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Op-Ed| Addressing The Backlog With New Backbone: History And The National Park Service Centennial

May 5th - 11:26am | rmackie

Nice post Harry, and it has led to an interesting discussion. I do not have the answers. When I first started working in Yosemite on a trail crew in 1960, park visitation was roughly 500,000. Upon my retirement in 1997, it was in excess of 4 million, all rough figures. In 1960, visitation to Tuolumne Meadows via the old  Tioga Road was 25,000. Now it exceeds a million and half.

May 5th - 11:13am | JEMiculka

Perhaps we should see about creating a National Parks Lend - Lease Act.  We can loan Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier and Grand Canyon to their respective states or counties or other interested organizations and let them manage them.

May 5th - 10:15am | Alfred Runte

To sum up so far:If the Park Service saves money, Congress will just reduce the budget again. A+ fpr that insight. That's exactly what Congress will do. Then will we let them?

May 5th - 09:07am | tahoma

During my career in the Maintenance Division, I would say about a third of the work we did was not maintenance, but new construction and elaborate upgrades.  This development work was always a higher priority and the most certain path to managerial promotion.

May 5th - 08:58am | Scott Merritt

Travis - thank you for taking the time to provide solid responses to this incredibly weak article and incoherent stream of comments.  

May 5th - 08:49am | Harryb3570

I agree with you trail advocate. The reality of our maintenance backlog, lack of staffing, poor quality or outdated administrative histories is there and if we continue on our present course I see disaster looming. There is no perfect or ideal solution but we do need a plan. I do not see a plan by the NPS to deal with our looming problems.

May 5th - 01:07am | trailadvocate

Yep, there is reality out there to truly cope with.  The fantasy is what it is. The sooner it's recognized as such,  the better. Only getting worse  and in a hurry!

May 4th - 23:44pm | Travis Mason-Bushman

But yes, interpreation had already fallen from a staff of 75 to a staff of 36. I believe now it is just 18. How do you make the parks more relevant by cutting job holders off at the knees? In Zion, another wonderful couple just left the park, knowing they would never achieve permanent status.

May 4th - 23:11pm | Perpetual Seasonal

I wish Mr. Smith could please point out where this "rule" about each generation is written? Maybe we should think about about the future generations that a have to pay for and administer these parks. Past generations can and have made mistakes and put places under NPS management that don't belong there. And as we've mentioned before sites have been removed from the system.

May 4th - 22:02pm | ecbuck

I generally agree with Mr Butowsky.  My one addition would be to examine if we really have a 11.5 billion backlog or a 10 billion wish list and 1.5mil of actual necessary repairs. 

May 4th - 21:37pm | rmackie

 Travis Mason Rushman, thank you for your posts. I enjoy both Harry's and Alfred Runte's posts and usually find I am in agreement with them, but on this issue, I am with you. I understand Mr. Runte's concern about the "population bomb' and in the larger context he maybe right. But I did find Harry's suggestions on this issue not to my own way of thinking.

May 4th - 21:09pm | Alfred Runte

What do you mean by a national standard, Travis? Do you have one? All too often, the "standard" is what local interests make of it. After that, should their congressional delegation have the power, they get it pushed through Congress. The same applies to the truly NATIONAL parks. From snowmobiling to overflights, the locals get far more say than they deserve. Or am I wrong?

May 4th - 20:39pm | Travis Mason-Bushman

Who gets to keep "their" national park? Those who are willing to staff it properly and pay for it. Will some fight the process? But of course. They don't want to pay for it; they want someone else to pay for it.

May 4th - 19:58pm | Alfred Runte

What do I want for my country, Travis? I would start my wish list with common sense. In the 1960s, my student colleagues trashed the State University of New York at Binghamton to make their statement about "The War." Trouble was: Those jets you mention were their future paycheck, too. When they started work for General Electric and IBM, the love beads came off and the suits went on.

May 4th - 17:37pm | Rick B.

Sorry, Ghost, but I instinctively distrust any comment that begins with the sweeping "as we all know". It is a mathematical certainty that that statement will always be a self-serving and inaccurate generalization. Next time you might want to check with some of us before including us in your generalization used to support your position. 

