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ASSAULT ON OUR NATIONAL PARKS; PRESERVING A FRAGILE RESOURCE

Do You Need That Vest Arch Bro

The American national parks offer inspiring, singular sights and experiences to over 300 million visitors a year. Sweeping vistas, historical relevance, and undisrupted natural beauty have secured these sites as powerful magnets for travelers the world over, and in this age of globalization, it’s easier than ever to inhabit spaces previously only explored from the window of a postcard.

Each of the national parks has been tasked with the mission to preserve “unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” However the parks draw an endless stream of tourists, not all of whom visit with the mission of the NPS in mind. In addition, courageous Rangers and park employees are dealing with an onslaught of disasters both political and natural, as well as consistently and precipitously low funding.

Meager fare hikes at some of the more popular sites have aimed to combat the monetary challenges confronting our national parks, but many question if raising the price of admission will prevent lower-income citizens from experiencing our nation’s natural resources. How do we enjoy these parks while preserving the ideal they were built upon? How do we best keep these lands accessible while ensuring the NPS is able to carry out its mission to protect them for future generations?

Bryce Amphitheater, Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Amphitheater, Bryce Canyon National Park

Dollars and Sense

Part of the gift that Theodore Roosevelt envisioned was that the wealth preserved in our national parks could be shared by all. It can be pretty easy to decry any rate hikes as going against this aim.

The sad fact is that the National Park Service has been criminally underfunded for decades, the victim of political gamesmanship and buzzwords when in reality, the NPS funding level of around $3 billion a year doesn’t even come close to filling a maintenance backlog of over 4 times that. In fact, the United States gives more than that $3 billion in military aid to Israel alone, a developed nation in its own right, with its own nuclear arsenal. Without delving too deep into the indefensible politics of the underfunded United States Park System and the predilection of old white men for expensive military toys, the rate hikes are a matter of survival and preservation.

However, concerns of the parks becoming exclusive playgrounds for the rich are unfounded and shortsighted. Take, for example, Zion National Park, whose participation in the Federal Recreation Lands Enhancement Act appropriates 80% of its admission fees to benefit itself and distributes 20% to benefit parks where no entry fee is charged. Its $35 per car rate saw an increase of $5 this year. That admission price is valid for seven consecutive days and a car constitutes any recreational vehicle with fifteen or fewer adults (children under fifteen years of age are free). Compare that to a family of four visiting Disneyland for just five days. The cheapest tickets would run you $1190, and another $100 for parking.

Archways of Mission San Jose in San Antonio
Mission San Jose, San Antonio Missions National Historic Park

Yet even this point is moot, because the NPS offers annual passes to its properties at an absurd discount. If you’re in the Early Bird Special crowd, they basically throw them at you, charging you but once for a lifetime pass and helping you enjoy the golden years while they last. You’ve earned it, somehow, greyhairs, so you do you.

For the rest of us, $80 will get you a year’s worth of access to over 2,000 National Parks, Monuments, Forests, Grasslands, Recreation Areas, and Wildlife Refuges, as well as lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Some state forest programs recognize the America the Beautiful Pass as well. It covers entry and parking for a car of up to fifteen, or four adults on foot or bike, and campsites are often substantially discounted for pass holders. Our pass paid for itself almost immediately.

Wotan's Throne, Grand Canyon National Park - North Rim
Wotan’s Throne, Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim

Overcrowding is Damaging These Delicate Places (And is a Serious Killjoy)

The legendary majesty of our national parks and monuments attracts a dizzying number of tourists, and rightfully so. Their natural wonders are magnificent and preserved for a reason. With each passing year, it becomes easier to find out about their quiet corners and hidden gems. Places that were once known only to rangers, guides and locals now have their own blog posts and Instagram hashtags. Zion National Park now has 30 miles of routes forged by the off-trail meandering of its visitors. Industrial tourism is not just becoming an impediment to enjoying a vacation, but a real danger to these delicate ecosystems.

Elk Grazing, Grand Canyon National Park - South Rim
Elk grazing, Monument Creek Vista, Grand Canyon National Park – South Rim

While we can’t really take credit for the timing of our trip, we’re going to anyway, and advise you to follow our example. Our road trip took place during September and October. While there were still mobs of people, we didn’t have many problems finding a serene moment or campsite, fortunate circumstances, given that our itinerary was pulled out of thin air.

Summer vacation is an easy, if not habitual, time to take a trip, but larger parks like the Grand Canyon’s South Rim or Arches are overrun during these times. If the NPS had kid-friendly anthropomorphic crows, coyotes, and rock formations wandering around these natural marvels, it wouldn’t be out of place. There are people arriving by the busload, making these sites feel more like carnivals than parks. It makes for some interesting developments in what is, for the most part, wilderness. The South Rim had a better grocery store than most of the villages dotting the barren lands we drove through to get there.

