Recent comments

  • Exploring The Parks: Musings From El Morro National Monument   1 week 3 days ago

    PJ has a new issue of Thunderbear with another article that is probably germaine to this topc.

    http://www.workingnet.com/thunderbear/293.html

    A Home for Endangered Rangers is the bear's usual thoughtful wit.

  • Exploring The Parks: Musings From El Morro National Monument   1 week 3 days ago

    Lee and willj, after re-reading the main article and following the subsequent discussion thread, I am reminded of two previous NPT articles by PJ Ryan of "Thunderbear" fame (and another former NPS'er):

    http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2014/01/view-overlook-%E2%80%9Chow-do-you-get-permanent-job-nps%E2%80%9D24585

    http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2014/02/view-overlook-peter-and-paul24649

    I highly recommend that these two articles be consulted for their possible relevance to the current series of questions about the deterioration of staff morale within the rank and file of National Park Service employees, permanent as well as seasonal.

  • National Park Service Plans To Enlarge Parking Area For Delicate Arch At Arches National Park   1 week 3 days ago

    Let me preface by saying that I for one have committed to increasing my visitation to the parks to demonstrate their necessary place in our culture. However, on my first visit to Arches and Canyonlands in 2012, it was disappointing to witness photographers themselves in both parks crowd shoulder-to-shoulder onto a specific area (such as the small terrace in front of Mesa Arch) and proceed to jeer and catcall at fellow visitors to "get out of their picture." Has it been forgotten that these resources are preserved for enjoyment by all taxpayers equally, and not simply to be a photographic subject of which the same is already widely available on the Internet? At what point do we take a step back and commit to remembering that founding principal relative to our fellow visitors?

  • Exploring The Parks: Musings From El Morro National Monument   1 week 3 days ago

    Will and Wild -- both offer some fine comments.

    Perhaps someone can answer a few questions for me. Back in the "good ol' days," advancement came not because anyone sought it, but through a system that looked first at what specific skills a particular position required and then searched for people within the NPS who filled those needs. Qualified people then received an "offer" to accept the position as a lateral or promotion.

    Am I correct in thinking that now anyone may "bid" for an open position? Does that increase politicking within the service? It would seem logical that it would.

    Also, am I correct in thinking that virtually any Federal employee from any agency may also bid for jobs in NPS? Has that watered down or degraded the skill sets, morale, and (what's the right word . . . . ) heritage or tradition of the NPS or whatever word I'm searching for here?

    One theme I've often heard as I have talked with current field level rangers is a feeling of frustration that there is so much competition from people who may never have "paid their dues" as NPS employees. I think I've noticed a lot of items in the NPS Morning Reports that so-and-so was just selected as superintendent of such-and-such park -- but that the person came from another agency. Am I right or wrong in that observation?

  • Exploring The Parks: Musings From El Morro National Monument   1 week 4 days ago

    It's an issue in the private sector too. Lack of accountability at the higher levels and managers giving and taking direction without understanding what they are asking or signing up for. It's always been my view that before you are put in charge of a team tasked with cleaning toilets then you had better have cleaned a few somewhere along the way.

  • Exploring The Parks: Musings From El Morro National Monument   1 week 4 days ago

    Lee-

    I do think things have gone downhill since your time. That seems to be the consensus from the old timers I know, even accounting for the usual "kids today" bullshit.

    This is what a former superintendent on the CNPSR message board had to say on the subject:

    It¹s easy to blame Congress, funding and staffing limitations, etc. But in my judgment (and experience teaching and consulting with NPS since my retirement) it is that the NPS has done a very poor job of developing effective leaders for some time. Looking at the dismal ratings for leadership and supervision in both the OPM and Best Places to Work surveys, as well as the anecdotal information that continues to flow, over the past several years seems to validate this. Leaders at the lower levels aren¹t holding poor performers accountable, which is frustrating and demoralizing to the better performers; and leaders at the higher levels aren¹t being held accountable for poor decisions and how they are treating employees below them. It¹s partly a training issue, but even more of an accountability issue.

    So other people are seeing it, it isn't just a few bitter employees. I'd like to think that it is just confined to a few places, but the worst people we've had have all come to us from the wider NPS.

    As for your quitting a permanent job when you didn't think you could do it as well as you wanted to: I have a lot of respect for that, we need more people with that kind of integrity. Unfortunately it is also one reason we end up with so many people at the top who lack integrity.

  • Exploring The Parks: Musings From El Morro National Monument   1 week 4 days ago

    Buxton-

    I guess what I wrote about local businesses really only applies to the out of the way parks I know well. I agree that things can easily get out of hand at a large park. 2000 people a day at Delicate Arch makes my head spin. I’ve had that place to myself more than once, and I’m not that old.