May 4th - 17:08pm | Travis Mason-Bushman

The money is certainly there. We spend uncounted billions and trillions on unnecessary jet fighters and pointless foreign wars. For the price of a single F-35, we would pay for the entire Tongass National Forest operating budget for a decade. Spending on land management agencies is barely a rounding error on the federal budget as a whole. The United States is not poor, let alone broke.

May 4th - 16:13pm | Alfred Runte

Sorry, Travis, this is not a plan. It is your opinion of what would happen "if" someone else's plan were followed. Your "solution," as you call it, is undefined. The national parks already have "a broad constituency." Are you saying that the constituency is too "white" and affluent? Then say so.

May 4th - 15:33pm | Ghost of Steven...

As we all know, the NPS backlog is exaggerated and untrustworthy.  That's how we operate; we tend to blame everthing on a lack of funds, so we embelish.  Those that have been around awhile know that our budget has increased nearly every year, and for decades, often coming at the expense of other Interior agency's.

May 4th - 15:31pm | Rick Smith

While I admired Harry's professionalism as a NPS historian, I think he is forgetting one point when he starts talking about reducing the System or giving park areas to states.  One of the enduring virtures of the National Park System is that each generation of Americans, speaking through their elected representatives, gets to add the to the System those areas that they believe merit protection

May 4th - 14:49pm | Travis Mason-Bushman

I can tell you where my solution starts: Building a broad constituency in support of a strengthened, representative and relevant National Park System.

May 4th - 14:18pm | Alfred Runte

So, Travis, what's your plan? Write it up and present it to us. And one more thing. Tell us where you will find the money.

May 4th - 13:44pm | Travis Mason-Bushman

The "shrink the park system" is an objectively terrible idea and has always been so.

May 4th - 12:14pm | fjfagergren

An outstand Op-Ed with what should be a mandatory reading list!  I would only change the priorities within his list.  I would place his # 2 priority "make the park system fit the budget" the last priority, instead of #2.  Honest zero-based budgeting, especially with a leaner agency would allow the NPS to address whatever the realistic "backlog" really is and the other priorities listed here.

May 4th - 12:01pm | Jim Burnett

Thanks for some very thought-provoking ideas.

May 4th - 11:46am | Harryb3570

Amen and thank you. This was an excellent report and I regret it was forgotten.

May 4th - 11:35am | amwdew

Those interested in another, longer analysis of what's wrong with history in the NPS might also be interested in the 2011 Organization of American Historians study for which I was the lead author, Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the Na

May 4th - 09:44am | wild places

Thanks for the interesting perspective Harry (and for the list of books).  I think you are right on target with most, if not all of your points.  While not opposed to transferring some units to the states I am not sure that solves the backlog problem.

May 4th - 09:01am | tahoma

Harry Butowsky should be the next NPS Director!

May 4th - 08:27am | derrickcrandall

Thank you, Harry Butowski, for a thoughtful and important essay on how NPS can continue to be a vital and relevant part of the nation for 100 more years.  Your suggestions are good -- very good -- and can contribute to a dialogue about just what the Centennial can do to foster broad support of national parks and the important stories they hold for a changing nation that needs to recall and unde

Critics Say Legislation Penned In The Name Of Homeland Security Could Trample National Parks, Other Federal Lands

May 5th - 09:58am | Lee Dalton

This is pure balderdash on the part of Rob Bishop.  It's part of his continuing anti-environmental and Federal lands management agenda. 

Savings On Zion Maps, National Park Posters Await Traveler Members

May 4th - 21:51pm | ecbuck

Alas, too late.  Already bought my map and finished my Zion hikes today. 

Provocative Bud Light Campaign Doesn't Concern National Park Service, National Park Foundation

May 4th - 00:29am | Zebulon

Associating the parks with really crappy beer is the true crime here, especially when we have so many good craft beers.  ;) 

May 2nd - 16:21pm | ecbuck

That is how we properly look at statistics.

