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ARC: NPS Not Meeting Americans' Spiritual, Mental and Physical Needs


    You know, I was going to take a break from posting to let folks reaallly contemplate my last piece on how Fran's employees really think of her. But then the American Recreation Coalition fired a massive salvo in yet another bid to reorder (disorder?) the Park Service's priorities.
    On one hand I feel I should just ignore this group, which really has no rightful place trying to dictate how our national parks are run. But I figure the more folks who know about ARC's mission, the more support can be mustered to derail it.
    Their latest transgression? A collective letter sent to Dirk in which ARC and its "affiliates" maintain that the park system is "failing to provide the American public with the appropriate level of visitation to meet the nation’s mental, physical and spiritual needs."
    If ARC weren't so persistent, this claim would be entirely laughable.

    Remember folks, this is the group whose affiliates include the American Council of Snowmobile Associations, the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, and the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, among other motorized recreational groups.
    This is the group who had a role in Fran's painfully obvious (and hence ridiculous) announcement, back in June, that parks are good for your health. This is the group Paul Hoffman, the Interior official behind the most draconian revision of the Park Service's Management Policies in recent history, appeared before last September to explain why the changes were necessary.
    Paul, if you recall, would later tell reporters that the 2001 version of the MPs were "anti-enjoyment." Well, now it seems ARC is trying to convince Dirk that parks in their current form are anti-enjoyment.
    "The U.S. (park) system has inspired the creation of park systems around the world and has continued to grow in area in the U.S., now consisting of nearly 400 units covering more than 85 million acres," ARC officials note in touting their letter to Dirk. "Yet ... despite this growth in size and a 25% increase in the U.S. population over two decades, and despite increased awareness of the value of parks in providing Americans with safe and enjoyable opportunities for physical activity, park visits have declined."
    Somehow, ARC officials reason that Park Service officials single-handedly are responsible for a decline in visitation.
    (Along those lines, I'm not really sure I follow ARC's mathematics. For instance, they say national park visitation stands at 63 million visits a year. Yet if you view the Park Service's data, there were 273.5 million recreation visits to the park system last year. But I digress.)
    How come ARC is not asking the administration to see that fuel prices are lowered so more Americans can afford to travel to the parks?
    How come ARC is not demanding that the administration change its economic policies so workers take home more money, not less, in their paychecks so they can afford to go on national park vacations?
    How come it's not asking Congress to fully fund the Park Service so it can overcome its $5 billion or so maintenance backlog and present Americans with a park system that is not growing rough and shabby about the edges?
    How come ARC is not demanding a system-wide ban against motorized recreation in the parks, since that is what surveys show Americans want?
    Instead, ARC wants the Park Service not only to do a better job of promoting the park system in general, but also promote "greater use" of the system. I don't think you need to read between the lines to realize that ARC wants more snowmobiling, ATVing, and Jet Skiing in park units.
    Interestingly, while ARC says its letter to Dirk was signed by 80 groups, it failed to identify any one of them in its press release.
    There was a powerful column in the New York Times the other day by Nicholas Kristof, a writer with a truly gifted way with words. He was recounting backpacking trips he had taken with his children this summer to introduce them to the joys of nature and wilderness. In the column, Mr. Kristof lamented the many actions taken by the Bush administration to override wilderness and open as much public land as possible to energy exploration.
    In ending the column, he notes that, "In 100 years, Mr. Bush's mistakes in Iraq may not matter anymore, but our wilderness heritage lost on his watch can never be restored."
    The same can be said of overrunning our national parks with more motorized recreation in the name of boosting visitation.
    Don't forget folks, of all the public land acreage managed by the Park Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, less than 20 percent of that total -- roughly 537 million acres -- falls within the current protections of the national park system. Practically all the rest allows the sort of fun that ARC is promoting, the fun it believes park goers are missing out on.
    Let's not let ARC succeed in trashing the parks. Join the National Parks Conservation Association to help it preserve our parks and write a letter to your congressfolk demanding that they refuse to go along with ARC's tampering.


In other words, since Disney or Six Flags or some other "theme park" operator isn't overseeing the national parks, each and every one is decrepit and in danger of going under, financially and otherwise. Only privatization and the ARC can hope to rescue the parks from oblivion and librul Democrats and other wilderness "elitists." What would Teddy say?

Don't forget that several units managed by the NPS, National Recreation Areas specifically, allow all sorts of motor vehicle access. I wonder if visitation has increased at these spots?

I don't know why visitation to the National Parks is down. I have some guesses: an aging population and a populaton becoming too obese to be able to hike much less backpack. I've read that skiing is down for the same reasons. If gas prices were to blame then why has park vistation been declining since 1999. The meteoric rise in gas prices is more recent than that. If gas prices are to blame then it would follow that visits to parks far from population centers would be decreasing much more than visits to parks close to cities. Is that the case? Are visits to Yellowstone, for example, decreasing faster than visits to Great Smoky Mountains or the Everglades? I also doubt it's the economy. Other travel, like airline travel, for example, is up and airlines are making money for the first time since 9/11. Other than aging and obesity, we now have kids that have been conditioned by video and computer games to instant thrills obtained with no physical effort. It could be that the quieter and physically more demanding parks aren't as attractive to today's kids, so they aren't begging mom and dad to take them to see Old Faithful anymore.

I did some comparison between the statistics on National Park visits in 1999 and 2004. (I didn't look at every park and I didn't check every year in between looking for a trend, so this is rough, but) These national parks had more visits in 2004 than 1999: Sequoia, Zion, Glacier and Mt. Rushmore. These had fewer visits: Yosemite, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Jefferson National Expansion (the St. Louis Arch) and Rocky Mountain. Some parks in or close to cities had decreases. Some parks that require a long drive had increases. Some had decreases. My thought: Certain parks have reached the limit of what visitor counts they can handle. It's the "no one goes there anymore, it's too crowded" phenomenon. People are choosing to go to the less crowded parks and staying away from places that are often packed with people like Yosemite and Grand Canyon. So visits to those parks go down. I certainly don't advocate that the Park Service do anything to increase visitor numbers; definitely not allow motorboating, snowmobiling or ORV. For me the parks are too crowded as it is. This Labor Day weekend I was in Yosemite taking day hikes. The trail system was as busy as the Hollywood Freeway. This is an interesting website for those of us passionate about the National Parks. It's interesting to analyze what may be causing visits to decrease.

According to the National Park Service data in the link you provided, there were 63.54 million recreation visits in 2005 to the "National Park" units of the National Park System. This closely matches the number cited by the ARC. It seems very reasonable for the ARC to have excluded places like National Historic Sites, National Memorials, and National Battlefields from their statistics of NPS recreation visits (although one could argue that visits to NPS-managed NRA's and certain outdoor recreation-oriented National Monuments like Pinnacles NM in California, and other similar areas of the National Park System should have been included in a full analysis - but 63.5 million is a reasonable headline number for just "National Parks".) Incidentally, 63.54 million recreation visits in "National Park" units of the National Park System is the lowest number since 1991.

I should also add that it is inaccurate to suggest that practically all US Forest Service and BLM lands are open to motorized recreation. The USFS and BLM manage around 42 million acres of designated wilderness areas, all of which is closed to almost all forms of motorized recreation. The 35 million acres of USFS wilderness account for 18% of total USFS land. Additional areas of USFS and BLM land are set aside as National Monuments, which may also restrict motorized recreation. Of course, one could ask the question as to why the USFS and BLM, and not the National Park Service are managing National Monuments and Wilderness areas, but that is another story.

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