Recent comments

  • Backcountry Volunteer Survives 100 Foot Fall While Canyoneering at Zion National Park   6 years 22 weeks ago

    I'm curious as to what other canyoneering experiences anywhere else in the western hemisphere are comparable (or better) than Utah. Strange you chose to single out the "lower 48" but didn't expand that further. If it's a secret, I'll understand. For a long time I didn't tell many (if any) people about the hidden spots at Escalante.

  • At Statue of Liberty National Monument, Save Ellis Island, Inc., Works to Restore Ellis Island’s Time-Ravaged Buildings   6 years 22 weeks ago

    I think the key to these sorts of renovations succeeding is when the final product is actually put to good use, rather than having a giant shell of a building that people come to simply gawk at. And the use of the building(s) should be a good fit with the history of the place. It seems like both those things are at least being attempted here, so kudos to all involved. In other words, hosting giant freak parties like they've done on Alcatraz -- bad. EI Institute and Conference Center -- good.

  • Grand Canyon Railway May Expand Rail Service to the South Rim at Grand Canyon National Park   6 years 22 weeks ago

    We did this trip a few years ago with the kids in the month of March... the kids loved it, and you definitely don't need a vehicle once you get to the South Rim. When I worked at Grand Canyon there were trees growing up through the rotting RR ties. Glad to see it brought back to life, especially if it cuts down on the number of zanies looking for a parking spot.

  • Grand Canyon Railway May Expand Rail Service to the South Rim at Grand Canyon National Park   6 years 22 weeks ago

    Sharon and myself had a chance this summer to ride the train from Williams to the Grand Canyon, it was a memorable trip. I just hope the new owners are aware of the treasure that they have in it's people especially one.

    We live in the heart of Tourist America near Disney World, so we are aware of what employees and their attitudes make for such an endeavor.
    Victoria was our guide and rode with us to the South Rim and Back. Xanterra Parks and Resorts would be well advised to know this woman was absolutely outstanding in her ability to keep us entertained. She had the enthusiasm, energy, excitement and detailed information about the area that could only found in a National Geographic Program! A rarity in employees. I sincerely hope that when we return we have her as our guide again.

  • Appellate Court Upholds Lower Court Ruling on Development at Gateway National Recreation Area   6 years 22 weeks ago

    With all due respect to MRC, the NPS has a lot more than 2 decomissioned military bases. Cape Cod and Acadia have substantial military bases. Santa Monica Mountains, Indiana Dunes, Gateway, Golden Gate, and a host of other parks have old Nike missile bases, heck, the entire park of Minute Man Missile is a former military base. And that doesn't count all the historic forts. Indeed, the NPS has the former military gun and fort sites protecting almost every major harbor in America including Baltimore, San Francisco, San Diego, New York, Charleston, and Boston. I say we re-arm these places and the NPS can REALLY have a funding bargaining chip - they can threaten to close down the harbors! :-)

  • Appellate Court Upholds Lower Court Ruling on Development at Gateway National Recreation Area   6 years 22 weeks ago

    Let not confuse one time events (Alcatraz and Boston) with long term commercial use of historic buildings. Two times now, decommissioned military complexes were handed over to the NPS: Fort Hancock at Sandy Hook and the Presidio of San Francisco. These complexes consist of vastly more buildings then the NPS unit can use for its own purposes - from museums, visitor facilities, eventual concessionaires and administration.

    So what is the NPS to do with buildings it has to maintain but can't use? In case of the Presidio we are talking about 870 buildings, in Fort Hancock only 50 or so. There simply is no alternative to leasing them to commercial uses. And who would want to visit a park full of buildings with dark windows and badly maintained roads and walkways? Get life into the complexes, modern life, commercial life, sustainable uses. About 2500 people live in the Presidio of San Francisco, some in former officer housing, beautiful Victorian or Revival style buildings with a views onto the Bay, the Golden Gate Bride, the ocean or downtown.

    If you believe this is not consistent with the mission of the NPS, then give those installations to some other agency, but it would be foolish not to use them.

  • Appellate Court Upholds Lower Court Ruling on Development at Gateway National Recreation Area   6 years 22 weeks ago


    Let's see, the Presidio has already gone done this road, jumping into commercial development with both feet; at Alcatraz they leased out the prison to Toyota for a bash with alcohol and, some say, marijuana; at Boston National Historical Park they rented out the Charleston Navy Yard for a corporate affair; I seem to recall mention of Cuyahoga Valley National Park also thinking of leasing out facilities. And, as Anonymous says, at least one other national park superintendent is looking closely at the Fort Hancock model.

