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Strange Bedfellows: The National Park Service and the American Recreation Coalition


It's nice to have your cake and eat it too, isn't it? Of course it is. But it's not always appropriate, is it?

Take the National Park Service. One of its main jobs is to preserve beautiful places. But can it adequately do that if it cozies up to industries that pollute those places?

That question pops to the surface as top Interior Department officials -- including the assistant secretary who presides over the national parks -- are preparing to gather in warm, sunny Arizona on Friday to dedicate the "Outdoor Recreation Village" in Glendale. The "village" is the latest in the department's efforts to "get kids outdoors."

Despite a remarkable base of national parks, forests, refuges and other lands covering one-third of the nation’s surface, fewer Americans are deriving physical and mental benefits from visits to these lands. Changes in family structures, the lure of computer games and large screen TVs and more have left American kids six times more likely to play a video game than ride a bike, the National Park Service says in touting this dedication. The rise in childhood obesity is dramatic and medical researchers now predict a reduction in life expectancy of 2-5 years unless drastic changes in lifestyles occur. In addition, the disconnection of the next generation of Americans from the outdoors poses a real threat to popular support for America’s conservation programs and traditions.

The village, now, tries to tackle this problem with a "mix of tutorials on using the Internet to overcome past problems in finding healthy fun outdoors, demonstrations of new activities and technologies like geo-caching which add fun for younger Americans in the outdoors, a large fishing pond with trout and interactive exhibits delivering proof of the fun of recreation."

While it does seem a bit odd that this "village" tries to sway kids with the very same devices that are purported to be the enemy -- computers, the Internet, interactive exhibits -- rather than actually taking kids out into nature itself, that's fodder for another post.

No, what I want to zoom in on is the list of dignitaries who have been invited to join Lyle Laverty, the assistant Interior Department secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, and Mark Rey, the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment at the Agriculture Department, in Arizona.

Among them is Derrick Crandall. I note this for two reasons.

One, Mr. Crandall heads the American Recreation Coalition. Among the ARC's members -- members who enjoy Mr. Crandall's lobbying efforts and schmoosing with the likes of Mr. Laverty and Mr. Rey -- are the American Council for Snowmobile Associations, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the American Motorcyclist Association, Bombardier Recreational Products (which include snowmobiles), the Marine Retailers Association of America, the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America and, well, you get it -- the carbureted industries.

And two, Mr. Crandall went on the record this week to oppose stronger emission standards for off-road vehicles, which include snowmobiles, ATVs, and personal watercraft, motorized toys that are trying to gain greater inroads to national parks, national seashores, and national lakeshores. The case at hand hails from California, where Attorney General Jerry Brown brought notice that he would ask the federal government to tighten the emission standards.

That did not set well with Mr. Crandall, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Crandall said the consequences for strict new emission standards might reach beyond making off-road equipment such as motorcycles, ATVs and boats less powerful and lighter weight.

"It just might even rule out certain kinds of vehicles in their entirety," he said. "We need to be very careful about major new public policy initiatives."

Or, I suppose it might force the manufacturers to be more innovative. After all, a decade ago two-stroke engines were all the rage in the snowmobile industry. Now, cleaner burning four strokes are gaining marketshare (although that's not to say they're clean enough for national park use).

Back to the point. Should the Park Service, which is mandated to preserve the most magnificent natural settings in America and which rightly should encourage children and families to get out and enjoy these places, be aligning itself with a lobbyist whose paychecks are made possible by the motorized recreation industry that wants him to get more of their "toys" into the park system?

What do you think?


NPT has opened a serious theme for discussion. The NPS has undertaken a commendable process of seeking out and rounding up partners, cooperators, friends, foundations, local governing bodies, in a noble effort to secure support for park fiscal needs and activities. The problem is that when one casts such a large net, it is inevitable that there will be some scalawags included in the catch Some organizations pose as supporters of the parks when in fact all they are really doing is furthering their own goals under the guise of "apple pie" and "motherhood" programs.

Some lobbyist organizations disguise themselves as "green" organizations, but what they are really about is corporate interest... the bottom line profits of their members. For example, if your salary is being paid by companies making snomos or PWC or ORVs, then your mission will be to convince the public and park managers that using and operating such a vehicle is good for "kid's health" or having "fun outdoors"

When dealing with such organizations, people managing public lands need to be wary and understand what motivates such "friends"

"I believe whenever we destroy beauty, or whenever we substitute something man-made and artificial for a natural feature of the earth, we have retarded some part of man's spiritual growth." ....Rachel Carson

Another excellent and provocative post, Kurt. There is one point of good news...I think the cozying up of ARC to NPS and vice-versa has diminished measurably under the current Director, compared to her predecessor. But there is still too much of it!

Bill Wade
Chair, Executive Council
Coalition of National Park Service Retirees

...."top Interior Department officials -- including the assistant secretary who presides over the national parks -- are preparing to gather in warm, sunny Arizona on Friday to dedicate the "Outdoor Recreation Village" in Glendale...."

Does anyone else know what's going on in Glendale, AZ this weekend? That's right, The Superbowl! This reeks of a boondoggle trip if ever there was one. Give a bunch of high-ranking bureaucrats a excuse for "official govt. travel" to the big party and maybe they'll take a personal day or two to stay for the game on Sunday?! I bet us mid-level, career staffers couldn't get away with a trip like that. But these are the folks who dictate that we take "ethics" training every year.

It might be legal, but that doesn't make it RIGHT!

Being the co-owner of a four wheeled vehicle that can and often does off road when ever possible in designated park areas, I feel that if my vehicle was polluting the very same places that I enjoy visiting (as much as possible year round), then I don't need my vehicle anymore. It's just that easy. If people want to continue enjoying what little land and air quality we have left we need to make some severe changes in how we live and commute. In Washington state some counties have different laws about whether vehicles are mandated to have emission tests done on their vehicles. A prime example of this is King County will fine any car that does not pass an emission test prior to licensing, where as Kitsap County does not. Trust me when I say there are a lot of non-diesel operating vehicles up here that should not be on the roads at all let alone in the national parks.

So do I think that we should have our national park systems be associated with a lobbyist whose paycheck comes from one of the direct reasons for our parks pollution issues. No. But try to find a lobbyist who isn't lining his/her pockets with funds from the major pollution contributors, and align the NPS with them.

Laverty would be a nightmare for the NPS and he should be opposed at all cost.

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