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Why Stop At Golden Gate National Recreation Area? What Other NRAs, Monuments, Etc., Should Be Renamed?


Is Canyon de Chelly National Monument, with its sweeping red-rock landscapes and rich human history, any less deserving of "national park" status than Golden Gate National Recreation Area? Photo by David A. Porter via flickr.

What's in a name? That's a good question in light of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's unsolicited (from the National Park Service) bid to turn Golden Gate National Recreation Area into a "national park."

In pushing for renaming the NRA "Golden Gate National Park(s)," Speaker Pelosi would have us believe anything less than attaching a "national park(s)" suffix to Golden Gate would be a slight.

"In the years since the establishment of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area almost 40 years ago, the park units have collectively been referred to as Golden Gate National Parks. As natural and historic sites have been added to this park system, the need has grown to recognize the system of parks for what they are, which is one of our nation’s great natural treasures," her office says in explaining the proposal.

"This bill recognizes the importance of Golden Gate National Parks to the history and future of our nation and rewards it with a designation befitting its place among the most spectacular national parks in our nation."

Let's forgo, for the moment, debating whether a missile site, maximum security prison, lighthouse, or military outpost are truly "natural treasures." Instead, why not wonder why Speaker Pelosi should stop with Golden Gate in her renaming bid? Surely there must be some other units within the National Park System that are among "our nation's greatest natural treasures."

What about Dinosaur National Monument? Over the years there have been several calls for it to be renamed a national park (in fact, that talk just recently resurfaced.) Talk about natural treasures. Where can you find a richer dinosaur boneyard, one that wrote a significant chapter in the great dinosaur fossil discoveries of this country, if not the world?

Downstate in Utah there's Cedar Breaks National Monument, a rich, 60-million-year-old geologic slice of sedimentary rock known as the Pink Cliffs that seems to have captured all the colors of the rainbow. Heck, the locals have been calling for a name change for a coupla years at least.

Cultural history? Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona offers a richness more than befitting "national park" stature.

"Reflecting one of the longest continuously inhabited landscapes of North America, the cultural resources of Canyon de Chelly include distinctive architecture, artifacts, and rock imagery while exhibiting remarkable preservation integrity that provides outstanding opportunities for study and contemplation," says the Park Service. "Canyon de Chelly also sustains a living community of Navajo people, who are connected to a landscape of great historical and spiritual significance."

And while she's at it, perhaps Speaker Pelosi should rid the National Park System of national seashores. "Cape Cod National Park" is much more befitting that spit of sand that curls out from the Massachusetts mainland and which has heretofore been known as Cape Cod National Seashore. You've got natural beauty, whaling history, recreation opportunities. Similar arguments easily could be made for Point Reyes National Seashore, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Cape Lookout National Seashore, and Gulf Islands National Seashore.

But perhaps Speaker Pelosi is darting off in the wrong direction. Perhaps she should urge Congress to decommission Golden Gate National Recreation Area and auction off the various units to Californians to love, cherish, and market as they see fit. After all, it was Ms. Pelosi who gave birth to the Presido Trust with the explicit instruction to manage the Presidio as a business, and it has, renting out its historic structures to make ends meet.

Just look through the trust's directory of tenants and you'll wonder if you're not examining a business portfolio rather than a national park, let alone NRA: You've got LucasFilm Ltd., of Star Wars fame, building contractors, marriage counselors, investment counselors, even restaurants that can offer an "extensive cocktail menu."

Is this a "national treasure" or a business commons? Is it a "national park" or an industrial complex? Is it cast in the legacy of the National Park System or a bastardization of the Park Service's mission and better defined as a Wharton school of business case study? If the red-ink-washed National Park Service should be managed like a business, aka the Presidio Trust, wouldn't it be wise for the agency to sell off some of its properties to better manage that bottomline?

If Speaker Pelosi's bill goes forward, maybe it needs to be tweaked a tad. Instead of "Golden Gate National Park(s)," what would you think of "Golden Gate National Business"?

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Speaker Pelosi should be ashamed for promoting this idea. [edited]

Changing a name means absolutely nothing if you do not fund the change!! I agree that changes should be made in some areas (not all areas!) but let's be honest, with the economy zooming downwards, the war sucking up every resource we have... there isn't going to be any positive change in funding for our parks even though they deserve it. Leave it alone until we are able and ready to fully fund a proper change tha is done for the right reasons.

Does the Department of the Interior, or Congress, or any government agency, have any sort of guidelines to differentiate what should be "labeled" a National Park vs. National Monument?

The President can declare an area as a National Monument without approval from Congress.

Here, here. There should be only two kinds of units: National Parks, National Historical Parks. No right-minded organization would allow its brand to be as diluted as the NPS has with 19 different kinds of units. These "holier than thou" esoteric discussions of what is, and is not. a "national park" are ridiculous. THE PUBLIC DOES NOT CARE! With the current designation confusion the public cannot find the units of the National Park System and that is not good for the system as a whole. We all know the names are arbitrary - hence Congresswoman Pelosi's effort and Congaree and Cuyahoga Valley national parks. Time to think like Coca-Cola: one brand name for all the units.

The "national park" designation for a piece of the public estate should (and often does) carry with it the distinction of truly being one of the nation's natural or historic crown jewels -- an often broad range of protected natural resources and unspeakable beauty, or a place, such as Mesa Verde, that protects an area that speaks deeply about a region's and culture's history. A "national park" should be a truly glorious example of America's natural heritage and a place that protects unique and uniquely spectacular natural features and is immediately recognizable as being an identifying mark of America's natural landscape.

