Reports from Great Smokey Mountains Listening Session

Last night was the first of many listening sessions to be held across the country given by the DOI and the National Park Service. I've got a couple articles today describing session #1.

Welcome, Mr. Secretary: Park projects urged to mark 100th birthday
Kempthorne issued a call for special projects tied to the centennial during an overflow meeting of nearly 200 supporters and neighbors of the Smokies National Park. "Mr. Secretary, you have said we need to go after the big ideas and I really appreciate that," said Don Barger, regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association. "We shouldn't squander this opportunity." Several people said creative ways must be found to broaden the Parks' appeal to young people and to new citizens, reaching out to them through everything from iPods to interpretative programs. Kempthorne said President Bush wants recommendations by May 31 on the Interior Department's plans for the park system's 100th anniversary and wants action soon. "The president has been very clear that he would like to use these 10 years as the time of preparation," Kempthorne said. "It is not simply to roll out a master plan in 10 years. But instead it is to roll up our sleeves right now and get to work."

Public offers national parks input
An audience that streamed out the double doors of a small room in the Gatlinburg Convention Center asked park service officials to address maintenance backlogs, hire more permanent employees, attract younger generations, and address and provide an answer for the embattled North Shore Road project. About 40 national parks superintendents, who were in Asheville for a conference, also made the trip to Gatlinburg. The crowd also addressed the larger issue of keeping parks relevant for future generations. In all, 38 people spoke. Greg Kidd, the Asheville-based representative of the National Parks Conservation Association, spoke about the need for more resource education and learning centers to attract both adults and children. Kempthorne mentioned ideas such as providing podcasts at park historical sites to garner a younger audience. 'People can't learn what they don't know,' said Singleton, of Sylva. 'It's really important for all of us to work collectively to bring youth into the park and introduce them to the backcountry experience.'

I'm glad to read from these initial reports that it was an actual listening session, with actual people talking and actual people listening. The idea of sitting at a keyboard and telling a computer what you think the centennial should be really involves less listening than it does data input. I was half kidding earlier this week when I said I didn't want to hear the grandstanding of others. I think an open forum is great for getting all ideas heard, and it allows anyone else in the room to listen and consider other ideas and points of view. I hope the format at the Smokies carries through the rest of the sessions around the country.

And, speaking of the "rest of the sessions", there are more changes. I've been told that the Seattle show will now be on the 26th of March (not the 20th), and it will be at Town Hall Seattle between 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm. Now that the sessions are "live", I was hoping to post a link to the definitive master park list of times and locations, but at this point, I don't think one exists. The closest thing I've found is this park service list, but even it does not yet contain the Seattle meeting. I guess you'll just have to hit "refresh" on your web browsers every day to see if your town has been added to that page.