Recent comments

  • Backcountry Volunteer Survives 100 Foot Fall While Canyoneering at Zion National Park   6 years 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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."

  • Update: At Grand Canyon National Park, an Abandoned Uranium Mine Must be Cleaned Up   6 years 30 weeks ago

    I would second what MLG said. Also, the article said "During the period 1956-1969 this underground mine produced, among other things, 2,130 tons of U3O8, a naturally occurring uranium compound called yellowcake." Yellowcake is not naturally occurring. It occurs during the processing of the uranium ore.

  • How Far Should National Park Rangers Go To Safeguard Your Life?   6 years 30 weeks ago

    The dangers that park visitors often find themselves in are described in a fascinating way in the book, Off the Wall, coauthored by long-time ranger Butch Farabee. The book chronicles all the deaths that have occured in Yosemite since it became a park. Many of the vignettes in the book explain where people went wrong, whether crossing a steam above a waterfalll, clipping into a rappel anchor not properly set, or underestimating the effects of cold, wet weather on one's ability to make good decisions. Mike Finley, the former superintendent of Yellowstone, in the foreward accurately observes that this is not a book about death, but about life because in every story there are lessons to be learned. I was captured by the book and read it in just a couple days. I highly recommend it to NPT readers.

    Rick Smith

  • Archaeological Survey At Big South Fork River National River and Recreation Area   6 years 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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 30 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.