National Geographic Says Parks are in Peril

If you've read this blog for awhile, you'll know that I enjoy the articles written in the National Geographic Magazine, especially when they have something to do with our national parks. And so, I was excited to open my mail today to find the October 2006 issue with a cover that reads "Places We Must Save: World Parks At Risk." The issue contains six articles and many photos addressing some of the threats to the parks you may already be familiar with, threats like budget problems, maintenance backlogs, inroads from privatization, air pollution, and of course, political infighting. If you don't subscribe to this magazine, I think you'll find it is worth spending your $5 at the news stand on this issue.

The first thing you'll notice about the magazine is the amazing cover photo. On first glance, I thought it was fake. The photo (as seen here on the Geographic website) is of an iconic layered red mesa that you've seen so often in the Southwest, but in the background ar three smokestacks spewing their stuff into the air. The photo is not a fake, but was taken at Glenn Canyon National Recreation Area.

There are some choice quotes to be found among the articles as well. In a short piece called "Hallowed Ground: Nothing Is Ever Safe", the editor ends the article with "Human obsessions aren't always pretty. But these chosen landscapes --parks, of every sort -- may show us at our best."

Another article titled "Our National Parks in Peril" identifies five key issues affecting our parks
  • Crowd Control -> In some parks, giant crowds are still a problem
  • Building Pressure -> America's housing boom is creeping closer to the doors of our parks.
  • Enemies Within -> Exotic plant species are crowing out fragile native plants faster than they can be removed
  • All Fall Down -> The maintenance backlog is still a problem, historic buildings are falling into disrepair
  • Taking Care -> Smaller park budgets means greater dependence on volunteer help to maintain preservation objectives

The best article of the bunch, in my opinion, is an essay written by John G. Mitchell called "Threatened Sanctuaries". The piece begins with the type of fantastic memories we probably all possess from our visits to the parks, which sets up the bulk of the article that covers the political threat to the parks. Writes Mitchell,
Budget shortfalls have harried the Park Service and the system for many decades and under many administrations. Yet the most unsettling danger over the past five years ... has been an atmosphere of veiled hostility created by political appointees at the highest levels of both agencies. That atmosphere not only rattled the morale of many career professionals in the field but also assaulted the legal and regulatory fabric that has effectively held the National Park System together for 90 years.
Mitchell later goes on to describe the long history of the Hoffman rewrite of the Management Policies. If you aren't already familiar with that story, it provides a great synopsis of all events (which includes a nice quote from Bill Wade the spokesperson for the Coalition for the National Park Service Retirees about the interim proposal dubbed "Hoffman Lite", "to polish the apple when it is rotten at its core is a waste of time.") All of this comes at a time when the White House has proposed a 5% cut in the Park Service budget.

A final quote from the magazine that really sums up the current state of affairs. [From the Mitchell article] "A decade from now, ... we'll be breaking out the bubbly to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service. That's if, the way things have been going lately, there'll be enough high standards left untrammeled to justify the toast". Cheers.


I know what you mean about the cover being fake -- how could it be that a national park has some kind of smoke stack looking building in it?! That's sensational! It is a good cover image for that reason that you have to do a double take.

So it's bad news for the parks. But in terms of reality vs fiction on the cover of the magazine, I know that the staff and photographers working on magazine are dedicated to honest photojournalism. The covers and the pictures inside are going to be pictures of the world not creations and fabrications.
Glen Canyon is far from a wilderness oasis. Those smokestacks just add to the delightful atmosphere of jetskis and powerboats!