Rating our National Parks as Travel Destinations

Delicate Arch, Arches Natinal ParkThe National Geographic Traveler magazine has an excellent article this month that they've made available online. It's titled Destinations Scorecard: National Parks. The survey examines 55 parks in North America (including 10 from Canada), and rates them on a scale from 1 to 100. Included in the park's ranking are the quality of it's "gateway" communities; the way towns just outside the park add or detract from the overall travel experience. Over 300 experts were consulted for this article.

If you choose to read the article, I'd suggest downloading the illustrated PDF version which is how the article appears in the print magazine. The PDF includes some great pictures of visitor use in these National Parks. There are nice full page photos of Olympic National Park and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Two photos in the article really struck me though. Both are taken in the Moab, UT area. One is of a 4x4 crawling over rocks (outside the park) as scores of people watch and take photos, and the other is of Delicate Arch inside of Arches NP. My memory of Delicate Arch is all right there in that photo. Tons of people standing at the rim taking photos of the arch, and even standing under the arch! Definitely a distraction from the experience I was hoping for.

Back to the article. They've split the results into categories: On Top, Still Doing OK, Facing Trouble, and Rock Bottom.The number one US Park (number two on the list) is Apostle Islands National Lakeshore with a score of 78. The article ranks it high because "light tourism traffic and long Lake Superior winters help keep the Apostles healthy." Bottoming out the list is Great Smokey Mountains National Park (score of 40) and Everglades National Park (score of 34). The article ranks the Smokeys low because "terrible traffic,vista-choking haze, invasive species, and crowded trails number among the problems facing the beloved Great Smokies". The problems described at the Everglades are many: "[It's] dying of thirst and other maladies. Upstream demand for water by the sugar industry and growing cities has slowed a much-heralded restoration program to a crawl. Promised federal funding has not been forthcoming."

Is your favorite park on the list? How did it rank? I've found that the praise and criticism of the individual parks on the list is pretty fair. Based on my own experience, I would describe this list as being pretty accurate.

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Sorry to stir the pot on Delaware North more, but they just testified in favor of what most American's view as a disasterous weakening of the Park Service's Management Policies this past thursday (2/16/06). A park concessionaire in my mind shouldn't flex its political muscule on issue so important to the American people. Their support is in bad taste and is tacky.

They have the privilidge to opperate in parks, which are owned by the American people--and they of all interest should back clean air and natural quiet in parks.

Though they may win an award from the Yosemite Fund--they just got on my boycott list. When new contracts come up for the parks in which they operate, I hope decision-makers remember that this corporation worked to weaken the preservation mandate of the Park Service.

Here's a link to why even the Nation Council of Churches opposed the propesed revisions: