the campground store sells beer for over $10 a six-pack (which they did in '99 in the summer) and the Rim Village store (operated by another company) had to compete with a different company for customers, they might sell beer for $9 a six pack.


    The repair is for the NPS to get some friggin' teeth and clamp down on the concessions.

    This will never happen in a politicized system in which interest groups pressure government to keep the slop coming to the trough. There are too many parasites in the system, each clamoring for their share of the pie, that keep the NPS's teeth dull and brittle.

  • If You Have to Ask the Price, The Ahwahnee And Jenny Lake Lodge Are Probably Out of Reach   6 years 30 weeks ago

    I agree, Beamis. They are not.

  • If You Have to Ask the Price, The Ahwahnee And Jenny Lake Lodge Are Probably Out of Reach   6 years 30 weeks ago

    $25 entrance fees aren't exactly egalitarian.

  • If You Have to Ask the Price, The Ahwahnee And Jenny Lake Lodge Are Probably Out of Reach   6 years 30 weeks ago

    The idea that fair market competition would lower prices in Yosemite or any other park is absolutely absurd. Where in the rest of the world does that happen? Resort industries have a monopoly by their very presence in the valued place so prices only go up up up. Competition would increase prices, increase pressure on the resource and also increase the pressures on an already over-pressured NPS to submit to the "will of the market."

    Stephen Mather set up the (yes, very imperfect) concession system so that the NPS could regulate the costs and quality of the visitor ammenities in the park. It is certainly a system that needs repaired. But the repair is not to allow more competition to start crying out for more ammenities, more recreational use, more conferences, more day-use buses. The repair is for the NPS to get some friggin' teeth and clamp down on the concessions.

    The prices in the parks are obscene. Middle class families can't afford $100/night rooms. And lower class families are shut out entirely. What are we saying about the park experience when we shut the greater portion of our populace out of that experience? If the parks become only for the wealthy, they become private, elite parks and not parks for the people.

    Owen has done us a great service to send us this shameful review of the "best" places to stay. The Park Service should be embarrased.

  • Centennial Projects: Mountain Biking in Big Bend National Park   6 years 30 weeks ago

    Here, here, Anonomous (not verified) 2... well put.

    I have to say I've hiked on trails in Yosemite Valley when illegal mountain bikers came through and I almost got beaned good. And after they were gone, the ruts and damage done to the trail really surprised me. Mountain biking is not the same as the family pedalling their Schwins from view to view. It is a recreational sport that does great damage to the resource and does not belong in our national parks.

  • If You Have to Ask the Price, The Ahwahnee And Jenny Lake Lodge Are Probably Out of Reach   6 years 30 weeks ago

    I agree with competition. If one company operated the Yosemite Lodge and another operated Curry Village, the competition would likely spark improvements to both properties as each vied to be the better facility with the better rates. As for whether the concessionaires are reaping a windfall, I'd need more information on how profitable the properties are, who pays for maintenance, who pays insurance, etc. etc.

  • Centennial Projects: Mountain Biking in Big Bend National Park   6 years 30 weeks ago

    mountain bike trails do nothing for transportation, especially when you follow the mountain bike centric IMBA trail building standards, (http://www.imba.com/resources/trail_building/) they exist primarily for the thrill of biking on a trail, so let's be sure to minimize any expectation that the parks will somehow work to "reduce their carbon footprint" by building these trails. paved bike trails are a different thing altogether, but that's not what we're talking about here.

    the mission of the park service is not compatible with mountain biking... if you allow mountain biking, what is next? tubing with a cooler of beer on the madison in yellowstone? (although, you'd have to drink a lot to stay warm!) downhill bike trails with jumps and sky bridges from the rim of bryce to the bottom? this site argues constantly about the merits of nps management in preserving a landscape, i'm surprised no one has piped up here against the idea.

    i ride a mountain bike a lot (i love it, it's a great workout and very very fun) and biking causes far more erosion on trails in mountainous terrain from what i have experienced. i live in an area with much usfs wilderness (which does NOT allow mtn. biking) and in areas with similar (emphasis on similar) the erosion where bikes are allowed is much much more. also, in a day and age with declining budgets and increased spread of invasive species, why are we adding more to the parks plate? mountain bike trails take more resources (man hours and bugetary input) to maintain and have far more user conflicts given the speeds involved, to say nothing of the liability assumed. as such, they do not belong in parks in my strong opinion.

    they do, however, belong on national forests and bureau of land management areas, state parks, etc. just not the parks.