    Personally I think the one size fits all national standards stuff can be taken too far. The park system is too diverse for that. Among the managers I know, ignorance of local conditions is almost a point of pride. They have this culture where they think they can go anywhere in the country and just plug in and go.

    I have seen very little cultural diversity among management, they have all come from the suburban upper middle class, doctors’ kids and so on. They are really only comfortable in that culture, and the lower level people they support come from the same background. They make a big show of pushing racial diversity, but somehow just end up with brown skinned doctors’ kids. Their incomprehension and visible discomfort when dealing with the working class people among their own staff, and in the local communities, would be pretty funny if it didn’t have real consequences. Their refusal to get to know people forces them to fall back on stereotypes. They seem to think that anyone who would want to make their life out in the middle of nowhere is just an ignorant hick who is only out to despoil the wilderness. I have been treated with an amazing amount of condescension and contempt, and have seen my very intelligent and capable coworkers and neighbors treated much worse.

    If they would just stop moving around so much, and take the time to get to know the place and work with people, things could go pretty smoothly. People react much better to changing rules when they come from managers who have earned their respect, and who they know will be around to deal with any consequences.

  • Exploring The Parks: Musings From El Morro National Monument   1 week 4 days ago

    Will,

    I don't disagree with what you are saying and have been disappointed by upper level managers more often than not.

    The personal situation that I knew about was where individual district rangers and staff were given directives and then when they carried out their directives local business/recreation orgs went after them. The higher level mangers would sometimes stand up for their staff or sometimes not depending on the political wind and what their mangers told them.

    For me the idea of NP being held to higher standards systematically and fairly throughout the country is going to cause problems locally in some places. The mom and pop places you speak of can be altruistic or totally self asborbed in their own personal recreation and their bottom line. I personally still like the Idea that if I go to a NP there is a set of asethetic standards that is consistent throughout, held together by the Organic Act, CFR and NPS management guidelines. The idea of traffic jams of ORVs next to a colonial bird nesting colony on a national park beach or a haze of blue smoke from snowmobiles on trails that were ment to be silent, clean and pristine must be addressed. I have seen some really nice state parks but they don't do for me what NP parks do.

  • Saguaro National Park Officials Voice Opposition To Development Proposed Across From Rincon Mountain District   1 week 4 days ago

    This question of whether there should be any kind of "buffer zone" around parks to limit development to various degrees is usually guaranteed to be controversial. This situation is especially interesting due to the recognition by local government that there is value in some controls on some types of development in those locations.

    Lots of room for interpretation in the following summary of that local ordinance:

    "The main purpose of this ordinance ...is to preserve and protect the open space characteristics of those lands in the vicinity of the public preserves while at the same time permitting economically reasonable use of lands. The ordinance also seeks to protect the public preserves in Pima County and at the same time maintain an ecologically sound transition between the preserves and the more urban areas without substantially affecting the wildlife in the area. The preservation of visual aesthetics is another goal of the buffer overlay zone defined by the ordinance."

    Here's a link with more information about the Pima County Buffer Overlay Zone.

  • Exploring The Parks: Musings From El Morro National Monument   1 week 4 days ago

    Nice post Rick, I agree. Once we assume a position that only our side has all the answers, problems usually arise. Like yourself I have found it all human organizations, issues are generally more complicated and fraught with frailness, myself included, but much good does occur.

  • National Park Service Plans To Enlarge Parking Area For Delicate Arch At Arches National Park   1 week 4 days ago

    Please someone explain how how certain iconic resources managed by the NPS are greatly restricted and relatively expensive to access and protect while others are open to all, apparently easy to protect, and cheap to the pulic. At Arches, management plans on laying more asphalt to better accommodate the onrushing mostly unrestricted hoards who are charged a mere $10 a carload (5 people) for access, while that same car load would likely wait years to secure a permit and then pay $500 for access to the Colorado River in Grand Canyon.

  • Visitation Booming At Great Smoky Mountains National Park; October Numbers Best In Nearly Three Decades   1 week 4 days ago

    Jim Casada made this bogus claim about me in his forum. He claims I said the following on this page:

    "It's also interesting that Gary Wilson, on the National Parks Traveler site, is saying he found full campsites most everywhere he went in October while many others are reporting quite the opposite. It's one thing to be a staunch advocate for a given position, pro or con. It's quite another to be a bald-faced liar. Someone is a master of mendacity, a duke of deceit, a high priest of hyperbole, and I don't think its folks giving specific numbers or crying foul."

