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Reader Participation Day: What Is The Most Overrated Unit Of The National Park System?


Is there an overrated unit of the National Park System, one that doesn't quite meet your criteria for being among the properties carrying the tag of national park?

Such a question can spur much debate, as what is highly valued by one might be scoffed at by another when talk comes to national parks. It's hard to quibble with Yellowstone, Yosemite, Great Smoky, or the Everglades being part of the park system. But are there one or two units that perhaps get more attention than they deserve, simply because they are included within the system?

Was U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn correct in his belief that members of Congress salt the park system with some units that really don't believe to be included, other than as political bouquets tossed to their home-district constituents?

Tell us, travelers, should there be 401 units in the system today, and if not, which would you discard?


I am working on visiting every national park units in the Southeast region and I'm more than halfway there.

My first reaction to the question was "Of course, every unit is valuable". And they all are. But if I can expand on the question a little, I wonder why some park units are "national parks".

In particular, why is Biscayne National Park in South Florida designated a "park"? Yes, it protects fish, manatees and plants in an urban setting. But so does Canaveral National Seashore further up in Florida in a much more exciting way. Maybe Biscayne should have been designated a "natural site" or preserve. But a national park? It just doesn't compare to the Everglades or the Dry Tortugas.


'Discard' is a rather loaded word, but I believe many NPS units should be transferred to state and local governments or NGOs in some orderly long-term fashion. There are worthy potential additions to the system, but we need a Congress with the discipline to decommission or divest at least two units for every new one created. Congress also needs to thin the herds at the DC and Regional Offices from the top down and split the savings between the new local jurisdictions and the remaining genuine National Parks that the country can afford and sustain.

Although few outsiders have actually penetrated the FOIA maze and laid eyes on the fiscal documents, dozens of PR specialists crank out taxpayer-funded propaganda about how woeful the NPS budget is, while half the annual appropriation never makes it to the actual parks. I think more local control would result in much better transparency, better public relations, and more bang for the taxpayer buck. Additionally, a decade of low scores for NPS managers on employee surveys suggests there are quite a few more units than good managers.

Federal funding support for local recreational and historical parks is fine with me, but I find it ridiculous that the top-heavy NPS is writing urban dog management plans. Running motorboat or ATV playgounds and being pushed into maintenance black holes like Ft. Hancock, Steamtown and that crumbling arch in St. Louis cheapens and dilutes the National Park system.

Wow! Kurt you should be careful asking such dangerous questions Joan Anzelmo at the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees will be putting out a press release accusing you of supporting apartheid in the parks or some such thing as she did when Sen. Coburn announced his proposal.

Interesting question, please excuse me for repeating myself, but there is an excellent discussion in a book titled "Our National Park System" on the issue of how some units our added or deleted from the NPS. The author, Dwight Rettie, uses a case study, Mar-A-Lago, designated as a National Historic Site by then DOI Secretary Stewart Udall. Mar-A-Largo, located in Palm Beach, Florida, was determined to be an outstanding "remnant of the wealthy resort culture of the 1920's noted for its variety of opulent architectural styles and design detail". Owned by Post cereal heiress Marjorie Post, the main house had 118 rooms, a private tunnel to the beach, etc. Mrs. Post wanted to preserve the property, but it was etremely expensive to maintain and the daughters wanted nothing to do with it. It is a fascinating case study of the political intrigue to get this property listed and then it off the Post family hands. I believe Mr. Donald Trump was an owner at one time.

Then there are debates of structures, other uses within Parks. The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite NP is a magnificent one hundred room establishment "whose grandeur and architectural splendor made it a valued destination within a destination". There are those who would like to see it removed, those that are deeply loyal to it. Every Christmas season, the Hotel sponsors a grand pageant and celebration "modeled after what might have been a 17th century celebration of an English country squire". Quite elaborate and expensive, the Bracebridge "event does project elitist values and the connection between the pageant and the natural resource values beyond the walls of the hotel is obscure at best".

Traveler, again great question, a very complicated issue, but my own personal opinion is that an areas ecological, scenic, and national historic or cultural values are a good place to start.

Tongue in cheek, I will quibble over two.

The Rocky Mountains span from Alaska, through Canada, the lower 48 and down to Mexico. So why is Rocky Mountain National Park in just a relatively small corner of Colorado? I won't argue that it should be discarded from system but is it really the best park of the Rockies and therefore worthy of such an all-encompassing title? I'm sure there are good folks from Colorado who will argue that it is. But really, it just seems a little random or politically motivated or something else disingenuine. Isn't the area at Grand Tetons also part of the Rockies? Folks from Wyoming will have no trouble arguing that their national park embraces the best part of the Rockies.

Then there is Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. Are you kidding me? There are no shortage of mansions that could also be considered nationally significant.

Drew, I don't know the legislative history of creating the Vanderbilt Mansion NHS but but I'm sure the fact that FDR's house is right next door has a lot to do with it. I suspect the government is able to run the Vanderbilt property with much of resources in place at the FDR site.

Speaking of Vanderbilt mansions the largest private home in the US, Biltmore, is a true wonder of what private operations can do when it comes to preserving historic sites in the US. The palace is entirely self sustaining. I dread to think of the dilapidated condition the house might be in if the government ran it.

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