If you’re not chained to the schedules of your sex fruit or have chosen not to have any, take your vacation days and go during off-peak times. The views will not be any less epic, and the experience will be that much more tranquil. One might even suggest that a week on the road may be more instructive for young visitors than as much time grinding through an increasingly flawed education system. The parks have a junior ranger program that made us envious for years where we would have been young enough to qualify, and not just for the tiny, dope khaki vests.

Paria River, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Paria River, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

When we lucked out on finding sites or dodging crowds, it was largely due to hitting the parks mid-week. The only thing more vexing than waiting for your travel partner to take the damn picture already is waiting for the endless procession of people to get the hell out of your shot. Going to a major attraction in the middle of the week will help beef up the scrapbook while keeping the heart rate down.

Many of the parks have some amazing programming that happens throughout the week. While Bat Flight at the mouth of Carlsbad Caverns may be a little crowded on a Friday, on a Tuesday you’ll be able to have plenty of face time with those heroes in khaki, the Park Rangers. Use peak days for travel or staying the night in tourist towns. Unlearn the rules of the work week. You’re on vacation, so make the calendar work for

you. Use Fridays and Saturdays to recharge your batteries, set up a reservation at a restaurant and snag a margarita. The wonders of the world will be there on Monday, and you can share in Mother Earth’s sigh of relief when you hit the comparatively empty sights.

Backcountry Camping Loop, White Sands National Monument
Backcountry Camping Loop, White Sands National Monument

We encountered lucky strokes more than once on our travels, but it’s not a magic trick we’d like to repeat. The planning may seem painful, but it’s worth it. Most of the major national parks have campgrounds that can be reserved through the NPS website. Sleeping on Bureau of Land Management plots or pulled off a dirt road in a national forest is totally do-able – if you’re into roughing it. If you’d like a fire pit, maybe some water, electricity and a toilet, plan ahead and reserve a spot. There’s nothing better than being able to enjoy the day with full knowledge of where you’re going to sleep that night, and evading the ugly and silent war that unfurls within the cars that are turned away from full campgrounds en masse.

Queen Valley, Joshua Tree National Park
Queen Valley, Joshua Tree National Park

We Want You To Have Fun, But Please Enjoy Responsibly

Unfortunately, we witnessed a number of transgressions against our parks on our travels. Some were relatively small (though I guess that’s a call for the person who has to pick up the dirty diaper) like littering, leaning on ancient ruins, or bringing your kitten on the trail (to be fair, Reggie was little heartbreaker). Some were downright criminal. We watched a man hungry for a souvenir chip away at a rock at Arches. We stopped to confront a family attempting to chop down a joshua tree in California, but their ax emboldened them to ignore us.

When alluding to hundreds of thousands of acres, it can be tempting to dismiss the people heedlessly tromping past fences, signs, and barriers. However, the impact of the constant flow of this off-trail traffic wreaks havoc on flora and fauna alike. These attacks on the fragile environments utilize the scarce funds and time of an already understaffed team of Rangers to deal with their repercussions, resources that could be better spent in the service of anything else.

Great Kiva, Aztec Ruins National Monument
Great Kiva, Aztec Ruins National Monument

Take heart, gentle traveler, for there is a way to mindfully take joy in the true national treasures of the United States. The men and women protecting our parks are fighting an uphill battle to protect us from ourselves, but we can help them. Follow the rules on the clearly posted signs. They are meant to protect both you and the wildlife. Place trash in the proper receptacles. They’re everywhere. Adhere to the trails. The maps are free and comprehensive. Do not try to steal the limited, federally-protected (for now) nature. Basically, don’t be terrible.

Historic Entrance, Mammoth Cave National Park
Historic Entrance, Mammoth Cave National Park

Above all else, vote with your wallet. With politicians seemingly unwilling to listen to the consensus of the American people and properly fund the National Park Service, the NPS could use your support. The NPS is amazing at making so much happen with so little money; and is exceptionally thoughtful in designing many park elements to be wheelchair accessible, making them enjoyable for visitors of any ability.

One need not be the athletic sort to find something of interest. From camping on gypsum dunes in White Sands, to exploring the tumultuous history of the San Antonio Missions, to touring the depths of the world’s largest cave system at Mammoth Cave, to yes, scaling the summit of El Capitan in the Guadalupe Mountains, there are parks to suit any proclivity.

Purchase an annual pass. Having one of these in your wallet makes that great American road trip that much cheaper. Purchase a park passport at any gift shop and start collecting stamps. You will be amazed at the wonders you’ll discover.

McKittrick Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains National Park
McKittrick Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

After seeing a good chunk of the breathtaking terrain the National Park Service is charged with safekeeping, we’re ride or die for team khaki. Mostly we just want to hang out with Rangers and shower them with consentual hugs and high fives.

While the treasures of the Parks system belong to the American people, and indeed, the world, there has to be a balance. The planet suffers enough for humanity’s hubris and greed, and once these magical places are gone, it will take a millennium for them to ever approach their current grandeur. So much has already been lost forever.

If you’ve ever been to one of these truly awesome places, you know that there can never be a dollar value affixed to the experience. For those who are angered at the thought of having these gifts placed on a higher economic shelf, that anger can be justly focused on those that make the laws of the land. Just as Roosevelt and all those after him felt a duty to the future, it is up to those on team khaki, whatever country they may hail from, to take up the mantle and do what they can to preserve the majesty left to us by our forebears.

Brandywine Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Brandywine Falls, Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Interested in reading more?

http://theconversation.com/americans-think-national-parks-are-worth-us-92-billion-but-we-dont-fund-them-accordingly-57617

https://skift.com/2017/12/09/record-visitation-prompts-overtourism-fears-at-zion-national-park/

Purchase an annual pass here:

https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm

Check out our individual guides to visiting the national parks and plan your own adventure.

16 thoughts on “ASSAULT ON OUR NATIONAL PARKS; PRESERVING A FRAGILE RESOURCE Leave a comment

  1. I never understood people that try to “take things” home. It’s so ridiculous. I totally get the fact that parks were mean’t to be free but they need more funding. If the government isn’t going to do it then we need to. Ugh, so sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a total bummer. Especially when you consider the astronomical amount of money that goes to military spending- saving the parks would be a drop in the bucket comparatively. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

      Like

  2. I think it’s ok to charge more for peak periods, as a means to encourage people to distribute their visits across the year. I’ve only been to the USA for business trips. TBH if I were to get the opportunity to visit the US for any length of time, it would be for these parks and not at all for the population centres. So I hope they endure.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the parks in the USA and if I had to choose between the parks and paying for Disney, I know what I would do – sorry Mickey Mouse! On our last road trip, we bought an annual pass because it was great value and we intentionally avoided parks at weekends. Take only photographs, leave only footprints!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I can’t say that I’ve ever heard children referred to as “sex fruit”, I had a bit of a giggle at that.
    But otherwise this was a really interesting read. As always there’s two sides to the story, and while fee hikes might deter some from making impromptu trips to national parks, they do badly need repairs and maintenance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad we were able to amuse you- the term comes from an Australian couple that wanted to name their child as such!

      The fee hikes are definitely not the best case scenario, but without financial support, these parks won’t last long, and when they vanish, it’ll be for decades. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  5. This is interesting. If I had read this article a few years back I would have questioned the need to pay for the parks. Although I have never been in a US national park, I have visited parks that are nowhere as big and which requires a small fee to enter. After all, these places need to be maintained and that doesn’t come out cheap either. I any case, your pictures are amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • For what you’re getting, the price of entry is rock bottom cheap. The NPS makes sure these places are reasonably accessible for all, and that comes with a bit of a price tag. We hope you’ll check out a park! Lots of them are free, all are amazing, as the pictures show!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this post – we have been to Acadia National Park in Maine and the Grand Canyon but that is it so far – we are Canadian but my heart aches that these amazing parks aren’t held in higher, more sacred regard. The prices seem reasonable and I truly wish they were getting the funding they deserve and that the money wasn’t going elsewhere – this post is a nice highlight though of what can be enjoyed with some good tips – thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you enjoyed it! You certainly have a wealth of natural beauty in the Great White North- Algonquin was a yearly experience for J, and he’ll attest to the fact that the Canadian side of the Boundary Waters is MUCH cleaner. We hope you’ll have a chance to explore more of your neighbor’s parks soon!

      Like

  7. Thanks for bringing light to this (very rarely discussed) issue! You are right, they have been insanely underfunded for years, despite them being irreplaceable natural wonders! While there is no answer, visiting responsibly is the best thing we can do!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The parks are definitely taken for granted, and we do so at their peril. Visiting responsibly is a wonderful start, but agitating for a less-macho national budget is even better. Our parks’ needs are a drop in the bucket compared to our outrageous military budget. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  8. We haven’t been to a lot of the US parks but the goal is to at least visit 2 or more per year. Annual Pass might be helpful then:) Thank you. And I just wanted to say that there are a lot of ways to travel responsibly but one obvious one is to RESPECT one’s place and/or local culture. This is a great article… keep writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the kind words! We can’t sing the praises of the Annual Pass enough. The fact that it applies to a lot of State Parks makes it an invaluable little traveler’s tool.

      Like

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