    Once again, I made no such claim about backcountry campsites, and did not mention anything about backcountry site use on this thread. Can you point to where I said any such thing on this page, jim? So quit twisting my words!! The reality was the park was busy, the roads were crowded, and businesses in Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge-Townsend, etc were booming in October. Those are facts and reality. I was inside the park boundary 25 of 31 days, jimbo. Were you? Were you in the park AT ALL? Having a few people make claims that they didn't encounter anyone along trails like rabbit branch, or miri ridge, or a few other trails on the west side, does not mean the park wasn't crowded in other areas. Those trails are low hanging fruit, and well off most people's radar and are barely trekked even during the busiest times .. ENJOY the fact that areas like that still exist in GSMNP, if you can somehow attempt to pull yourself out of grinch mode ..

    Regardless, I never made any comment about backcountry use in this entire thread. I don't whine about the backcountry 24/7, and am not in the business to spread misinformation and propaganda to "get donations" so I can use those funds to pay lawyers to file lawsuit after lawsuit to sue the park. That's your world. Point is October was very busy. I live next to the park, and I saw it with my own eyes. I don't need heresay from someone sitting on a computer way out in knoxville or even further out in Kentucky that are only in the park a few times a month. June and July were also very busy this year and the stats do show that. Regardless, if you dont trust the statistics to claim the park doesn't have ANY traffic is a joke. The park is quite busy and anyone that is involved saw it. Learn to read and quote me in context, please! Because it would make the misinformation you try to constantly spread about me more pallatable…I definitely did not trek every trail in the park checking on backcountry accommodations, nor do I care. That is your fight, and seems to consume a good portion of your life. Even though I do encounter backcountry campers throughout the year, i'm not keeping data, nor do I care to do so. So don't pull me into your battles with the NPS, when all I stated that the park was crowded in October.

  • Musings From AirVenture National Park   1 week 4 days ago

    Here's a link to a news item from the Experimental Aircraft Association's website about Darrell Collins.

    A little plug for the park service and one exceptionally fine interpreter. Anyone who has heard Darrell's presentations won't quickly forget them.

    http://www.eaa.org/en/eaa/eaa-news-and-aviation-news/eaa/2014-10-29-darr...

  • Exploring The Parks: Musings From El Morro National Monument   1 week 4 days ago

    Lee...

    I hsve to agree on fumigating the politicians and those who purchase them. I spent over a decade in the corporate world, then 20-some years in the nursing world, and have heard from friends with similar experiences in academia, retail, and every other sort of organized workforce. The problems of management being influenced by factors other than what is best for the individuals and their mission is far from unique to the NPS.

    Personally, I try to take the grey inbetween road. Those who adamantly state that the NPS is always right are probably as wrong as those who one-note-samba 'the NPS always lies' or such. If we can find one thing that an opponent does right or that we agree with, it will help to trim the evil characterizations of those we are in opposition to. This really extends out more generally to many of these issues we discuss here.

  • National Park Service Plans To Enlarge Parking Area For Delicate Arch At Arches National Park   1 week 4 days ago

    Alfred and Gary -- Edward Abbey was enitrely correct when he opined that although the NPS may not be able to find money for interpreters or maintenance workers or other really essential essentials, they can always find money for asphalt.

    I'm not sure if there really would be a very loud outcry from the local merchants. Moab is a different sort of place -- certainly for Utah. It's full of those strange creatures called "liberals" by other Utah inhabitants. Many, if not most, of the business owners there seem to be very protective of their parks. Even to the point of putting the parks and its resources first in their list of priorities.

    Maybe we need more Moabs and Moabites.

  • Exploring The Parks: Musings From El Morro National Monument   1 week 4 days ago

    Will, I agree fully with almost everything you have said.

    I wish I had some good ideas to change it. As a teacher, there were a few of us who stood up and sounded off, and paid some prices now and then. But sometimes we managed to make progress. (Dunno if it continued when we were gone, though.)

    Surely if there are others who feel as you do, there might be strength in numbers. Then there is PEER -- have you considered trying to get in touch with them?

    I chose to leave permanent NPS work and return as a seasonal because of the political pressure that was landing on me when I had advanced to a level just above field ranger. But I can honestly say that as far as I know, none of those pressures came from any of my immediate supervisors or even the regional office. (But things may have changed since the early '80s) What bugged me were new and increasing laws and regulations regarding hiring and minority preferences that kept me from hiring and supervising as I thought I should. Those came from ON HIGH and were driving everyone I knew batty. And I was chained to my desk instead of out in the park.

