You are here

Op-Ed | New National Parks For The Next Century

Share
Big Mountain, Wasatch Mountains/Michael Kellett

The Wasatch Range of Utah holds national park potential/Michael Kellett

Editor's note: The following guest column from Michael J. Kellett makes the case for expansion of the National Park System.

There is nothing so American as our national parks. The scenery and wild life are native. The fundamental idea behind the parks is native. It is, in brief, that the country belongs to the people, that it is in the process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us. The parks stand as the outward symbol of this great human principle. — President Franklin D. Roosevelt, August 5, 1934 ¹

National Parks: Rising Demand vs. Fixed Supply

The National Park Service predicts that, when the final count is in, America’s national parks will have welcomed 300 million visitors in 2015 — an all-time record. This record is very likely to be broken in 2016, when the Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday with special programs and broad publicity across the country. Our famous flagship national parks and those near large metropolitan areas are experiencing especially large increases in visitor numbers.

Record visitation has revived concerns, going back at least to the 1980s, that our national parks are being “loved to death.” In fact, most of the National Park System is remote and lightly visited, with more than 50 percent of parklands designated as wilderness. However, overcrowding in portions of some of our well-known parks has eroded the visitor experience and jeopardized park integrity. The problem has been exacerbated by the reduction of park management staff as a result of years of budget cuts.

This is a classic case of a demand and supply imbalance. The demand for the experience of visiting an American national park has been increasing. Meanwhile, our supply of national parks has been virtually fixed for many years. Indeed, only one expansive and completely new National Park System unit, Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico, has been created since 1994.

The National Park Service has done its best to mitigate visitor impacts through reservation systems, limits on access to some sites, increased entrance fees, and other measures. However, these strategies only address the symptoms, not the root cause of the problem — more people wanting to visit too few national parks. Trying to hold back the flood of those from across America and the world who want to visit our national parks is not only undesirable, but also ineffective.

We Need More National Parks

The solution is to increase the supply of parklands through a dramatic expansion of the National Park System. One of the highest priorities should be to create new national parks near major metropolitan areas and in regions of the country with few large national park units — the Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest. This would relieve pressure on existing parks by providing alternative destinations that are closer to home for tens of millions of people. It would save energy and lessen greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the miles people need to travel to visit a national park. It would also offer nearby national park alternatives to people who cannot afford to take long trips to a distant park.

The establishment of additional national parks would also offer many other important benefits. New parks would save hundreds of significant natural and historic treasures that are threatened by logging, livestock grazing, fracking, mining, intensive motorized recreation, and misplaced development. They would help diversify our park system so it represents the full range of the American experience. They would offer the chance to expand existing park boundaries to better ensure their ecological, historic, and recreational integrity.

Skeptics dismiss this goal as an impossible dream. They claim that we cannot afford to take care of our existing national parks, because of an $11.5 billion maintenance “backlog” and an inadequate National Park Service budget. They assert that we cannot afford to create new parks because of the “backlog” and today’s pressure for federal budget cutting. They contend that National Park System expansion is politically unrealistic in these conservative, anti-government times. These skeptics would relegate the parks we have to degradation and privatization and condemn potential new parks to exploitation and ruination by industrial development.

The claim that we cannot afford our existing parks is baseless. The supposed National Park Service $11.5 maintenance “backlog,” and cuts in the agency’s operating budget, represent a phony “crisis,” manufactured by anti-national park members of Congress. They have diverted funds away from the Park Service budget, and then disingenuously lamented that, due to the “backlog” they created, we need to privatize existing parks and turn them over to states and private interests.

The National Park Service budget represents a tiny 1/15 of one percent of the federal budget.² This costs the average federal taxpayer about $2.56 per year — the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee.³ The real problem is misguided short-term budget priorities by Congress. There are ample federal funds that could be reallocated to the National Park System from questionable programs, such as subsidies for destructive national forest logging and unneeded Cold War military hardware programs.

The assertion that we cannot afford to create new national parks is unfounded. Even doubling the existing National Park Service budget would still represent a tiny portion of the total federal budget. Furthermore, the vast majority of potential national parks are already federal lands with their own budget, which can be transferred with the land. In addition, major national parks established since the 1960s — such as Voyageurs, Wrangell-St. Elias, Congaree, Great Basin, and Mojave — have been designed to have minimal visitor infrastructure, which represents the single greatest management cost. Except for the preservation of historic sites, planned new infrastructure in new national parks can wait until funds are available. The most urgent priority should be to permanently protect places of national park quality and ensure public access, and then to provide developed visitor services as appropriate.

Finally, the contention that the expansion of the National Park System is politically unrealistic is groundless. We should view record National Park System visitation as an opportunity, not a problem. The public views our parks as a tremendous bargain; 90 percent of respondents in a 2012 bipartisan opinion survey said they support maintaining or increasing the National Park Service budget.4 A 2014 public opinion poll found that 84 percent of Western voters approve of the job the Park Service is doing — more than any other federal land agency.5

As we celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service, we need a positive, forward-looking vision for our parks. That vision should include a far larger National Park System for the next hundred years than the one we have today. If informed and organized, the tens of millions of people who visit our national parks each year can exert massive pressure on Congress and the President to create new national parks. The last time citizens mounted such a nationwide new parks campaign, it resulted in the passage of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Act, which doubled the size of our National Park System. Now is the time for new campaign to expand our park system to meet the needs of the public — and the planet — for the next century.

Playa Caracas panorama, Vieques NWR, Puerto Rico/Michael Kellett

Potential Areas for National Park System Expansion

National park designation is unmatched in providing permanent preservation, world-class education and recreation, diverse economic benefits, and broad public recognition and support that ensures long-term ecological integrity. Below are examples of some potential new national parks and existing park expansions.

Parks for the People

Most Americans do not have adequate access to the National Park System. More than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, but few large cities have a major national park unit within 50 miles. Over 90 percent of total park acreage is west of the Great Plains and national parks encompass less than one percent of the land base in 33 states. Millions of people would benefit from new national parks in major metropolitan areas and underrepresented regions through improved public health, reconnection with nature, and understanding of our cultural heritage. Among the under-represented areas with potential new parks are the following.

• Near large cities: El Yunque (San Juan, PR), Midewin Prairie (Chicago), Mount Hood (Portland, OR), Santa Ana Mountains (Los Angeles), and Wasatch Range (Salt Lake City)

• In the Northeast: Berkshire (MA), Hudson River Valley (NY), Pawcatuck Borderlands (CT, RI), Quabbin (MA), and White Mountains (ME, NH)

• In the Southeast: Bankhead-Talladega (AL), Cumberland Plateau (TN), Land Between the Lakes (KY, TN), Lowcountry (SC), Ouachita (AR, OK), and Piney Woods (LA, TX).

• In the Midwest: Boundary Waters (MN), Driftless Rivers (IA, WI), Hoosier-Shawnee-Wayne (IN, IL, OH), Ozark Highlands (MO), and Three Great Lakes (MI)

Endangered Ecosystems

Conservation biologists estimate that 50 percent of the Earth needs to be preserved to sustain native biological diversity.6 Yet, less than 6 percent of the lower 48 United States is within national parks or other nature preserves.7 One study classified three-quarters of America’s terrestrial eco-regions as endangered, critical, or vulnerable 9, while another concluded that 126 of our ecosystems are critically endangered, endangered, or threatened. The designation of new national parks could safeguard vital ecosystems such as the following.