Perhaps its time for Congress to more narrowly define what should and should not be a national park. Certainly, Golden Gate NRA should NOT be a national park, and neither should Cedar Breaks. Congress should drop the "national park" moniker on a few parks and declare them national monuments (yes Congress has the power to do that, too, as they did with Congaree in 1976). Hot Springs National Park, hardly worthy of national parkhood, would be a great national historic site. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park would only be worthy of park status if it included the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area on its western border. Wind Cave should lose park status, too, and become a monument like its equally significant neighbor, Jewel Cave. Park designations for Cuyahoga Valley and Dry Tortugas should also be reconsidered. And, Congaree National Park, the only "national park" in my home state of South Carolina, would probably be best managed as a national monument, the way it began.

A few other units of federal land (not necessarily NPS-managed) truly do deserve national park status: Dinosaur National Monument (especially if the wildlands on its northeastern borders were included; the northern reaches of Utah's Glen Canyon NRA that are managed by and border Canyonlands National Park; Colorado National Monument and the adjacent McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, which together I think should be called "Uncompahgre National Park" ; Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah; Grand Canyon-Parachant National Monument, which should be included in Grand Canyon National Park; the Guadalupe Ranger District of New Mexico's Lincoln National Forest, which connects Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains national parks, should be included in one of those two parks; all the wilderness areas surrounding Rocky Mountain National Park, all of which should be included in that park; and finally, New Mexico's Bandelier National Monument, which should be expanded to include Valles Caldera National Preserve and Kasha Katuwe-Tent Rocks National Monument and be called "Bandelier National Park."

Going to a national park should capture the imagination and adventurous spirit of all who go there, and inspire visitors to revere and respect the wild, beautiful and unique landscape within a national park's borders.

Some good points, SaltSage236.

Of course, if you're going to tinker with the designations, would you go so far as to tinker with the management guidelines? After all, all 391 units are supposed to be managed, unless otherwise legislatively directed, according to the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916 and the Redwoods Amendment of 1978. There are cases -- Golden Gate is a good one currently on the radar screen -- where "upgrading" to a "national park" could possibly restrict some activities that currently are permitted there. Do you continue to allow those activities and water-down the preservation/conservation mandate , or risk raising the ire of a segment of visitors?

Or, would you take advantage of reordering the designations to develop more consistent (nationwide) guidelines for management of the various categories of "national parks"? Why let one national seashore allow personal watercraft while another cannot? Ditto with biking, snowmobiling, etc., etc.

And, then, of course, there are those parks that some believe deserve national park status while others more than likely will disagree. How should those conflicts be resolved?

With the transition to a new administration, I think it could be argued that this is the perfect time to be discussing and addressing these issues.

Absolutely. This is the ideal time to have this conversation. The watering-down issue is interesting because this often occurs in wilderness designation. For example, conservationists may only be successful in gaining Congressional support for a wilderness designation if the grazing rights holder can drive his motorized ATV into the wilderness to access his allotment, certainly violating the spirit, if not necessarily the letter, of the Wilderness Act. In general, it seems NPS unit designations and the guidelines governing them should be consistent. A good example of that, if I remember correctly, occurred at Mojave National Preserve, which many wanted to be a national park, but because Congress would only protect the area if hunting was allowed, it was designated a national preserve, not a national park. That is as it should be.

I agree that reordering the designations to develop more consistent guidelines is necessary. People should have a general idea of what to expect when they go to a national park, monument, national historical park, etc., with national parks exemplifying, protecting and celebrating the rarity or uniqueness of a diverse landscape, ecosystem (or ecosystems) or historical resource. Monuments should protect a single resource as designated by the president under the Aniquties Act. The current restrictive guidelines for national parks should remain, while each designation should have specific guidelines governing what is allowed and what isn't, with, perhaps, natonal recreation areas being the least restrictive. I think parks, seashores, historical sites and historical parks etc. should be focused primarily on resource protection, while recreation areas should emphasize recreation over protection. So, if people want dogs at Golden Gate, it should remain an NRA.

National parks especially should emphasize conservation and protection over recreation with recreation included, of course. But the public should know what to expect when they go there, including what kind of resources they may encounter when they arrive. I think it's confusing when someplace as expansive and resource-diverse as Dinosaur National Monument is a monument, while a place like Black Canyon, which has a couple of hiking trails, a few overlooks and the nearly-impenitrable gorge itself, is a national park. The key to solving the park designation debate is resource diversity. Black Canyon, as cool as it is, is just not in the same league as Grand Canyon or Rocky Mountain national parks, or Dinosaur, which are all expansive, rare and diverse. Cedar breaks should remain a national monument because a very similar landscape is protected in Bryce Canyon NP (which, it could be argued, should be greatly expanded) down the road, and even with Ashdown Gorge Wilderness added, Cedar Breaks simply in my opinion wouldn't be diverse enough to earn park status.

How do you define resource diversity? I'm not expert enough to give a definitive answer to that. However, I do know this: When a park exists to protect a few hot springs or a section of a deep gorge, as with Black Canyon, it's just not enough. If it's a truly unique canyon system, maybe so. Maybe a national park just has to feel big, wild, grand and truly unique. That's a cop out, for sure, but diversity of resources certainly contributes to such grandness. Regardless, Congress should revisit this issue and the public should debate it in attempt to make the park system more consistent and all our national parks worthy of the designation.

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