From record visitation to devastating flooding, 2015 was a year packed with news from throughout the National Park System. Here's a look back at some of the top stories.
Some stories, whether focused on travel or a specific issue, deserve a longer treatment.
The delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear is imminent and this we should celebrate (‘’’’dancing’’’’). Now that our happy dance is complete, we must insure the grizzlies’recovery is permanent. To insure “continuity of achievement,” the grizzlies need a firewall to protect the success of this achievement from human foible.
My first partner in my first job with the National Park Service was a dark bay mare. I was extremely popular with the kids when I’d show up at the General Sherman Tree or Lodgepole Campground in Sequoia National Park riding Sweets. So you can imagine the shock and horror I felt last August when I learned that three NPS horses were on a feedlot in Colorado, waiting to be shipped to a slaughterhouse in Mexico.
A man in Raleigh, North Carolina “re-discovered” a cache of 34 letters in January 2014 while cleaning his garage after a water pipe began leaking. After nearly 30 years, the correspondences remained tucked inside manila archival folders labeled “miscellaneous stationary, 1934-41” and stored flat in a cardboard box with other paper collectibles, including a World War One naval aviator certificate. Now he claims the letters provide connections between known but seemingly unrelated events in Texas history and ultimately reveal the largest unknown political conspiracy of the Great Depression.
Record Visitation Strained Some National Parks This Year, Creating Concern Over What 2016 Might Bring
"Find Another Park." That twist on the National Park Service's "Find Your Park" campaign leading into the agency's centennial year was voiced this year in some parks as record visitation strained staff and impacted resources and left Park Service managers wondering how high visitation might go next year, according to a sampling of parks by the Traveler.
The Jeep maneuvered nimbly, but my nerves were definitely rattled. St. John’s rolling and pitching landscape features narrow, weary roads with blind curves and overhanging vegetation. Those challenges were compounded by driving on the “wrong side” of the road. It made me wonder just how much insurance coverage I had.
For 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been a successful conservation tool for protecting America’s national parks. Unfortunately, this important fund, which enjoys strong bipartisan congressional support, is threatened by a proposed U.S. House bill. Congress should reject it, and instead permanently extend the program.
Summers in Yosemite National Park traditionally are crazy, busy and frenetic as throngs of visitors are in a hurry to recreate. But winter here is like being in another world. A crystal-white blanket covers the iconic valley’s floor, waterfalls are rimmed with ice, and the high granite domes have toupees of snow while the backcountry has a thick layer of snow.
We recently returned to southern California’s Joshua Tree National Park for a third time. The previous visits took place a number of years ago and were rushed affairs when we were headed for other destinations. In each case we made a short stop at the park’s Oasis Visitor Center just outside the town of Twenty Nine Palms and drove south through the park to Interstate 10 without another stop of any consequence. Mostly, we were there to see the unusual trees (actually, they aren’t trees) that serve as the park’s namesake with little time for exploration. Unfortunately, we missed the largest concentration of trees and failed to appreciate much of what Joshua Tree National Park has to offer. That was our loss.
One of Alaska’s most treasured bear-viewing sites is about to be turned into a destination theme park, sacrificing grizzly bear habitat on the altar of commercial development. After a decade of development planning, EIS and public input, once aimed at major improvements in resource protection, the National Park Service has aborted earlier plans for removal of facilities at Brooks River in Katmai National Park. Protection of a unique population of bears at this premier site is now seriously compromised, going against 50 years of research-based recommendations
Kenya is a land of great natural beauty, where exotic animals roam: fearsome predators like the big cats; massive and powerful rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and elephants; elegant and graceful giraffes, zebras, and antelope; unusual animals like wildebeest, topi, and cape buffalo; colorful and amazing birds; unique carnivores like the hyena. Kenya has more than 50 national parks and reserves and is the most popular safari destination in Africa. It is a great place to visit and one of the best places in the world to observe wildlife.
How did I miss what may be the largest, most significant ecological restoration project ever to occur in a national park?
In northwest Montana stand some of the world’s most beautiful natural spires — snow-capped peaks that gleam like diamonds. It’s no doubt not surprising that this area is called the Crown of the Continent, though it’s more commonly known as Glacier National Park. In winter this place of natural magnitude is also a place of serenity and wonder for those who enter its borders. And the nearby creature comforts in Kalispell make a Glacier National Park vacation a true adventure and retreat.
It was just a dusting, but when the first snow of the season fell in the high country of Rocky Mountain National Park in August, it was an alert to begin the transition to a new season.
Otherworldly. The spires, buttes, and indescribable angles on badlands formations that rose inexplicably out of the flat plains caught my attention, but it was the weather that felt otherworldly. All night long winds shook my tent as I shivered in a 0° sleeping bag covered by a 30° sleeping bag. Despite the sub-zero temps, by noon the thermometer in my car read 50°. Fifty wasn’t what I was expecting for winter temperatures in Badlands National Park.
What role did the nation's rail industry play in the national park movement? Dr. Alfred Runte, in response to those who believe it was minimal, maintains the railroads not only helped substantially push the movement along, but opened the Western landscape to many who might not otherwise have seen it.
“El Niño.” Those two Spanish words summon both joy and concern. Joy because it means more moisture, preferably in the form of snow for California, the Southwest, and the southern Rocky Mountains. They raise concern because it could also mean another unseasonably warm and dry winter for the Pacific Northwest and the northern Rockies.
Stepping out at of my car at the overlook of Lake St. Mary in Glacier National Park, I expect to smell the invigorating aroma of a spruce-fir forest. Instead I smell ashes. The conifer forest is no more, and won’t be again in my lifetime, or my children’s.