    As a seasonal interpreter, I had no real worries but did have the privilege of mentoring others while enjoying the park with the people who came to visit the place I worked.

    I'm thinking a lot of the nonsense from those days still exists. Changing it will require changes at the top and somehow finding a way to reduce the Congressional overreach that infests our government. (But even that comes from the wealthy special interests who purchase the services of career politicians. Maybe one of the best places to start would be a strict system of limiting terms and limiting contributions -- aka bribes.)

    The most resiliant good ol boys networks in the nation reside on Capitol Hill in 50 states and in D.C.

    We need to find a way to fumigate those places.

  • Winter Lodging In The National Parks: The Choices Are Many And Intriguing   1 week 4 days ago

    The US Virgin Island..Great National Park for the winter..Virgin Islands guide from a local..at

    http://www.travelaskthelocals.yolasite.com

  • National Park Service Plans To Enlarge Parking Area For Delicate Arch At Arches National Park   1 week 4 days ago

    I've always felt that Arches was too small of a park to accomodate the auto traffic as it is. They should have long ago implemented the tram system. There's only one spot in that place where you can still find solitude... and yes, its in a section where it takes travelling on a dirt road to access the features. Sad to hear they are just going to expand the pavement, especially when there are other ways to combat ever increasing use. I also remember the days of walking out to the Delicate Arch and having it to myself... but those days are gone. I was last there in 2011, and got an early morning start only to find that I was not the only one walking up there. Times have definitely changed, and it's well past the days when Abbey saw it. He'd probably loathe what it has turned into.. I guess, he just couldn't uproot the engineers stakes fast enough.

  • National Park Service Plans To Enlarge Parking Area For Delicate Arch At Arches National Park   1 week 4 days ago

    Obviously, the Park Service has yet to read DESERT SOLITAIRE. These are not "impossible challenges," Lee. The Park Service simply refuses to acknowledge there is a problem. Every problem gets solved with a parking lot. No wonder the problem persists. What would I do? Make it all a gravel road. No problem "accessing" the wilderness. You just have to ask yourself whether you want wilderness or a "perfect" car. 99 percent of Americans will answer for their car. Problem solved. Of course, the local businesses will scream bloody murder, but this is a NATIONAL park. If the resource is jeopardized, the resource prevails.

    Ah, but then I am dreaming, too.

  • Exploring The Parks: Musings From El Morro National Monument   1 week 4 days ago

    Lee-

    It isn't that I think meddling from afar isn't a problem for most everyone. I don't think that this problem, which I believe to be one of the worst problems the NPS faces, is a result of outside meddling, unless you consider the NPS manager class to be outside meddlers. There is no lobbyist putting pressure on a superintendent to hire the superintendent's kid's college roommate, or telling a new district ranger that he should get rid of the super competent guy who was passed over for his job. There are no moneyed interests served by a manager refusing to fire a problem employee because it would be a tacit admission that he messed up when he hired him in the first place. It is just a remarkably resilient good ol boys network.

  • Exploring The Parks: Musings From El Morro National Monument   1 week 4 days ago

    You have people who think they are so much smarter than the locals that not only should they be able to plan in a vacuum, they shouldn't even have to inform the people who are most affected. I've seen press releases come out that are flat out lies.

    The sole reason I choose my nick name here, the NPS have treated us like we are too dumb to know any better, dismiss anything we say because they think we are too stupid. They have told us flat out lies and expect us to just shut up and make us out to be the problem. Some just transferred here think they know better. This kind of attitude has worsened in the last decade. Now we have no choice but to completely rock the boat and be made out to be bad guys. I know who is dumb and it ain't us.

  • Exploring The Parks: Musings From El Morro National Monument   1 week 4 days ago

    Lee-I agree that the problem is not confined to the NPS. As long as we have institutions, we will have institutional dysfunction. What sets the NPS (and teaching, for that matter) apart, and gives us a unique opportunity to do better, is that we attract a lot of people who are not in it entirely for the money. We still have to feed our families, but it isn’t the only thing. We have people who find a job that they want to stay in and do well for its own sake, rather than so they can climb the ladder. People like that are the best chance any institution has to blunt the effect of the Peter Principle. Currently, from where I stand, these people are treated with suspicion and contempt by the ladder climbers who make up the majority of managers. So the way to fix it is to make keeping the good long term employees, and sidelining or removing the ladder climbers, a priority. Reduce management churn. Stop paying relocation expenses for permanent employees who move every few years to further their own careers. Pursue policies which give hiring preference for permanent jobs to seasonals who have proven themselves in that specific operation, and who are committed to that specific park. Step up and remove poor performers, rather than wait for them to take their next promotion. End the culture of the NPS can do no wrong. Stop trying to use public goodwill toward the parks as a shield against meaningful accountability for the park service. Maybe that is a pipe dream, but it shouldn’t have to be. We are spending money taken from the public by the governement, to be used for the common good. That is a huge responsibility, larger than that facing any private business owner or manager. We absolutely have to be held to a higher standard.