    Here are some snippets from a post I wrote back in August 07 after the Charleston Navy Yard and Alcatraz affairs.

    Already this summer there have been two special events that some have called into question: The Toyota Scion party at Alcatraz in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and the McKesson bash at the Charlestown Navy Yard of the Boston National Historical Park. What some have found objectionable is that neither event meshed, culturally or historically, with their respective settings. Rather, the decisions to OK both events seem to be based simply on drawing crowds to the park units for after-hours affairs.

    Will we see private parties on the boardwalk that wraps Old Faithful? I'm told not. But who knows? Whether the Alcatraz and Charlestown Navy Yard affairs were the only special-use events that have been at odds with their settings is not easy to ascertain, as the Park Service's Washington headquarters does not track special uses.

    Indeed, in the case of the Alcatraz and Charlestown affairs, the Park Service's point person for special uses had no advance knowledge of the parties.

    Were the Alcatraz and Charlestown parties big deals? Considered in a vacuum, probably not. But if they set precedents that will open other units of the national park system to similarly questionable uses, these bashes were very big deals.

    Another concern is that while NPS Director Mary Bomar promised Congress that she would see that transparency is key in how her agency conducts business, that message does not seem to be trickling down to all units of the Park Service. While the folks at Golden Gate were more than willing to discuss how they handled the Toyota party, those at Boston National Historical Park largely have turned a deaf ear to questions about how they manage special uses in general and, more specifically, why they approved the McKesson party.

    So far they refuse to discuss:

    * The parameters of the contract with Amelia Occasions, a wedding and special events planner, and what it requires from Amelia in terms of payment for the use of the Navy Yard's Commandant's House or whether Amelia is responsible for maintenance of the house;

    * How many special events they allow each year;

    * How much revenue, if any, these events generate, and;

    * Why the McKesson party, which required a dozen tents to dispense alcohol to roughly 3,500 invitees, was permitted when Director's Order 53 clearly states that special uses that are contrary to the purposes for which a park was established or which unreasonably impair the atmosphere of peace and tranquility maintained in wilderness, natural, historic, or commemorative locations within the park should not be allowed.

    They have said, though, that the best way to preserve a historic building is to use it.


    While efforts to lure new audiences are laudable, there are some within the Park Service who question how these efforts are being carried out.

    "My feeling is that this is out of control. I think the message from (Director) Bomar and others is see if you can make money," one ranger told me. "I think you can do these events without desecrating or bastardizing the resource or the image. But we're not."

    Barky, you're right that the NPS can't currently maintain all its facilities appropriately. But that's not because we as a nation can't afford to do so.

    I'd suggest that if Congress can attach $6 BILLION in EARMARKS to legislation as it recently did, if the administration can even talk about bailing Wall Street out to the tune of $700 BILLION, and in light of the fact that Washington is spending BILLIONS every month in Iraq, that money exists to help the parks.

    And we're not talking about infusing tens of billions of dollars into the park system to properly maintain it. Far from it. Here's piece of a post I wrote in June about properly funding the parks:

    Regular Traveler readers might recall an essay of Dr. Pitcaithley's that was highlighted on this site last fall. In it he argued that the Park Service’s budget, currently running at about $2.3 billion, should be at least $5 billion or $6 billion to adequately meet the agency’s needs. In justifying that investment, Dr. Pitcaithley points not just to the recreational value of the National Park System, but to its educational, scientific, and preservation missions. Cast another way, when we fund the National Park Service we’re not just investing in trees and mountains and gorgeous landscapes, but in both this country’s past and its future, in both its culture and its knowledge base.

    Unfortunately, we seem to have lost sight of those values and possibly have begun to take the national parks for granted, figuring they're well taken care of now and will be tomorrow.

    “The chronic under-funding of the National Park Service is not now and has not been for the past 50 years a matter of money – it is a matter of priorities!” Dr. Pitcaithley told those who attended that conference back in April. “Five billion dollars amounts to 0.002 percent of the president’s 2008 proposed budget.”

    For the sake of comparison, while the National Park Service slogs along with its insufficient budget, the Defense Department is funded at roughly $550 billion, the professor points out. Just one B-2 bomber costs $2 billion, he adds for emphasis.

    “Do you really think the American people would notice if this country’s military industrial complex held one less bomber than it does today and that those funds were transferred to the National Park Service?” he wonders. “The president and Congress took less than ten minutes to determine that the economy needed an economic stimulus package totaling $150 billion. Do you think anyone would have complained if it were $148 billion? And the resulting $2 billion saving were given to the National Park Service?”

