By Glynn Wilson –
Reading the national press coverage on the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, even listening to the reporting on National Public Radio, you would think the biggest problem the parks face is a lack of visitors. The entire story is framed as if the parks were just another capitalist tourist trap like Disneyland, where the main priority is to “grow” the parks to make more money.
But wait. In the same stories, like the one in Thursday’s Washington Post, another problem is that this do nothing Republican Congress, where conservative members would rather get rid of the National Park Service and fully privatize the parks, refuses to provide more funding for maintenance.
Do you see the contradiction? How could you? It’s not being reported.
The parks do not need more visitors. Many of the most famous national parks — the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Great Smoky Mountains — are already overrun with tourists, stretching the resources of the NPS staff to keep up with the problems created by all the traffic and even resulting in damage to the parks.
Privatization and Commercialization
What no one seems to realize is that the parks already generate enough money to do the maintenance required. It’s just being sucked out of the parks as profit by the private contractors already managing the stores, restaurants, lodges and other concessions — because the federal government does not want to get into the “hospitality” business. So the NPS signs contracts with the likes of a gambling company such as Delaware North, which runs the money making operations at the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Shenandoah, taking the profits that could go to fixing up the parks.
To be sure they grant a small percentage to the federal government for this privalege, and are required to invest some in the parks by upgrading some facilities such as the showers at the Big Meadows Campground in Shenandoah.
The gaming company also held the contract in Yosemite until a few months ago. And when the NPS canceled the company’s contract and went with a different concessionaire, Delaware North had the gall to sue the federal government claiming it owned all the names of all the places in Yosemite where things are sold.
I wrote another story about that under the headline: John Muir is Turning Over in His Grave as America’s National Parks Go Commercial, but it was not picked up on by any other national or international news organization.
Some newspapers out west did pick up on this, but it was not reported far and wide. We covered it.
Some of the national stories do mention the problems being experienced in the parks due to climate change, but we did the best one two years ago on the ground in Virginia.
There are other environmental stories in every national park. We discovered this one last year while camping in the Big Meadows campground.
Some of the stories mention the problem of getting more minorities to visit the parks. But none of them report on the history of segregation in the National Park system. We discovered this story two years ago on a visit to Shenandoah.
I had planned on being out west myself at this time to extend my reporting on the privatization of the parks to include the Delaware North operations in the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, but plans changed and I ended up spending the spring and summer on the Gulf Coast as well as the winter this year. I hope to get out west next year, maybe after the boom in the parks caused by all the publicity surrounding the 100th anniversary slows down a bit.
Experienced visitors tell me you don’t want to be in Yellowstone in the summer time anyway. It’s overcrowded with cars, trucks, RVs and noisy people. The parks are better visited in the off season, spring and fall or even winter, when there are not so many people around.
If you do get a chance to visit the parks, be sure to take advantage of some of the programs offered by the park rangers, some of the nicest, smartest, most courteous and capable people you will ever run across in any profession. I spent nearly three months in Shenandoah last year. I learned a lot you can’t find out on a quick day visit or even a week of camping.
Here’s one example.
I also had some incredible experiences in nature you can’t get anywhere else but a national park. National Forests can be beautiful places to visit and camp too, but since they are controlled by the Agriculture Department with a whole different philosophy, the National Parks are just better in many ways as part of the Interior Department.
The most interesting and traumatic thing I experienced involved the late spring birthing time for white-tailed deer fawns, and the coinciding hunt for the fawns by the black bear. I didn’t even know about this phenomenon before I became an NPS volunteer. Check out these stories and pictures. You won’t see this in any of the other press coverage.
Experience the Bears and Fawns
More on this story as the phenomenon continued.
If you follow the Interior Department or the National Park Service on Facebook or Twitter, you can see some incredible photographs taken in the parks, even of the Milky Way Galaxy at night. The parks are some of the last places left in modern civilization where you can clearly see the sky at night. We got to experience seeing the Milky Way Galaxy at night too.
In his documentary on the national parks, Ken Burns calls them “America’s Best Idea.” I don’t know about that. Representative democracy including the separation of church and state were pretty awesome ideas at the time. But certainly the idea of preserving special places in nature from commercial development ranks in the top five ideas anyone in the United States ever had. Now if we could return to that idea and get the commercialism out of the parks, that would be a good thing too.
Call your representatives and tell them that. And while you’re at it, tell all your friends and family on Facebook you heard about it here first.
© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.