May 2nd - 15:50pm | Alfred Runte

A few weeks ago, a plane went down in France. Horrified, we learned that the co-pilot deliberately crashed it. How many people were killed? "Relative" to the population of Europe, not many. But what if YOU or a loved one had been on that plane?

May 2nd - 15:47pm | Rick B.

During my years as an ER nurse we had a term for a large class of assault victims - a "2-5-I". It came from the standard "explanation"  --- "I only had two beers" ..."there were about five guys there" ... "and I was just standing there!"

May 2nd - 15:00pm | Harryb3570

Wonderful letter Lee. I could not have said this any better. Thank you so much. I will send a similiar letter to Director Jarvis but based on past experience I will not expect a reply.  

May 2nd - 14:49pm | Lee Dalton

Okay, here is the text of my letter to Director Jarvis:Mr. Jon JarvisDirector, National Park ServiceNational Park Service1849 C Street NWWashington, DC 20240Dear Director Jarvis:

May 2nd - 10:09am | Lee Dalton

A fine idea, Harryb.  Before the day is over I will have mailed a paper letter to Director Jarvis.  On Monday I'll be at the door of Senator Hatch's local office with a letter to him.  Let's try to start a movement here.  What might happen if there was a deluge of letters to people who might be in positions to act? 

May 2nd - 09:31am | ecbuck

Sorry Jim, can't buy the $224 billion number.  "lost productivity'?  Well then, I guess laziness cost the economy $1 trillion. Let's outlaw laziness.   And of course that number isn't net of the contribution that alcohol makes to the economy in the form of sales, jobs, taxes etc. BTW - how does the government pay for "lost productivity'?  Are these mostly government workers?

May 2nd - 08:46am | Harryb3570

Director Jarvis. I think we would like to hear from you on this issue. Do you still think associating the Park Service with Budweiser represents a positive message to young generations of Americans. Do you really want this to be part of your legacy as Director?

May 2nd - 08:29am | Lee Dalton

Let's reduce the advertising phrase "introduce a new generation of beer drinkers to the national parks" to its real meaning.  What it really means is "to entice a new generation into the world of alcoholic irresponsibility and potential addiction."All in the name of money.

May 2nd - 07:45am | Jim Burnett

In response to a question above, CDC link for economic costs of alcohol use was provided above, and here's some more related directly to the current pitch by the industry to connect a "new genera

May 1st - 22:39pm | ecbuck

the issue is displaying the logo of a beer company in our park visitor centersIf that is "the issue", I am in 100% agreement.  No, and not the logo of any other corporation either.

May 1st - 21:57pm | rmackie

I agree Alfred (thank you again), the numbers are quite compelling and take up a huge amount of time for the park protection staff. Not only tragic accidents, severe disruptions to other visitors, time consuming litigation and court time, it is the single most time consuming duty I had on the night shift in Yosemite.

May 1st - 21:26pm | ecbuck

Some will shrug off 88,000 deaths a yearAssuming that number is true it is less than 1/2 of 1 percent of the population.  Tragic for them - yes.  But are we to base national policy on that? PS Do you have a source for "$224 billion as a result of alcohol misuse"?

Acadia Then And Now: 40 Years Is Too Long Between Visits

May 2nd - 14:56pm | Acadia on my mind

Acadia National Park was also our first-ever national park. Perhaps that's why it stays always on our mind, and why we've written Acadia hiking guides and started a blog.

High Cost Of Replacing Grand Canyon Water Line -- $100-$150 Million -- Means It's Done Piecemeal

May 2nd - 14:31pm | ecbuck

This makes defeat of the developers' plans for Tusyan all the more critical.How does Tusyan effect the pipeline water?

May 2nd - 13:21pm | Lee Dalton

When I was at Albright in 1968, almost all water was brought in by railroad tank car.  Construction on the pipe was underway and some water was, as I recall, pumped up from Indian Gardens.

May 2nd - 11:14am | Jim Burnett

This pipeline is certainly an example of critical infrastructure. There is no viable backup plan for providing this much water to the South Rim.

May 2nd - 05:05am | just a differen...

This should have been the highest priority for NPS. Not the 100 million given to Xanterra.

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