    I fear that if park advocates don't raise a stink over the current funding inequities, if they go along with the commercialization of the National Park System, Congress won't spend more, and very likely will spend less, on the parks.

  • Pruning the Parks: Shoshone Cavern National Monument (1909-1954) Would Have Cost Too Much to Develop   6 years 22 weeks ago

    Poverty Point presents a particularly interesting case in the parlor game of "delisting." Without Federal management, it would certainly be a prime candidate. On the other hand, the US has recently put Poverty Point on its "Tentative List" - which is the first step towards being promoted to UNESCO World Heritage Site status. To me, there is something inherently disconnected between a site having UNESCO WHS status on one hand, and then being run by a State or Local agency on the other hand (ala Cahokia Mounds in Illinois or Monticello in Virginia.) Granted, the UNESCO WHS does not contain an "experience" or "enjoyment" element ala National Park Service status, but I still think that on the basis of significance alone that those sites in the US that are of world-class significance should be included in the National Park System, rather than being left on the outside.

  • At Statue of Liberty National Monument, Save Ellis Island, Inc., Works to Restore Ellis Island’s Time-Ravaged Buildings   6 years 22 weeks ago

    I'm also very interested in the new plans for the "Peopling of America Museum" at Ellis Island. This seems to be a rare instance in which the National Park Service is getting it exactly right. The story of Ellis Island is important enough that I think that few people would blink if the National Park Service just stuck to that story at Ellis Island. But I do think that the Ellis Island experience would be so much richer if it is used as a launching point to tell the story of immigration to the United States in general. Hopefully this will be a model for many other Parks to come:

  • Appellate Court Upholds Lower Court Ruling on Development at Gateway National Recreation Area   6 years 22 weeks ago

    I can tell you that as a national park superintendent I am planning on a similar project in my park. It is either that, or watch the historic buildings collapse. We cannot afford to maintain them and they will soon reach a condition where they will have to be torn down for safety reasons alone. Park managers are doing the best they can with what they have.

  • Backcountry Volunteer Survives 100 Foot Fall While Canyoneering at Zion National Park   6 years 22 weeks ago

    This is a great reminder now how many times you have gone down a canyon you always have to be paying attention.

  • Appellate Court Upholds Lower Court Ruling on Development at Gateway National Recreation Area   6 years 22 weeks ago

    Setting aside the funding questions, which are troubling to say the least (but pale in comparison to all the other waste & graft existing in the federal government today), I actually don't have a problem with commercial development in Fort Hancock.

    When I toured the place last year, I thought it was a great idea. Why? Because it puts businesses and residences in a historic district, instead of letting said district gather dust waiting for random history enthusiasts such as myself. As long as the physical integrity of the site doesn't change, so you can still see the significance of it, why not put it to use? They are keeping a few of the more important locations under complete NPS control and open to the public, aren't they? What are they supposed to do with the rest of the buildings? Clearly the NPS can't maintain them all.

    I will say that this area is uniquely suited to such development, I don't think I've seen any other site that could be developed in this manner. I don't think you can use this case to fuel a "slippery slope" argument regarding commercial development in other National Park Service sites.


    My travels through the National Park System:

  • A Section of the Appalachian Trail Designed for Wheelchair Access Opens in Vermont   6 years 22 weeks ago

    It's not an anti-disabled perspective that I'm attempting (albeit poorly) to express, it's a "stop trying to improve nature and stop spending money on something we'll just have to spend more maintenance money on later" perspective. Believe me, when I see people parking in handicap spots that have no right being there, I'm in their face (politely of course). It's just that NPS has limited funds, and never seems to have enough money to do what it needs to do, and now we're making it even harder for NPS to keep up. This is just one small example. When NPS and the public were debating overflights in the canyon, once again they tugged the heartstrings and brought up the poor disabled folk who would otherwise "never be able to see the canyon" as the argument for continuing the intrusive helicopter and airplane noise in one of the few places in the Lower 48 where you have some chance to experience complete silence. I'm sorry if my anti-improvements and anti-services stance just happens to make it more difficult for disabled folks to get around in the wilderness. But my point is that if you build it, it's no longer wilderness. Another example would be the WATER FOUNTAINS along the Bright Angel trail. Convenient, yes. Necessary, NO.