• Areas of extraordinary biodiversity, such as Ancient Forest (CA, OR), Apalachicola Lowlands (FL), and Mobile-Tensaw Delta (AL)

• Globally important ecosystems, such as Great Salt Lake (UT), Isla de Vieques—Bioluminescent Bay (PR), and Kauai (HI)

• Large-scale, unspoiled landscapes, such as Owyhee Canyonlands (ID, NV, OR), Red Desert (WY), and Tongass (AK)

• Rare native grasslands, such as Kissimmee Prairies (FL), Northern Great Plains (MT), and Sheyenne (ND)

• Vulnerable coastal habitats, such as Cape Fear (NC), Gaviota Coast (CA), and Oregon Dunes (OR)

• Wildland core areas, such as Black Hills (SD, WY), Hells Canyon (ID, OR), and Maine Woods (ME)

• Diverse, natural landscapes, such as Mount St. Helens (WA), San Rafael Swell (UT), and Sawtooth (ID)

Aerial shot of Moosehead Lake in Maine/Michael Kellett

Climate Preserves

The 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change stressed the need to protect and restore forests to help stabilize the climate by offsetting greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. Millions of acres of forests in the United States that are now open to industrial logging and other climate-unfriendly uses could qualify as new national parks. The following are prime examples of potential climate preserve parks.

• Old-growth national forests, such as the Chugach (AK), Nez Perce-Clearwater (ID), Okanogan-Wenatchee (WA), Shasta-Trinity (CA), and Willamette (OR), as well as the BLM Medford District (OR)

• High-density, second-growth national forests, such as the Allegheny (PA), Chequamegon-Nicolet-Ottawa (MI, WI), Chippewa (MN), Daniel Boone (KY), Green Mountain (VT), and Mississippi (MS)

Natural River Systems

More than 75,000 large dams have drowned 600,000 miles, or 17 percent, of America’s rivers under reservoirs.10 The National Park Service has identified 3,400 “outstandingly remarkable” river segments totaling 63,000 miles.11 However, only about 200 river segments, totaling 12,500 river miles are included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.12 National Park System expansion could safeguard many of these river segments, including the following.

• Multi-state rivers such as the Colorado, Columbia, Connecticut, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Rio Grande, and Snake

• Outstandingly remarkable river segments on the Allagash (ME), Clinch (TN, VA), Gila (AZ, NM), Green (CO, UT, WY), John Day (OR), and Suwannee (FL)

Wild Marine and Coastal Areas

Biologists recommend keeping at least 10 percent of marine and coastal areas from fishing, mineral extraction, and development.13 But only 3 percent U.S. waters enjoy such protection in national parks or other strict reserves.14 The National Park Service has long experience with parks encompassing significant waters. The designation of the following waters as national parks would greatly strengthen their protection.

• National Marine Sanctuaries and National Estuarine Research Reserves, administered by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which have some protection, but are generally open to resource exploitation

• Other significant waters, which have little or no permanent protection, such as Bristol Bay (AK), Caches Ledge (MA), Chesapeake Bay (multiple states), Delaware Bay (DE, NJ), Eubalaena Oculina (FL), Frenchman’s Bay-Gulf of Maine (ME), and New England Canyons and Seamounts (MA)

A hiker explores Coyote Gulch in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area/Michael Kellett

Imperiled Wildlife

Over 1,500 American plant and wildlife species are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Most are imperiled by habitat destruction and other harmful human activities, which are prohibited in national parks.15 The designation of new national parks would benefit diverse native wildlife, including the following.

• Giant Sequoia (CA) for California condor, California spotted owl, Little Kern golden trout, and Valley elderberry longhorn beetle

• Gila-Apache (AZ, NM) for jaguar, Mexican wolf, Mexican spotted owl, and Gila trout

• High Allegheny (WV) for West Virginia northern flying squirrel, Eastern small-footed, Indiana, and Virginia big-eared bats, and Cheat Mountain salamander

• Northeast Ecological Corridor (PR) for West Indian manatee, Puerto Rican plain pigeon, Puerto Rican boa, and leatherback turtle

• Thunder Basin (WY) for black-footed ferret, black-tailed prairie dog, greater sage-grouse, and blowout penstemon

• Western Arctic (AK) for bowhead whale, caribou, eider, polar bear, Pacific walrus, and yellow-billed loon

Restoration Parks

With little of America’s landscape remaining in pristine condition, ecological restoration will be increasingly important in the future. The international Convention on Biological Diversity has made the restoration of at least 15 percent of degraded ecosystems by 2020 one of its top priorities.16 The National Park Service has extensive experience in restoration of degraded areas, including in some of our most cherished national parks, such as Big Bend, Everglades, Great Smoky Mountains, Olympic, and Redwood. The following damaged, but recoverable landscapes could be important additions to our National Park System.