  • Exploring The Parks: Musings From El Morro National Monument   1 week 4 days ago

    So how do we go about trying to change it?

    Simple, the problem you describe is precisely due to an overreaching federal government. Return to our roots, limit federal intrusions to those Constitutionally permitted and return local control.

    Unfortunately, you are against all those things.

  • Exploring The Parks: Musings From El Morro National Monument   1 week 4 days ago

    Will, unfortunately what you describe is not isolated only to NPS circles. I submit it is true in virtually any profession that is subject to political interference -- and political interference comes not only from lawmakers, but as Bruxton has pointed out, an almost endless menangerie of other special interests as well.

    As a retired teacher, let me edit your first paragraph to reflect education instead of NPS:

    . . . is also a narrative that is drug out for ad hominem attacks on the credibility of local teaching staffs when they point out problems with the shiny new plan. It is used to rationalize ignoring the opinions of the people who know the most about an area, if those opinions differ from management's. The capture of educational management by ( local strikeout isn't working) often distant business interests and various segments of both liberal and conservative legislators and the public could certainly be a problem, but in my opinion it is currently not nearly as large of a problem as the short termism, ill informed decision making, and capture by managers' personal interests and special interests that exert influence upon them that is the (strike out result) cause of such rapid churning of upper management.

    I firmly believe that most of the problems that face professionals of all kinds is meddling by people far removed from the scene who too often have some kind of vested financial interest in whatever they are trying to influence.

    The local businesses you point to in your essay are probably analagous to students and their parents in our public schools. What you are trying to cite is correct, but is not restricted to NPS concerns. It's epidemic throughout our society.

    So how do we go about trying to change it?

  • Exploring The Parks: Musings From El Morro National Monument   1 week 4 days ago

    Buxton-

    What you describe is undoubtedly true in some cases, but is also a narrative that is drug out for ad hominem attacks on the credibility of local staff when they point out problems with the shiny new plan. It is used to rationalize ignoring the opinions of the people who know the most about an area, if those opinions differ from management's. The capture of NPS management by local business interests could certainly be a problem, but in my opinion it is currently not nearly as large of a problem as the short termism, ill informed decision making, and capture by managers' personal interests that is the result of such rapid churning of upper management.

    There is a strong ideological current in the NPS that paints private business as innately bad, politically connected corporate despoilers of the land, only out for their own quick buck. Again, certainly true in some cases, but not all and not even most. I find it odd because these are the people at the front lines of the economic activity the NPS is so quick to point out as an advantage of having parks. At least around the podunk parks where I work, the businesses are family owned affairs geared toward helping people enjoy the parks. They provide basic things like food, lodging, horse packing, and canoe trips. They are not making some fantastic killing, often make less money than even low level park managers. The only politically connected corporate outfits that I see are the concessionaires the NPS brings in. The local businesses are in it for the long haul, and are trying to plan around an agency that is in a constant state of change as managers leave and new ones come in. They have every right to expect to be consulted and kept informed. They are "partners" just as much as the various non profits are partners. in the big picture they are some of the most loyal allies a park can have, even if they disagree with specific policies. But sometimes they are treated as enemies, and NPS employees are treated as 5th columnists for interacting with them on a basis of mutual respect and understanding.

    The new regulations involve politicians creating all kind of problems (FOIAs and meetings with the local recreational groups) that takes up the time and energy of everyone and increasing the work load of management.

    This is basic civics. Responsive government. If a park manager regards a meeting with a local recreation group as a problem, they are probably in the wrong line of work. Why should NPS management expect to be able to make whatever decisions they want without consulting local interests? This is the stuff that drives me crazy. You have people who think they are so much smarter than the locals that not only should they be able to plan in a vacuum, they shouldn't even have to inform the people who are most affected. I've seen press releases come out that are flat out lies. I've had managers tell me that if one of my neighbors asks me a question, I have to lie to them, just so the manager doesn't have to take a call from someone who disagrees with them.

    If the decisions they are making are the right ones, and often they are, then management should have the guts to stand up and explain their thinking to anyone who asks. That is their job. I think a lot of people in the NPS have this feeling that because they work for the NPS, everything they do is automatically good, everyone who questions them is therefore bad, and basic tenets of open government and accountability do not apply to them.