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Reader Participation Day: If You Were Director of the National Park Service For a Day....


We'd all like to be king or queen for a day, wouldn't we? The changes we'd make, the improvements folks would enjoy. Well, with that in mind, what changes would you make if you were director of the National Park Service for a day?

Would you order that more interpreters were employed, do away with those fees you have to pay to get into some parks and even attend some programs, order better cleaning and upkeep of those vault toilets we all shudder to enter?

The bottom line, I suppose, is this: How would you make the National Park System a better place?

Don't be bashful. And don't worry, we'll see that Park Service Director Jon Jarvis gets your thoughts.


This may sound like blasphemy, but I think I would be collecting entrance fees at Smoky Mountain National Park. Even a modest $5 a day would generate funds that could be used to pay to clean those toilets in the other parks. I would also spend the day getting the word out that our parks are doing just fine, maybe not great, but just fine and the the NPS has not "ruined" anything.

Craig, due to an interesting historical twist, it's not legal to charge entrance fees at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. All of the land now in Great Smoky Mountains National Park was once privately owned. The costs of building the park's main road, Newfound Gap Road (US 441), was borne by the states of Tennessee and North Carolina (as well as local communities). When the state of Tennessee transferred ownership of Newfound Gap Road to the federal government in 1936, it stipulated that “no toll or license fee shall ever be imposed…to travel the road.”

You're right, of course, professor, but imagine if Congress, which has been known to raise a tax or two, did away with that stipulation? They say Great Smoky gets 9 million visitors or so a year. Let's see, 9 million times $5 ... why, that'd be an extra $45 million a year! That's more than enough to keep a handful or two of the smaller units of the National Park System in business...

Maybe the fee is not to travel the road but you need proof of park pass to stop and park?

I'd eliminate 1/2 the seasonal workforce, converting most positions to permanent, with rotating duties with resource management. I'd create new, fair career tracks for new professionals and students. New career tracks would be created by partnering top environmental and public affairs schools with the bigger parks, creating an input for students. Once those students are "up to speed" in the NPS system, they're then re-assigned to smaller park units. Also, conversion between seasonal and permanent work. And a creation of a "permanent" seasonal pool that has already been cleared (background checks, etc. completed) so they can be brought onto staff of any given park quickly and efficiently.

It would take far more than just a day, but I would like to see every park operation tied directly to the park's general management plan and related subsidiary planning documents. Each year a park would be required to issue a public report on the progress made in implementing its GMP, RMP and all other official planning documents and lay out strategies for accomplishing planning goals for the coming year. Employee performance standards would be tied to achieving specific planning goals and objectives. This includes the park manager. Accountability would be written into every park plan.

I'd replace many of the Regional Directors and "senior" staff in regional offices by requiring that all such employess had to have at least 15 years of substantial field experience.

Not sure about the proposal to heavily reduce season employees. My understanding is that seasonal employee period coincides with highest visitation numbers. I've met quite a few seasonal park rangers who were schoolteachers or college students on their summer breaks. That seems like a great resource to tap into - educated workers during the peak visitation seasons who might not mind the low pay.

As for charging a fee, I thought that the current NPS fee schedule means 80% of all fees go directly to the park collecting said fees. I would guess the 9 million number might go down a bit, and that it wouldn't necessarily mean 9 million distinct opportunities to collect $5 each visitor. Most vehicles carry more than one person, there are those with lifetime recreation passes, and others might have purchased annual (site specific or multi-agency) passes. Anyone have numbers on the typical breakdown of fee collections, annual pass purchasers, etc compared to the estimated number of users?

I personally would ask for a change in the makeup of the way pass revenues are shared under the Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act. It's my understanding from reading the text that the entire amount of the pass revenues goes into a general fund, unlike single-site annual passes or individual admissions where at least 80% stays in the individual unit. It wouldn't have to be a whole lot - maybe 20% of interagency pass revenues. I remember buying my 2008 annual pass at Crater Lake, where the standard vehicle fee was a rather low $10. However - my $80 apparently went into a general fund. I would think there should be some sort of bonus for collecting that fee, although I did end up using it at five more national parks and several NPS and Forest Service sites.

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