• Rivers, such as Detroit River (MI) and Rio Salado (AZ)

• Wetlands, such as Grand Kankakee Marsh (IL, IN) and Sharp Park (CA)

• Forests, such as Great Trinity (TX) and Tuskegee (AL)

• Coastal ecosystems, such as Oregon Dunes (OR) and Ormond Beach (CA).

Cultural Treasures

The National Park System does not fully represent the diversity of the American experience. For example, the system includes many battlefields and presidential homes, but few sites that represent themes such as the history of migration and immigration, arts and science, and the civil rights movement. A mere 8 percent of the more than 2,500 National Historic Landmarks — an honorary designation — are fully preserved in national parks.17 There are many potential new and expanded cultural parks across America, including the following.

• New national parks representing Native American heritage at Cedar Mesa (UT), colonial history at Castle Nugent (USVI), the LGBT movement at Stonewall Inn (NY), and conservation and social justice movements at Walden Woods (MA)

• National park expansions to broaden public understanding of workers’ rights at Cesar Chavez (AZ, CA), the fight to end slavery at Fort Monroe (VA), Native American culture at Ocmulgee (GA), crucial Civil War battles at Petersburg (VA), and Spanish colonial history at San Antonio Missions (TX)

Expansion of Existing Parks

Industrial activities on national forests, BLM lands, and state and private lands are increasingly endangering adjacent national parks.18 Meanwhile, climate change could drive native wildlife to less-protected lands outside parks. The result is that a significant number of existing national parks are not large enough to fully protect natural or historic values, provide corridors between vital habitats, or ensure efficient management. In many cases, the expansion of national park boundaries offers the best hope of addressing these problems.19 Potential park expansions include the following.

• Biscayne (FL) and Delaware Water Gap (NJ, PA) to prevent encroaching urban development

• Dinosaur (CO) and Theodore Roosevelt (ND) to prohibit fracking for oil and gas

• Crater Lake (OR) and North Cascades (WA) to stop logging and road building

• Chaco Culture (NM) and Glen Canyon (UT) to prohibit drilling, mining, and off-road motorized abuse

• Glacier (MT) and Yellowstone (ID, MT, WY) to end the slaughter of wolves, grizzly bears, and bison

• Everglades (FL) and Mammoth Cave (TN) to avert degradation of integral watersheds

Now is the Time for Action

Our National Park System is drawing record numbers of visitors from across America and around the globe. As a result, flagship parks are experiencing overcrowding and potential damage to their natural and historic integrity. The National Park Service is addressing the symptoms by trying to mitigate the impacts of growing numbers of visitors, but it is not solving the fundamental problem of a fixed and inadequate amount of national parkland.

The solution is clear. We need more national parks — as many as possible, as soon as possible. Expanding the National Park System will provide those seeking a park experience with more space in more parks that are easier to access and less crowded. But these new parks will also provide many more ecological, cultural, recreational, and economic benefits. Those who say we cannot afford to maintain our existing parks or expand the park system underestimate the vast public and private resources available for park expansion. Those who say that there is not enough public support to overcome political obstacles underestimate the love of the American people for our national parks.

The list of areas potentially qualified for addition to the National Park System is long. Grassroots groups and activists across the country have proposed new parks for their regions. To date, they have been largely working on their own, held back by insufficient resources, entrenched opponents, and limited political assistance. Now, these individual park efforts are beginning to come together as a nationwide coalition for new parks. As we celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service in the year ahead, activists will be working to create a new generation of national parks for the next century.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 1934. Radio Address from Two Medicine Chalet, Glacier National Park. August 5, 1934. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=14733

[2] Theresa Pierno. 2015. Statement before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on S. 2257, National Park Service Centennial Act. http://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=6b2972...

