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A Wish List For The National Parks In 2014


So much promise ranges across the land each January 1. The blotters are all clear, the expectations great, and the hopes and aspirations high. With that understood, here's a short "wish list" for the National Park Service and its wondrous system of parks as we head off into 2014.

* That Congress passes an annual appropriaton to properly and adequately fund all federal agencies, including the National Park Service.

"Most Americans agree that Congress not passing a budget and instead shutting down the federal government is no way to run the country," said Joan Anzelmo, spokesperson for the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees. "CNPSR hopes Congress will return to one of its most core responsibilities, which is to annually appropriate funds so that all agencies can more effectively plan and efficiently manage appropriated funds and serve the American people."

When it comes to the Park Service's budget specifically, she said Congress should fully fund the agency so it can meet its mandates, and for the good of the country.

"The agency's budget has remained stagnant for over five years and yet its visitation, responsibilities and overall cost of doing business continue to increase each year," she said. "The national parks are great economic generators for the nation. Instead of slashing the budget, Congress should adequately fund the National Park Service for the intrinsic values the parks provide and the billions of dollars in revenues they return annually."

* That through proper funding levels the Park Service can restore its educational and interpretive programs that benefit so many families and schoolchildren.

"When our national parks are stronger, we are stronger. As we approach the centennial of America’s best idea and commemorate 100 years of our National Park Service, our most spectacular and cherished places deserve more than simply being kept open," said Clark Bunting, president and chief executive officer of the National Parks Conservation Association. "They need to be adequately and sustainably funded so that they can continue to create jobs and draw tourists from around the world—even as they inspire us and safeguard our nation’s heritage."

Added Courtney Lyons-Garcia, executive director of Friends of Big Bend National Park, "... we wish for high attendance, continued excellent interpretive experiences, and a Congress that will provide adequate funding for our partners to do their jobs for America's greatest treasures!"

* That compromise, not litigation, is used more often to resolve conflicts between user groups in the national parks. Too many millions of dollars are spent on lawsuits, money that could be better spent on the parks themselves.

* That ever-increasing fees aren't seen as a panacea for the Park Service's funding woes.

* That a cold snap descends over Lake Superior and Isle Royale National Park long enough in the coming months to create ice bridges that dispersing wolves will follow to the national park with vital new gene flows that might prevent the park's single-digit wolf pack from going extinct.

* That smartphone approaches to park interpretation not lead to a communications disconnect between flesh-and-blood visitors and flesh-and-blood rangers.

* That you find more than ample opportunities to visit the parks you love.


I would like two things for 2014, both in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

1. Please open up Heintooga Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Heintooga Road is a less-traveled road that goes from the Blue Ridge Parkway spur to Straight Fork Road.

It's always closed in the winter. But this past year, 2013, it was closed the whole year because of budget problems. The budget sequester caused the park management to make difficult decisions. One was to close Heintooga Road, so it wouldn't have to be patrolled and maintained.

By closing Heintooga Road, you also closed Polls Gap, the trailhead for Hemphill Bald, one of the most iconic balds in the park. Of course, all trails are connected and you could eventually get to Hemphill Bald from Cataloochee Divide but that would be a very challenging dayhike.

Heintooga Road is also on the route of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. By opening up Heintooga Road, you make this route much more inviting.

2. Please fix the bridges on the Boogerman Trail.

This iconic trail in the Cataloochee section of the Smokies is a favorite, especially in the winter. The trail has been out of commission for several years. I've been leading hikes for Friends of the Smokies for several years and I've yet to be able to offer a classic Boogerman Trail hike.

There are 10 bridges on Caldwell Fork Trail which leads up to the Boogerman Trail. And that requires a lot of maintenance. The first bridge (longest wooden bridge in the park) has been out and it's become impossible to do any part of the Boogerman Trail unless you're willing to wade through high water. Not in the winter, thank you.

These are my outdoor wishes for 2014:

* Open Heintooga Road on schedule

* Fix the Boogerman Trail

We need to keep an eye out for the conditions of our trails. Trails Forever has done a wonderful job of rehabilitating trails but it can't do everything.

I'll let you know if and when either of my wishes come true.

* That a cold snap descends over Lake Superior and Isle Royale National Park long enough in the coming months to create ice bridges that dispersing wolves will follow to the national park with vital new gene flows that might prevent the park's single-digit wolf pack from going extinct.

That's a good one for the list.

*Stop creating new parks, until the ones that we have now are fully funded.

*That the NPS will train their staff how to hire AND fire. So we can have the best and brightest and fire those who don't fit expectations.

*That the NPS stop making its employees take the whistleblowing training. They can start implementing that training again, when they stop punishing whistleblowers.

*Remove all signage from parks that contain angry red cirlces with slashes. That national parks are turning into one giant sign that says "DON'T DO THAT!"

*Let the public dictate how they experience their public land. If that be through a smartphone, an ipad, a camera, or whatever, then so be it. The NPS has to stop being such dinosaurs and embrace the fact that technology can be used to enhance a visitors understanding and love of a national park. Even if you hate it, like I do. Come to the realization that it's not going away. Use it to help them connect.

*Stop promoting and or moving around poor performing superintendents.

*Last but not least. Clone 400 more Dave Uberuagas. Place the clones in charge of each national park unit.

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