  • At Statue of Liberty National Monument, Save Ellis Island, Inc., Works to Restore Ellis Island’s Time-Ravaged Buildings   6 years 22 weeks ago

    My eyebrows went up too, d-2, when I saw that SEI had, on their official website, alluded to a 10-15 year time frame for completing the renovations. I know there is a sense of urgency to get these buildings restored while the window of opportunity is open, but realistically speaking, budgetary constraints and related issues could very well delay restoration work for some of the buildings long past the time when the current stabilization begins to seriously degrade. I suspect that you're thinking the same thing that I am. Eventually, SEI and its partners may be forced to let some of the least important buildings collapse into final ruination. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

  • At Statue of Liberty National Monument, Save Ellis Island, Inc., Works to Restore Ellis Island’s Time-Ravaged Buildings   6 years 22 weeks ago

    Thank you, Bob, for this important piece.

    It will be interesting to see if the NPS and Save Ellis Island, Inc., will be able to restore all the structures on the south side of Ellis Island.

    One question I have relates to the feasibility of the timetable. You mention the time horizon available to restore the buildings after the stabilization work of serveral years ago: you say:

    "SEI’s immediate concern was to get the 30 buildings stabilized with emergency repairs costing more than $8 million. Then the restoration work could proceed over a period of 10-15 years."

    I followed that stabilization process pretty closely at the time. Although the NPS leadership in Washington did NOT put those stabilization funds in the budget, in another demonstration of the need of congressional intervention in the budget process, these stabilization funds were added to the NPS budget by Congress over the objections of the NPS Comptroller.

    The NPS preservation architect in charge, who DID support the stabilization project, said that everybody better pay attention, because only 10 years after those poured-concrete buildings were stabilized, they will have deteriorated again to the sorry condition they were at, before the stabilization. In other words, don't even bother to do the stabilization unless you can move quickly to go to full restoration. Years have passed since then, and I am not sure how much time is really available.

    An earlier superintendent of Statue of Liberty/Ellis had actually opposed the restoration (it actually seemed he just didn't believe he could ever get all the money together), and suggested a "managed ruin" would be a better idea.

    One NPS guy said the problem with the latest campaign is, that in the original campaign, NPS had "sold" that preserving the north side would be preserving Ellis; NPS had never communicated effectively to the public what was so necessary about preserving the south side.

    Sort of like, the big original fundraising had been to "save" Ellis, save that significant story of turn-of-the-century immigration, and that had been done in the public mind. Think of all the movies around the time of that fund-raising effort, Godfather II being only one of many.

    The new restoration needs a phrase to capture the public's imagination, in the same kind of sense of what ADDITIONALLY can be added to America's story by working on those other buildings.

    Thank you Bob for this effort to frame the significance of this restoration effort.

  • Apostle Islands National Lakeshore: It's Really About the Islands   6 years 22 weeks ago

    I'd second this recommendation as a park to put on a list of great visits. My wife and I had the chance to spend several days at Apostle Islands last summer, and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. The concession-operated boat tour was done well, and provided not only a good overview of the park, but also the chance to spend a couple of hours on Raspberry Island and take an interpretive tour of the restored lighthouse.

  • Big Cypress National Preserve: Is More ORV Access In Bear Island Unit Wise?   6 years 22 weeks ago

    Well as a camping enthusiast I value the natural spectacle that is the great outdoors in all her beauty. But I don't think ORV users are to blame entirely for the condition of the trails. Even the smallest rut in the mud turns into a disaster when a terrential downpour is thrown into the mix. Personally, I feel the ORV trails should only be available during dry conditions. It would be the responsibility of the rangers which are paid by our taxes, to monitor the conditions on a daily or weekly basis to determine wether or not it is suitable for use. Think about it, you go down a trail with what ever tread type tire you want during dry conditions and not much if any damage is done nor is there displacement of earth. But if you let them run in there during a terrential downpour either before, during or after. You will see landscapes similar to the picture posted above.

    That's just my 02. and there is more if you'd like to hear me out.

  • Heavy Rains and Flooding from Hurricane Ike Remnants Left a Mess at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore   6 years 22 weeks ago

    How true, and how sad. Congress' failure to seize the initiative at Indiana Dunes back in 1916 is all the more frustrating -- and ironic -- when you consider that, in that very same year of 1916, a national park was established on Maui and the Big Island in the faraway territory of Hawaii.