[3] National Parks Conservation Association. 2013. New Infographic Shows Why Budget Cuts Must End to Protect National Parks and Economies Nationwide. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/11/prweb11367149.htm

[4] Hart Research Associates and North Star Opinion Research. 2012. Strong Bipartisan Support For National Parks. Findings from a National Survey Conducted on Behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association and National Park Hospitality Association, p. 10. http://www.nascc.org/sites/default/images/advocacy/Strong-Bipartisan-Sup...

[5] Public Opinion Strategies and Fairbank, Maslin, Maulin, Metz & Associates. 2014. Conservation in the West Poll, Governance of Conservation. Sponsored by Colorado College. http://www.coloradocollege.edu/dotAsset/22c30ba6-3f14-44f3-ab31-81887d8e...

[6] Reed F. Noss, Andrew P. Dobson, Robert Baldwin, Paul Beier, Cory R. Davis, Dominick A. Dellasala, John Francis, Harvey Locke, Katarzyna Nowak, Roel Lopez, Conrad Reining, Stephen C. Trombulak, and Gary Tabor. 2012. Bolder Thinking for Conservation. Conservation Biology 26, no. 1. http://natureneedshalf.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Noss-et-al-2012-CB...

[7] Robert W. Dietz and B. Czech. 2005. Conservation Deficits for the Continental United States: An Ecosystem Gap Analysis. Conservation Biology 19, no. 5, p. 1478–87 http://noss.cos.ucf.edu/papers/Dietz%20and%20Czech%202005.pdf; J. Michael Scott, Frank W. Davis, R. Gavin McGhie, R. Gerald Wright, Craig Groves, and John Estes. 2001. Nature Reserves: Do They Capture the Full Range of America’s Biological Diversity? Ecological Applications 11, no. 4, p. 999–1007 http://www2.bren.ucsb.edu/~fd/Pubs/scott_ecolappl_01.pdf

[8] Taylor H. Ricketts, Eric Dinerstein, David M. Olson, Colby J. Loucks, William Eichbaum, Dominick A. DellaSala, Kevin Kavanagh, Prashant Hedao, Patrick Hurley, Karen Carney, Robin Abell, and Steven Walters. 1999. Terrestrial Ecoregions of North America: A Conservation Assessment. World Wildlife Fund. Island Press.

[9] Reed F. Noss, Edward T. LaRoe III, and J. Michael Scott. 1995. Endangered Ecosystems of the United States: A Preliminary Assessment of Loss and Degradation. National Biological Service Biological Report 28. http://noss.cos.ucf.edu/papers/Noss%20et%20al%201995.pdf

[10] Bruce Babbitt. 2001. A River Runs Against It: America’s Evolving View of Dams. Open Spaces Quarterly 1, no. 4. P. 11–15. http://www.bluefish.org/evolving.htm

[11] Sera Janson Zegre and Anne Hereford. 2012. National River Data Inventory and Database Plan. Prepared by Downstream Strategies for the National Park Service. http://www.river-management.org/assets/Database/nps%20national%20river%2...

[12] National Park Service. 2013. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Yosemite National Park: Merced Wild & Scenic River Plan. Yosemite, CA http://www.nps.gov/yose/learn/management/upload/mrp-deis-fact-sheet-WSRA...

