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Fran: Getting Physical In the Parks


    This is "Great Outdoors Week," which just happens to be part of "Great Outdoors Month," as so decreed by President Bush back in 2004.
    Now, if you're not familiar with the out-of-doors, perhaps you'll want to sit up and take notice of this celebration, which will "highlight efforts under way to enhance outdoor recreation for all Americans in the 21st Century," as the kind folks behind the American Recreation Coalition put it. Yep, the ARC, that $250 billion industry behemoth that doesn't believe there are enough motorized toys or electronic gizmos in the national parks, is proud to bring you this merging of technology and nature.
    Heck, I didn't realize that one had to "enhance outdoor recreation" beyond the basics. You remember the basics, don't you? Take a hike over a mountain, paddle across a lake, dip a line in your favorite trout stream.

    In truth, this is a pretty sad "celebration," and the public lands agencies under the Bush administration have gone for it hook, line, and sinker. Not only do the folks at ARC want to show you how to have 21st-century fun on public lands, which include national parks, national forests, fish and wildlife refuges, and Bureau of Land Management acreage, but they'll be honoring "innovative uses of technology in visitor services and recreation management on federal lands."
    Now don't get me wrong. I'm not entirely technologically challenged. I know how to program my VCR and have been known to use a cell phone. I even think Glacier National Park's eHikes program is pretty cool, and believe Adventure Crossing's DVD introductions to a handful of national parks are nice complements to traditional guidebooks, of which I've written a few.
    But I shudder to think that in the 21st century we need technology to drive on-the-ground enjoyment of our public lands. In fact, many of our public lands are being trashed by uncontrolled off-road-vehicles. Indeed, U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth has called unmanaged ORV use one of the four greatest threats to national forests, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation just last month
named the entire National Landscape Conservation System, which includes some, but not all, of the most significant BLM lands, to its list of the nation's "Most Endangered Historic Places," in part because of out-of-control ORVers.
    And, then, of course, are the problems rampant snowmobile and personal watercraft use pose to parks such as Yellowstone and Padre Island National Seashore.
    What's more than just a little suspect about this Great Outdoors "celebration," and more than just a tad ironic, is that I can't find any mention at the ARC web site that the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, or any other conservation group -- groups that take pride in protecting America's public lands for recreation -- are involved.
    Oh yeah, I almost forgot to touch on National Park Service Director Fran Mainella's contribution to this boffo week of fun: She'll be reporting on efforts her agency is taking to "advance the physical and mental health of the American public by encouraging additional, appropriate physical activity during visits to national park units."
    Yep, the head of the National Park Service, the woman who couldn't find the time last fall to help explain to her agency's employees why the Park Service's Management Policies needed to be drastically rewritten in a fashion many feared would open the national parks to degradation, is taking time to meet with commercial interests looking for a bigger piece of the public lands financial pie to discuss P.E. and sanity in the parks.
    It's enough to drive you crazy, isn't it?

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