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Are Hiking Trails Part of a Park's "Core Operations"?


    Take a survey in just about any national park and I think you'll find that most visitors enjoy hiking. Does that mean that maintenance of hiking trails falls under a park's list of "core operations"?
    You would think that question would be a no-brainer. But in Glacier National Park, officials are actually debating whether they can afford to maintain the 700-or-so miles of hiking trails that crisscross the park.
    The problem, you see, is that Glacier, like many other parks, has been asked by Fran to scrutinize its "core operations" and decide where corners can be cut to save a few bucks in these days of presidential and congressional indifference when it comes to our national park system. And one area being examined is the upkeep of trails.
    “Can we afford to maintain all those trails?," Gary Brandow, Glacier's chief financial officer, told the Missoulian newspaper. "Can we cut back? Will some have to be abandoned?”

    Stories such as the one that ran in the Missoulian are vital to the future of the national park system. You and I need to be constantly reminded about the deteriorating conditions in the parks and how Washington is or isn't responding. And we need to react to the stories, preferrably by lobbying our congressional representatives to get on the ball.
    Fran, frankly, is in a tough and unenviable spot. I wouldn't be surprised if she'd actually prefer to see an increase in congressional funding for the parks rather than having to ask her superintendents to find ways to cut into the bones of the park system.
    I mean, supposedly the director of the National Park Service is the ultimate advocate for the park system. How can that person be happy to see trails abandoned in Glacier, poaching go on in Bryce Canyon and other parks, ranger-led interpretive programs reduced, and facilities fray at the seams?
    Has the park system reached the point where it needs concessionaires such as Xanterra Parks and Resorts to take over park interpretation? I surely hope not, but there's a growing void and private enterprise is stepping up to the plate.
    Unfortunately, when you involve private enterprise you bring the profit motive into play, and in our national parks that means higher fees and, for some, less access to these magnificent properties that belong to all of us.


I would say some trail would need to be. My family has a cabin south of Glacier in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, we've taken many pack trips in the back country and have occassionally been the first to clear trails when we go early in the season. It's not impossible, but for those NP goers who aren't adept at clearing trees, branches, whatever and making sure trails haven't washed out it could get dangerous. I'd say keep some of the main trails as core assets and let a few of sparcer traveled trails be enter at your own risk. Then people of all levels can enjoy hiking and maybe some money saved in the process.

What we need are less scientists (who make big $$...~40-80K/yr) and more maintenance and rangers...until NPCA and others start addressing this issue, the parks will continue to deteriorate...but I guess it is easier for them to just blame Bush! How many frickin' bear studies do we need to find out if they really do sh*t in the woods? Do you enjoy seeing bears in the parks wearing jewelry (collars and eartags)? The scientists are studying these animals to death!

You mention that Glacier has 700 miles of hiking trails. Are all of these trails really cost-effective? For example, it would be interesting to know how many person-hours of enjoyment a given hiking trail provides each year vs. the number of person-houds needed to maintain that trail. Certainly if that ratio is less than 1, I think we would all agree that the trail is not cost-effective, and that the trail should probably be abandoned to the wilderness. In reality, given the budget constraints of the National Park Service, the true cost-effectiveness ratio is almost certainly higher than that. The National Park Service certainly needs more money - but I think the problem is partly compounded by fact that many NPS programs are run on inertia, without true consideration for running the National Park System as a whole in a cost-effective manor. The result is that we often see surprising disparaties between what one Park can afford and what another can afford. ~Sabattis

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