[13] Harvey Locke. Nature Needs Half: A Necessary and Hopeful New Agenda for Protected Areas in North America and around the World. The George Wright Forum, vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 359–371. http://www.georgewright.org/313locke.pdf

[14] National Marine Protected Areas Center. 2014. Marine Reserves in the United States. NOAA. http://marineprotectedareas.noaa.gov/pdf/helpful-resources/factsheets/re... Dave Owen. 2003 The Disappointing History of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. National Marine Protected Areas (MPA) Center, Snapshot of Great Lakes MPAs, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Silver Spring, MD. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1009269

[15] Endangered Species Coalition. 2012. Fueling Extinction: How Dirty Energy Drives Wildlife to the Brink. Washington, DC http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/publications/papers/Fueling_Extinctio... Endangered Species Coalition, et al. 2012. Water Woes: How Dams, Diversions, Dirty Water and Droughts Put America's Wildlife at Risk. Top Ten Report. Washington, DC. http://www.wildearthguardians.org/site/DocServer/WaterWoesTopTen.pdf?doc... World Wildlife Fund. 2015. Impact of Habitat Loss on Species. Washington, DC. http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/species/problems/habitat_loss_degra...

[16] Convention on Biological Diversity. 2010. Aichi Biodiversity Targets, Strategic Goal D, Target 15. Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. http://www.cbd.int/sp/targets/

[17] National Historic Landmarks Program. 2013. Listing of National Historic Landmarks by State, National Park Service. Washington, DC. https://web.archive.org/web/20140112172404/http://www.nps.gov/nhl/design...

[18] Pew Environmental Group. 2011. Ten Treasures at Stake: New Mining Claims Plus an Old Law Put National Parks and Forests at Risk. http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/2011/04/15/ten...

[19] C. L. Shafer. 2010. The Unspoken Option to Help Safeguard America’s National Parks: An Examination of Expanding U.S. National Park Boundaries by Annexing Adjacent Federal Lands. Columbia Journal of Environmental Law 35, no. 1: p. 57–124 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238721963_The_Unspoken_Option_t...

Michael Kellett has more than 30 years of experience advocating for national parks, wilderness, free-flowing rivers, and wildlife. He is cofounder and executive director of RESTORE: The North Woods and serves as special projects coordinator for Glen Canyon Institute. He developed the proposal for a 3.2-million-acre Maine Woods National Park and Preserve, leads RESTORE’s New National Parks campaign, and has visited 250 National Park System units across America.

Featured Article

Comments

The challenge is expansion without the use of imminent domain.  The use of imminent domain is a recipe for disaster.

If people are forced off of their land to make way for national parks, the expansion becomes political and a bad thing.  It will create a movement to defund rather than expand.  The National Park System will be seen as a malignant presense.

Expansion should be done, but through voluntary sales of land at fair market prices.


I am all for expanding the national park system. However, expansion can lead to dilution, too. More of a good thing is not necessarily a good thing in every instance, as I remind myself when eating a hot fudge sundae.

There is certainly a fallacy in the argument that national parks are but a pittance of the national budget. Virtually every interest group has come to use that argument (Amtrak, higher education, social services this and that), until they, too, add up to hundreds of billions of dollars the nation just doesn't have.

Okay. Warren Buffett has it--and Bill Gates. Unfortunately, neither appears to be a John D. Rockefeller, Jr., interested in buying up land for new national parks.

Tax them for it? I'm all in, but again, every interest group has the same idea. Even the golden goose has shaky legs. Wealth in the United States is not limitless, either. Just take another look at the so-called Debt Clock. Even if we shake every dime out of the pockets of the rich, the country still has unfathomable debt.

What to do? We need a land ethic as much as we need national parks. We need every citizen to respect the land, however and wherever it is owned. Is government itself committed to that land ethic? Hardly. Again, government can be the problem, too.

In the end, it all comes back to growth and limits. If we keep thinking that growth cen be limitless--now because we know how to be "green"--there will not be a landscape in the country ultimately worth having, even those we call our national parks.


Oops! Forgot to log in. Anonymous above is me.


Dr Runte hits the nail on the head, as usual.

I'm opposed to increasing, let alone doubling, the responsibilities of the National Park Service, already one of the federal government's most poorly managed agencies in the ‘Best Places To Work’ surveys.  This is a cult-like outfit with little transparency and a propensity for crucifying whistleblowers.  Spending  tax dollars to stimulate 'demand' for parks and then complaining about the 'supply' seems to me rather dishonest and dysfunctional.