  • If You Have to Ask the Price, The Ahwahnee And Jenny Lake Lodge Are Probably Out of Reach   6 years 30 weeks ago

    I see the free market side of the argument: supply (lodging in parks) is limited, and demand is high, so prices are high.

    What I find to be unfair is the non-competitive advantage companies are granted by the government. Why should one company in Yellowstone operate every room, every campground, every store? With a little competition, some prices might fall, benefiting the consumer.

    But leaving price and monopolies aside, I wonder how anyone opposed to non-governmental management of national parks can patronize any concession or stay in any lodge and maintain a clear conscience?

    Thank you, Beamis, for expanding on my point and making the connection. If some don't think almost $1000 a night at the Ahwahnee is a "fair" price, then how can it be fair that the concession gives maybe $20 of that $1000 to the NPS? Why should taxpayers foot the bill while wealthy corporations reap the reward?

  • If You Have to Ask the Price, The Ahwahnee And Jenny Lake Lodge Are Probably Out of Reach   6 years 30 weeks ago

    Truth be known the prices quoted are not really all that out of line and are relative bargains compared to the price of lodgings in much less attractive locales.

    I'm with Merryland and much prefer the backcountry over lodges but do enjoy having breakfast and then hoisting a few cold ones later in the afternoon at the North Rim Lodge of the Grand Canyon. The Yellowstone lodges and hotels are fun to hang out in and people watch after coming back from a few days out in the wilds.

    The questions Frank raises about the mere pittance that is generated for the parks by all of this lodging business is germane to the issue because the money isn't going back into the parks but into corporate coffers after the consummation of sweetheart concession contracts.

    No one likes the idea of privatization but then don't seem to mind the current pillaging that goes on by private multi-nationals operating with impunity while giving back next to nothing.

  • If You Have to Ask the Price, The Ahwahnee And Jenny Lake Lodge Are Probably Out of Reach   6 years 30 weeks ago

    Places like the Ahwahnee were built specifically to cater to the super-rich. Stephen Mather, first NPS superintendent, thought that in order for the National Parks to get the funding and approvals needed in Washington, they had to be places where the wealthy movers and shakers in the East Coast elite wanted to vacation. So the parks needed hotels that would attract that sort. Like it or not, that's just the way it was and it may have been a good politically savvy move.

  • Soundscape : Frijoles Creek in Bandelier National Monument   6 years 30 weeks ago

    Thanks Jeremy, I needed that this morning! Brings music to my ears, especially after reading about Bush's desire to continue the war in Iraq.

  • Centennial Projects: Mountain Biking in Big Bend National Park   6 years 30 weeks ago

    In July I spent a week at Far View in Mesa Verde nat. park, where bikes of any kind are apparently not allowed, at least I never saw any. That surprised me. I just assumed bikes and specific bike trails or paved bike paths would be a natural benefit to such a location by reducing auto traffic and its air pollution. Mesa Verde is such a large park that it is otherwise impossible to see without an automobile. The beauty and mystery of the surroundings would have been much more enjoyable by being allowed to travel at my leisure from location to location on a bike instead of a car and the attendant traffic.

  • Soundscape : Frijoles Creek in Bandelier National Monument   6 years 30 weeks ago

    Hi Jeremy,

    Lovely ambiance!

    Can I convince you to share a favorite recording for the one-minute vacation project? :)

    aaron

  • If You Have to Ask the Price, The Ahwahnee And Jenny Lake Lodge Are Probably Out of Reach   6 years 30 weeks ago

    I'm pretty much not interested in these sorts of accomodations so long as I can still carry my tent and sleeping bag. I did, however, get the steak dinner at Phantom Ranch once when hiking through the canyon and boy oh boy was that a good investment regardless of the price, which I no longer recall. After eating astronaut food for a day or two or three, that was one awesome meal.

  • If You Have to Ask the Price, The Ahwahnee And Jenny Lake Lodge Are Probably Out of Reach   6 years 31 weeks ago

    If Xanterra was taken out of the picture, with its many very low paid employees that often turn out to be thieves, sex offenders and petty drug dealers, the park service would never be able to justify their huge law enforcement budgets in these mostly remote and generally crime free areas. In many parks Xanterra employees make up the bulk of felony arrests for the mostly bored and underutilized law enforcement wing of the green and gray. The concessionaires provide an essential ingredient to justify guns, door kicking glory and gobs of Homeland Security gravy.

    At one park that I worked in the Xanterra housing area was staked out every evening (in season) with night vision goggles and full complement of rangers. I went on a ride along one night with an LE friend to the Lodge area and it was just like being in an episode of COPS. We just can't take that away from them, market economics be damned!