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Limiting Visitation


    Should the Park Service place visitation limits on some of its more popular destinations, such as the Yosemite Valley or the South Rim of the Grand Canyon?
    A majority of those who voted in my latest poll think so. Of the 51 ballots cast on the question, nearly 30, or 58.8 percent, were in favor of limitations, while 21 opposed limits.
    Really, though, isn't this really a matter of semantics? I mean, parks already have limits in place in the number of hotel or motel rooms, the number of campground sites, even the number of parking spaces. Once those spots disappear, limits are in place.
     Perhaps the powers that be who decide these things should take a closer look at the impacts of all those visitors and agree that, in the best interests of both the parks and the visitors, firm, recognizable limits need to be set.
    The sooner we get to that point, the sooner the park-going public will appreciate the need of advance reservations and of more carefully planning their trips to the parks, rather than encountering stress-enhancing traffic jams, endless circling of parking lots waiting for a spot to materialize, and being turned away from the inn with no nearby alternatives.


The real elephant in the room when we talk about visitor capacity in the parks (and I'm really thinking about Yosemite now, since it's on the frontlines of the legal battle) is day-users. You're right, the amount of accommodations and camping spaces puts a cap on the number of overnight visitors. But if you look at the rise in visitor numbers in the '80s and '90s, it was really in the number of tour buses and local day-use visitors who clogged the park. No one wants to address this issue because the local users are congress' constituents and the tour bus industry is a powerful lobby. The thousands of folks parking on the sides of the meadows and trampling the trail to the base of Yosemite Falls and leaving deisel fume paths in the ponderosas and floating down the Merced in big yellow gawd-awful rafts are people who use the park like any other recreation area in the state and limit the ability for people who are there to really enjoy the park to do so. The parks are not the same as any other recreation area. They are places set apart as unique and special and worthy of particular care and protection. I've nothing against the locals (I'm a local to certain parks that matter to me). They have the right to enjoy the park as well. But we have to decide whether Yosemite (and the valley in particular) can afford to be just another recreation area. If limitations occur, it should focus on day-use. The amount of day-use parking should be drastically reduced and then enforced. It's time to talk about the effects of day-use on the overcrowded parks.

I'm for limiting car traffic, but not people traffic. For some reason, I missed this poll :

1. It makes no sense to permit diesel buses in the parks. They pollute. They should be out. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to have to follow one up the mountain to Sequoia would vote to ban the darn things. 2. I would be fine with a reservation system for entry to the most popular parks. It shouldn't be too hard to set up something online for easy access.

I don't think parks should limit visitation yet, but I believe that it may be coming soon. The carrying capacity of certain areas, like Yosemite Valley, and the visitors' experience, like listening to natural quiet and not autos, can be increased with the elimination of private vehicles and successfully implementing alternative forms of transportation. The shuttle system at Zion is the best example of this that I've experienced. Acadia is making great strides in this direction too. Limiting visitation should be a last resort, but it is justified in certain cases (like backcountry use limits). However, before anyone considers setting a limit on the number of people that can come into a developed area such as Yosemite Valley, all other alternatives should be considered first.

Even if one does choose to limit access - how does one allocate the visitation slots? In particular, any kind of advance reservation system based on waiting in line, or being the first to click on a website, will certainly risk creating a secondary market for entrance permits - it won't be long until those permits appear on Ebay...

Has anyone heard of the term "rotational grazing"? that is moving livestock from one pasture to the next without ruining the land from overgrazing...why can't this concept apply to the National Parks. Closed down critically over used areas like Yosemite Valley, and put it into a zone of intensive care to allow a state of rejuvenation to take place with hopes to bring it back it's natural pristine state...a small sacrifice for are children to enjoy in there later years before all the ice caps melt. Another words, some National Parks need some form of critical restraint from overuse. Perhaps, Kurt and Ranger X have better insight on this issue regarding total populace restraint. From my personal experience, the parks are getting pretty chewed up in places. It's time to think of the concept of "rotational grazing"!

When you play God, you'd better have the wisdom of God to accompany your power. Descartes suggested that in some ways we have the knowledge of God (when it comes to matters related to necessity) but lack the power. Yet, today, we seem to have all the power to do whatever we want without any clue what we are unleashing. Our acts are universal; our knowledge is not. I think trying to tinker with the visitation issue is a playing God. There are surely all kinds of consequences that come from doing this or doing that. But, we assume that if pull the right switch on this, we'll come that much closer to preserving the parks. That thought actually causes me a lot of amusement. Obviously, too many humans in one place are going to trample all kinds of things that humans value. Not allowing and restricting access will cause inequalities that will offend other human values. This is a knot that cannot be untied or even loosened to everyone's satisfaction. And, we cannot even see all the consequences and values we offend. What's to be done? Perhaps, undo what gives rise to such complicated questions only fit for a god. And, the undo-ing, no easy task in itself, is uncertain as well, but at least we'll stop pretending we can control the genie in the bottle. Parks are set up in a world where the genie is harnessed and set to work in a field and plowed and conquerred; they are set up as asides, or as exceptions to the rule, but always in service of the rule. Yet, they are bizarre because we ask that they be treated in a way that's exempt from the way we treat everything else. All well and good except nature and reality is interconnected and doesn't work that way. You cannot manufacture atoms that rest in isolation. So, you can't treat what's wrong with them simply like you treat someone's cold or chicken pox (and there's something to be said for not even treating the cold or chicken pox like that, at least entirely). We have to give up God complex; does that mean stop protecting places like the national parks? Not exactly; it means stop protecting the human vanity that gives rise to the belief we can manufacture and manage these AND other places. That is a radical but only the first step toward anything that resembles an answer to this or the myriad other so called important issues.

Why couldn't a reservation system work like any other reservation system? You check the date you want to visit. You put the entrance fee on your credit card and you are sent an e-entrance ticket by e-mail. If you have the yearly pass you enter your pass number into the system. Those without a computer could do the same thing by phone. Limiting vehicles into the park doesn't really address the crowding issue. If crowds still show up, the park service would feel compelled to add on more shuttle buses. Or the lines to get on a shuttle bus become a test of patience. Shuttle buses end up catering to the type of visitors who don't mind being herded around, waiting in lines, and always being with crowds. Those who don't like crowds, who want peace and quiet and being on their own will no longer feel like the park is for people like them.

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