 Top-quality new parks should only be added if three existing units are transferred to non-NPS management.  Those presidential birthplaces, motorboat Wreckreation Areas, and many smaller battlefields should be the first to go.  To me, 'urban national park' is an oxymoron, like 'wilderness permit'.  Local recreation and local history should be managed by cities and States, not the hugely inefficient and wasteful federal government. This country has far larger problems than lack of nearby federal recreation opportunities!

The NPS ‘business model’ can be simplified like this:  Spend only part the budgeted amount on cleaning and supplying park restrooms and transfer the ‘savings’ toward management’s primary goal of building ever-more elaborate and ‘enhanced’ facilities.  Poor management and unsustainable priorities are the real source of the NPS maintenance backlog.  The ”fake” and “phony” in this crisis are that the NPS list is no doubt well-padded with development posing as maintenance.

There are better and cheaper ways of protecting the history and ecosystems of all these potential additions the author lists, without putting them at the mercy the top-heavy itinerant manager class of the NPS.  Here’s a partial list of NPS mismanagement stories just in the past year:

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/12/national-park-service-continues-sag-best-places-work-federal-government]

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/07/op-ed-sos-saving-our-national-park-system

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2016/01/national-park-service-fires-highly-valued-superintendent-refusing-new-job

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/01/national-park-service-unable-complete-concessions-contracts-time-moves-extend-dozens-across-park-sys26116

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/01/board-finds-canaveral-national-seashore-managers-wrongly-punished-biologist-whistleblowing26148

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/01/ozark-national-scenic-riverways-gmp-raises-questions-political-pressures26193

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/03/doi-report-national-park-service-left-tens-millions-dollars-table-potential-fees26350http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/04/op-ednps-ecological-mismanagement-design26527

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/05/provocative-bud-light-campaign-doesnt-concern-national-park-service-national-park-foundation26555

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/07/concessionaires-push-point-national-park-service-lacks-business-savvy

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/07/national-park-service-says-ranger-ranks-decline

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/08/national-park-service-officials-disavow-scathing-report-effigy-mounds-desecration

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/08/national-park-service-retirees-ask-intervene-big-cypress-orv-case

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/10/inspector-general-national-park-service-mismanaged-brinkerhoff-lodge-grand-teton-national

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/04/national-park-service-waived-policy-allow-budweisers-centennial-partnership26535

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/05/travelers-view-really-arent-national-parks-worth-more-25-million26569

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/12/op-ed-sacrificing-grizzlies-katmai-plan-turn-brooks-camp-theme-park

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2015/12/while-some-rangers-head-greener-pastures-their-horses-arent-so-lucky

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2016/01/former-effigy-mounds-national-monument-superintendent-pleads-guilty-theft-artifacts


Hello all. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Just a couple of responses to clarify points that I was trying to make.

- I am not advocating the use of eminent domain to create new national parks, and agree that it is often very problematic. As I pointed out, most of the potential parklands across the country are already in federal or state ownership. Eminent domain is not an issue in those cases, because the lands can be transferred from another public agency (or for state lands, donated or traded) to the National Park Service. That said, there have been, and no doubt will continue to be, rare cases where eminent domain is necessary to protect the integrity of public lands and is supported by the public. One example not long ago was the gigantic observation tower built on a private inholding in Gettysburg National Military Park. After the owner refused to sell, the tract was purchased through eminent domain and this was strongly supported by local officials, historic preservationists, and the public.

- Regarding the affordability of expanding the National Park System, yes, the federal budget is not limitless. And there are many competing interests vying for federal funds. But there are also many wasteful programs that are being funded with tens of billions of taxpayer dollars each year. Government funds tend to flow to the interest that has the strongest political support. My point is that with the tens of millions of people who visit and support national parks, there is the potential to wield powerful political support that convinces Congress and the president to divert more spending to the national parks. This is not at all impossible; organizing such support has been done in the past and we need to do it now for the National Park System.