  • Heavy Rains and Flooding from Hurricane Ike Remnants Left a Mess at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore   6 years 22 weeks ago

    Bob - When Stephen Mather first proposed this site for inclusion in the National Park System in 1916 he called it Sand Dunes National Park. That name would be too confusing now because of Great Sand Dunes NP. But, other names such as Lake Michigan Dunes NP, Marquette NP, or Calumet NP would work. And yes, I think it should be a national park. It deserves it as much as Hot Springs, Congaree, or Cuyahoga Valley. The failure to adequately protect this entire area when the nation had a chance in 1916 is one of the greatest environmental and conservation tragedies in the history of the U.S. and one not often told or known outside the Chicago area. Waking the 10 million people of this area to the fact that they have a part of the National Park System nearby would be good for the entire national park movement because it would add to the urban and political support the parks need. There is no other national park area within 175 miles of Indiana Dunes and it is the closest NPS site to Chicago, Milwaukee, and Southwest Michigan.

    "Should public regard or private means procure it for the country, it will be the only national park within reach of millions of workers for weekend pleasure. The Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Adirondack, White Mountain, and other national parks always will be sacred to the few who have money and plenty of time. Here is a chance for the powers that be to show regard for the working people of the middle West, who are, after all, the pillars of America. Could there not be at least one national park within reach of the masses of the citizens and their children?"
    ----"Miss McCauley's Column," circa 1918

  • Update: At Grand Canyon National Park, an Abandoned Uranium Mine Must be Cleaned Up   6 years 22 weeks ago

    The yellowcake that the Orphan Mine produced was indeed intended for America's Cold War nuclear weapons program, not nuclear power production. I revised the article and removed the reference to nuclear power production. If you'd like to dig deeper into this subject, see Michael A. Amundson, "Mining the Grand Canyon to Save It:The Orphan Lode Uranium Mine and National Security," The Western Historical Quarterly Vol. 32, No. 3 (Autumn 2001). Here is the abstract:

    The Orphan Lode Uranium Mine, on the Grand Canyon's South Rim, offers a case study of the changing definition of national security in the Cold War American West. At the nexus of changing environmental, economic, energy, and national defense values, the mine's history complicates current views on nuclearism, interregional colonialism, and resource exploitation in national parks.

  • Update: At Grand Canyon National Park, an Abandoned Uranium Mine Must be Cleaned Up   6 years 22 weeks ago

    The article seems to be placing the blame of mining in the Grand Canyon on nuclear power. How do we know that the U3O8 extracted from this mine was used for just nuclear power and not nuclear warheads?

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   6 years 22 weeks ago

    Thanks, Sebattis, for such a good answer. I, too, worry what will happen when the public realizes it is not paying for what it thinks it is.

    And thanks, also, for identifying the multiple threads we need to look at to properly understand, and respond to, these complex issues.

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   6 years 22 weeks ago

    In response to d-2, the fact that "user fees" are being diverted from user services to other purposes, like maintenance, is exactly part of the problem. It both undermines the perception among the public that they are "getting what they are paying for", and also decreases the incentive for Park Superintendents to use user fees to expand visitor services that can't currently be supported under current budgetary conditions. At the risk of getting "too inside-the-beltway" here, one option would be for the Park Service to get the authority (if they don't have it already) to treat certain user fees as what the government calls "offsetting collections." In the world of federal budgets this would literally mean that the user fees for, say, lifeguards would directly offset the cost of the lifeguards - and so in certain representations of the NPS's budget, the lifguarding program wouldn't apear at all, because the costs and revenues would be "offset."

    At the end of the day, there's two possible debates to be having hear. I still think that the original post here attempted to frame the debate as "should the Park Service try and make the Parks absolutely safe" - which I think is obviously pretty absurd. There is a debate to be had on "should the Park Service make the Parks more safe than they are today?" and perhaps "does the Park Service have enough budgetary resources to reach a desirable level of safety in the Parks" - but I didn't see those debates as being presented by the original post.

  • Update: At Grand Canyon National Park, an Abandoned Uranium Mine Must be Cleaned Up   6 years 22 weeks ago

    You're right, Frank. Triuranium octoxide (U308) is a naturally occurring -- and unusually stable -- form of yellowcake. PM is partly correct. Some kinds of yellowcake are products of milling. Not this one, though.

  • Update: At Grand Canyon National Park, an Abandoned Uranium Mine Must be Cleaned Up   6 years 22 weeks ago

    There is either a big assumption here or some evidence not presented that I do not know about (please enlighten me).

    The assumption is that this uranium was made into yellowcake for nuclear power. How do we not know that it wasn't enriched to produce uranium suitable for weapons?

    On a good note, this uranium "is generally considered to be the more attractive form for disposal purposes because, under normal environmental conditions, U3O8 is one of the most kinetically and thermodynamically stable forms of uranium and also because it is the form of uranium found in nature."