Listen to the Interview: Sen. Tom Udall Discusses Whether The National Park Service Needs to Promote the Parks

Get the Flash Player to see hear the audio.

Kurt Repanshek's picture

Do our national parks need to be better promoted? Should the National Park Service be placing advertisements in major media outlets, on Internet sites, and buying TV commercials?

In late April a Senate subcommittee explored this question. Among those participating was Sen. Tom Udall. In a conversation with Traveler Editor Kurt Repanshek, the Democrat from New Mexico voiced support for better promotion of the national parks. But he also said it had to be done carefully, both to highlight some of the lesser-known units of the National Park System and so as not to lead to overcrowding that could damage park resources.

Transcript

Do our national parks need to be better promoted? Should the National Park Service be placing advertisements in major media outlets, on Internet sites, and buying TV commercials?

In late April a Senate subcommittee explored this question. Among those participating was Sen. Tom Udall. In a conversation with Traveler Editor Kurt Repanshek, the Democrat from New Mexico voiced support for better promotion of the national parks. But he also said it had to be done carefully, both to highlight some of the lesser-known units of the National Park System and so as not to lead to overcrowding that could damage park resources.

Traveler: “There was that hearing the other week on promoting the national parks. Is there really a need to promote our national parks? If you visit Yellowstone or Yosemite or Acadia or Great Smoky Mountains at the height of summer, you can be overwhelmed by the crowds. Trying to get a room in the Yosemite Valley in the summertime, often you have to start a year ahead to get a reservation.”

Sen. Udall: “I don’t think there’s any doubt that some of our major national parks are over-used, and that the experience sometimes in the parks is lessened because of that. Sometimes I’ve said that our major national parks are being loved to death because of the experience the visitor has and also the impact on the ecology of the park.

“So I think the task of the Park Service, No. 1, is to try to lessen that impact and try to do everything they can to make sure that the visitor experience is a better experience. Now, take for example Yellowstone. Most of Yellowstone is not visited at all. This is a magnificent park, it’s a huge one. It’s one of the crown jewels of the park system. And there has to be a way where you can balance these values that I talked about.

“But there are many, many parks that don’t have the over-use situation. Smaller parks that could accommodate more people. And I think there’s a way that the Park Service and all of us that are working on this issue to publicize those parks and maybe spread some of the visitorship to some of these smaller parks.”

Traveler: "Are there meetings under way between your staff and the Park Service to try to come up with such a ‘plan of attack’, if you will?"

Sen. Udall: “I think the Park Service is always grappling with this issue. It’s in their mandate, it’s in the Organic Act. My staff and I will be visiting with them, and we have in the past, about these issues. We’ve had a number of hearings on these issues in the years that I’ve been in the Congress. And so I think that people understand the problem but we need to try to make sure to get through it and make that experience a better one for the park visitor.”

Traveler: "Now, you had mentioned Yellowstone, a great expanse of that park people don’t see. And certainly the bulk of the traffic is centered on the front country areas. Is that necessarily a problem? How would you open up some of the other areas that people don’t get too?"

Sen. Udall: “Well, I would leave a lot of that up to the Park Service, because many of the times they come forward with plans. I think there was a big plan for Yosemite when there was the big flood, and the Park Service came in and said, ‘You know, in light of what’s happened here, we now have a clean slate, we’re able to begin with a new look at this.’ And they came forward with a plan that I thought was a pretty solid one in terms of trying to make the visit a better one, and have less of an impact on the park. And I think every superintendent of these major parks that are being loved to death is to try to do something along that line. And I look forward to working with them, I know my staff does too.”

Traveler: “I know it can definitely be an issue. I was just talking with the superintendent of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and as you might be aware they’re grappling with ORV use on the seashore and how to balance that with the natural resources. And certainly over the years if you look at the history of Cape Hatteras, all those little communities that depend on the seashore grew up on tourism, and so now you’ve got the problem of if we’re going to protect the natural resources from the ORV traffic, you’ve got the complaints coming that, ‘You’re killing our economic development and our lifeblood.’ And so that’s certainly got to be a tricky issue to negotiate as you move forward.”

Sen. Udall: “There are a lot of contested issues like that with our very popular national parks, and these superintendents are trying to balance all those issues, and yet at the same time stay committed to the Organic Act, stay committed to the mission of the Park Service, and make sure that they’re not harming the ecology of the particular park.”

Traveler: "Do you think that some of the problem out there, in pointing to national parks as economic engines for surrounding communities, as opposed to we should treasure these places for what they contain, for their landscapes, for their scenery, their wildlife, and that by labeling them as economic engines perhaps we’re working at cross purposes by potentially damaging the natural resources that we’ve come to appreciate?"

Sen. Udall: “I think we can do both, but I think we do need to be careful to not over-promote a park that’s being over-used, and we need to work very carefully with the superintendent and the Park Service director to make sure that we look at those situations, analyze them seriously, and come up with some solutions to the challenges that we face in the big ones.”