- I understand that the National Park Service and National Park System have had problems. The situation is obviously related to many factors. However, one of these factors is clearly the failure by Congress to provide robust funding and political support to the agency, which I contend, should and can be addressed by a strong public advocacy campaign. This is not just a problem for the National Park Service; it has been true for all public land agencies in recent years. Another contributing factor is the pressures of a growing number of visitors and a static amount of parkland. My main point is that ensuring protection of natural landscapes and historic sites of national significance should be the top priority, because once they are gone, they are gone forever. Fixing the transitory shortcomings of the National Park Service bureaucracy is also important, but it is something that can be dealt with over time.

- Skeptics of National Park System expansion often contend that there are better and cheaper ways of permanently protecting nationally significant natural and historic places. I have never seen such a plan for accomplishing this, and if it exists, I would be interested in knowing about it. However, to date, with very rare exceptions, no public or private entity other than the National Park Service has provided strict protection for national park-sized tracts of land, with assured public access for all Americans, over many decades -- much less over a century. As a result, we continue to lose natural and historic treasures across the country to resource extraction and misplaced development. My point is that this is why more and more grassroots groups and activists have concluded that national park designation is the best way to protect their special places before it is too late. 

Thanks again.


I'd like to respond to Alfred Runte's comments (hello Al love your books). I agree that a land ethic is desperately needed, and as you no doubt know, Aldo Leopold wrote numerous essays revolving around this idea. But how do we get to such a place? I believe that national parks help to foster such an enthic. Parks are one of the few places where the concept of a land ethnic is part of the message. And for many people, it is the only place where they are exposed to such a message. 

In my experience in vistiing national park units, I find that the NPS does a good job of putting out that message whether the unit is a historic site, a national recreation area, a national seashore, or a traditional land-based national park like Yosemite, Glacier or Arches or whatever. 

I do believe Michael's comment that using budgets for maintainence as the excuse against new parks is a ploy to preclude future parks. We can always build a new outhouse or patch the pavement in a park at some point. However, it is more importnat to protect lands from ecological damage--in many cases, we can't fix them at a later date.

Parks are the gold standard in conservation--not withstanding that we can all point to errors made by the agency over the years--the mistakes made are, on the whole, less aggrecious than what we see on private lands, and lands under management by other federal agencies. 

And if I have a choice, I will tolerate an unpainted outhouse or a few potholes in the pavement to garner protection for other lands that otherwise may be permanently damaged by resource extraction and/or are in need of restoration. Many of the park areas Michael proposed are threatened by such exploitation so park expansion is one of the ways to guarantee such protection. 


The author's statement, "One of the highest priorities should be to create new national parks near major metropolitan areas and in regions of the country with few large national park units -- the Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest" is one with which many would agree. But the list of recommended places that followed included more places in the mountain west and Alaska than any of the regions that need more NPS units. Most notably under represented on the list are places in the Midwest. Elevating the Ice Age National Scenic Trail to a unit of NPS (or some portion of it a national monument) and having NPS own more land for the new NPS unit would be important and relatively simple steps toward filling the gap.


Hi Drew,

You are quite right. I was trying to provide only a sample of the full range of potential parks, because there was not enough space to provide an exhaustive list for each category. I was born and raised Michigan and now live in Massachusetts, so I am well aware that more national parks are needed in those region, as well as the Southeast.

I agree with you that an expanded Ice Age National Scenic Trail should be one of the additions to the National Park System. Even better would be a full Ice Age National Park that includes Kettle Moraine State Forest and other key lands along the trail corridor There are no existing national park units in the Southeastern Wisconsin Till Plains ecoregion and a very small amount of national park acreage in the North Central Hardwood Forests ecoregion (in Mississippi National River and Recreation Area and St. Croix National Scenic Riverway). So an Ice Age National Park -- or expanded National Scenic Trail -- would help fo fill a big gap in the park system, both geographically and ecologically.

I think this goal is quite possible to reach. Our New National Parks campaign would be glad to do whatever we can to help you in your efforts.

Best,

Michael


Add comment

CAPTCHA

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide