Leadership Summit: Building For the Future

Laura Bush addresses the National Park Foundation Leadership Summit. White House photo by Shealah Craighead.

Laura Bush addresses the National Park Foundation's Leadership Summit on Partnership and Philanthropy Inaugural Founders Award Dinner Monday, Oct. 15, 2007, in Austin, Texas. White House photo by Shealah Craighead.

Now the hard work begins. Congress needs to be cajoled to pass the president's Centennial Initiative, new-found friends need to cash-in, and the national park system needs some loving attention if the National Park Service's centennial nine years hence is to truly be noteworthy.

Two-and-a-half days of meetings in Austin, Texas, at the National Park Foundation's Leadership Summit on Partnership and Philanthropy were energizing and hope-inspiring. They produced excitement about the centennial, spawned thought-provoking panel discussions on how partnerships and philanthropy could provide a much-needed boost for the perpetually cash-strapped Park Service, and held out hope that, with some decidedly concerted efforts, the national parks won't begin to decay once the Baby Boom generation that loves them so dearly fades away.

First Lady Laura Bush spoke at the gathering, as did two cabinet secretaries -- Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Jr. -- Park Service Director Mary Bomar, captains of industry, and purse holders of foundations intrigued, if not yet entirely persuaded, about the prospect of giving to the parks.

"There's nothing like being awed by the grandeur of Denali, overwhelmed by the vastness of Crater Lake, or humbled by the centuries of human history in the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde. We want everyone to have the opportunity to make memories in our national parks, especially our children," the First Lady said Monday during her keynote address. "Improvements to our national parks and historical sites benefit every state. ... I urge Congress to support, and that means fund, this very important (Centennial Initiative.)"

First Lady Laura Bush addresses Leadership Summit (1:26)
Get the Flash Player to hear this audio.

Of course, the Centennial Initiative alone won't provide all the salve the national parks need. Most of the eligible products announced so far don't address long-standing problems. Most, if not all, parks are short-staffed; at Acadia National Park, for instance, one fifth of the 100 authorized full-time jobs are vacant due to funding woes. At other parks, positions of retiring personnel have been left vacant so the money for their salaries can be spent on operational costs. And, of course, there's the well-known $8 billion backlog in maintenance needs across the 391-unit park system.

Beyond that, questions hang over how partnerships and philanthropy will be married to benefit the parks. Where do you draw the line between helping the Park Service and replacing it with volunteers and concessionaires, and how do you engage common Americans to donate to the Centennial Initiative are just two.

Seemingly silencing that second concern is the fact that the American public is a very generous lot. One of the summit's speakers pointed out that $295 billion was donated to charitable causes in 2006 -- $222.9 billion from individuals. For fiscal 2007, that sum was projected to rise to $3.7 trillion. The trick for those supporting the Centennial Initiative is to corral just a fraction of those dollars for the parks.

Secretary Kempthorne told the conferees that he hopes the Centennial Initiative ignites a new era of philanthropy in the parks. At the same time, he and others stressed that philanthropic interests will not give to the parks if their dollars are used to replace, rather than supplement, federal funding. Too, they maintained that no corporation wants to advertise its presence in the parks, and that there are Park Service regulations in place to prevent that from happening anyway.

Mr. Kempthorne said the initiative, if passed, would provide funding to preserve lost Civil War battlefields, better protect cultural resources, and even create a fund dedicated to park land purchases, largely to close "holes" in parks created by inholdings.

"It's within our grasp to achieve excellence at all our national parks in America," he said.

Not everyone was convinced. Some of the smaller friends groups told me they worry they don't have the cachet to entice philanthropic funds to help pay for their needs. In response to that, however, was mention that if Congress approves the president's preferred funding proposal -- that private dollars be matched by federal dollars -- then whenever a dollar of federal funding is matched and released half be directed towards the project in question and half go into a discretionary fund for other parks' projects.

Beyond raising dollars for the parks, there must be successful efforts to entice the younger generations -- the Gen-Ys and their younger siblings -- into the parks.

"Our children have been seduced by the dark side of video games," Park Service Director Mary Bomar said at one point. "Is there anyone surprised that more Americans know Homer Simpson's home town than Abraham Lincoln's? Yes, Springfield (Ill.).

"... We are locked in battle to make sure that we get the hearts and minds of Americans back, to re-engage the American public with their national parks."

NPS Director Mary Bomar addresses Leadership Summit (1:45)
Get the Flash Player to hear this audio.

As the centennial draws near, much work needs to be done. Strategies for raising public awareness of the centennial as well as for generating contributions will be necessary. Park friends groups will have to court philanthropies and convince them they have worthwhile projects. Urban, cultural, and historical parks must benefit as much as the Western landscape parks.

And then, of course, there's the issue of climate change. But that's fodder for another post.


"Our children have been seduced by the dark side of video games," Park Service Director Mary Bomar said at one point. "Is there anyone surprised that more Americans know Homer Simpson's home town than Abraham Lincoln's? Yes, Springfield (Ill.).

"... We are locked in battle to make sure that we get the hearts and minds of Americans back, to re-engage the American public with their national parks."

Since when is it the job of the NPS director to be "locked in battle" over the hearts and minds of anyone? Why doesn't she stick to the more mundane task of preserving and managing the resources under her agency's purview and leave the task of attracting visitors to the free market?

I also don't think it is Mary Bomar's role to fight the "dark" forces that are supposedly seducing America's young away from a wholesome frolic in Yosemite and resulting in more awareness of Homer Simpson than Abe Lincoln. If you want to point fingers Mary you might want to start with our wonderful government run schools.

I urge Ms. Bomar to refocus her energies on the less glamorous job of making sure that park roads are free of potholes, that hungry bears and raccoons are staying out of garbage dumps and that the toilets are clean and flushing properly along the Blue Ridge Parkway. You need to leave the winning of hearts and minds to someone else.

Mary, from where I sit it seems that you've got more than enough on your plate to keep you plenty busy. Before you start reaching into realms you have no business posturing on why don't you get your own house in order first!

I think it's wholly appropriate for the director of the National Park Service to be concerned about the youth of America in regard to the national parks. Frankly, I think all of us should be concerned about the younger generations and their tight focus on everything electronic and cartoons of mockery and disrespect.

I could understand castigating someone for endorsing such behavior, but why criticize a public official for their concern over younger generations growing more and more detached from the natural world around them? What's wrong with someone in Washington taking a stance on the importance of getting the younger generations away from their electronics and into nature, if only for a while?

After all, where there are no park advocates, there is no park system.

Damn Kurt, your so right! I see kids in the inner cities just starving for someone to thrown them into the woods. I mean that literally! I advocate more leadership academies for such a purpose. However, in the long run I don't endorse any of Bush's environmental, economic or war policies.

It is the legislated responsibility of the NPS to preserve and protect federally owned natural and historic areas that have been officially designated as such by Congress. The idea that this same agency is somehow duty bound to help wean young people from their "tight focus on everything electronic" is not, nor should it be, part of its mission. This is not the proper function of government.

The idea that a director of a federal agency is "doing battle" to win over young people is ludicrous. Just pick up the trash, lead the cave tours and burn out the underbrush when it gets dangerously thick. The free market will decide who comes to visit. This is not a social welfare agency responsible for individual moral uplift. That is the personal choice of each person in the free market place of ideas and products.

If the kids of today prefer a Gameboy to to a hike in the woods that is none of Ms. Bomar's business. All she needs to concern herself with is maintaining the integrity of the parks in her charge and the visitors will surely come. The Organic Act says nothing about doing battle to win hearts and minds, but only to provide for the enjoyment of whomever happens to come through the park entrance regardless of who they may happen to be.

I think you're reading too much into Director Bomar's rhetoric. Remember whom she was addressing. I didn't interpret her as saying the NPS needs to add one more duty to its roster, but rather that we as a society have to recognize a responsibility to, if you will, lead the youth of America into the woods and show them the wonderment that resides there.

Will "visitors surely come" if the NPS simply maintains the integrity of the park system? I wouldn't be so sure. Someone needs to tell the world what that system holds. In these days, maintaining a park is no guarantee that someone will come to visit.

I was at Mammoth Cave this past weekend and judging from the lines that I stood in there wasn't a shortage of visitors or young people. The same could be said of my trip to Zion, Yellowstone and Grand Teton in June or to Cape Canaveral National Seashore in April. I don't know what parks you've been visiting but I've seen plenty of kids enjoying the national parks. The ones on my cave tour were well mannered and asked good questions.

If the numbers are dropping some isn't that a good thing? I remember when I was a ranger back in the 1990's and the high-pitched whining screech constantly heard emanating from NPS management was that the public was "loving the parks to death". This was practically a mantra.

Why does the NPS always seem to see-saw back and forth from one crisis mode to another? I thought less visitation was good for the sake of the resource.

Go figure.

Beamis: your quote, "but Iv'e seen plenty of kids enjoying the national parks". What kids!? Privileged rich kids who have access to the parks. Most inner city folks are too busy working two or three jobs to maintain a family, and with less time to shuttle their kids to the National Parks. Maybe a helping hand from the NPS could give more insight on this topic...at least take a big step towards this direction. The National Parks are meant to educate and not to be stifled by such comments like yours.

I am going to agree with Beamis on one point. It is the Director's main job to defend and protect the parks and programs of the National Park Service. She needs to make sure that parks have sufficient resources to 1. preserve and protect resources; 2. provide high quality visitor services; and 3. maintain productive relationships with park interest groups. She also needs to assure that the Park Service's rsponsiblities for recreation and historic preservation outside the boundaries of the parks are effectively carried out.

That said, I don't think she should be constrained from publicly commenting on issues that she believes may potentially affect these parks and programs. I consider her language about "struggling for the hearts and minds of people seduced by the dark side of video games" to be over-the-top. But I too wonder about what the future holds for the National Park System, not so much in terms of fluctuating visitor counts, but in terms of the political support for preserving and protecting the parks. During my years with the NPS, its most fanatical supporters were those who visited the sites and experienced what they had to offer. If we don't connect with people who vote or will vote, we will risk losing that support that has always been so important.

So, let's cut the Director some slack. Maybe her speech writer had an off day,. I'm a lot more worried about her decision to support snowmobiles in Yellowstone than I am about her speech in Austin. After all, who will remember it 5 months from now? I guarantee you we will be hearing snowmobiles in Yellowstone and the Tetons for longer than that. And that's really from the dark side.

Rick Smith

Anonymous why do you automatically suppose that the only children at national parks are "privileged rich kids"? At Mammoth Cave I saw plenty of local Kentucky hill folk out for a weekend in the sun to picnic, hike and fish in the Green River. Luckily for them that park charges no entrance fee and it has many miles of scenic trails, back roads and river access besides the cave which they can enjoy.

With the ever rising prices to visit other parks the NPS experience is increasingly becoming a rich persons prerogative. Interestingly enough there IS something very tangible that the agency could do to encourage more of your so called "inner city" visitors: lower entrances prices!

I agree with Rick that this story has very short legs and will fade in a few days. I have commented on the Yellowstone fiasco as well and hope more of you National Park Travelers will speak up on this much more important issue concerning the politics and mismanagement going on in our oldest park.

National park visitation yo-yos up and down for hard-to-pin-down reasons. Just a year ago there were some in Congress so worried over declining visitation that they held hearings into the trends. Of course, those making the most noise were those who make a buck off the parks -- concessionaires, gateway towns, etc.

This year trends seem to be reversing, as we're hearing about increases in places like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Olympic and elsewhere. Still, in recent years there's been a general concern about national park visitation. For instance, in 2003, a report on forecasting visitation to national parks noted that, "Since 1987, NPS visitation has been flat or decreasing."

That said, I'm not terribly worried about the current state of visitation. I love it when I can go to Arches or Canyonlands and have the place to myself. Or when I can head into Yellowstone's backcountry and not see another party.

The problem, though, is that I'm smack dab in the middle of the Baby Boom generation, which many believe is the generation best connected with nature and thus national parks. Here's a snippet I wrote in March 2006 when reviewing Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods:

Within its State of the Industry Report the (Outdoor Industry Association) defines "who" is playing outside, and the definition is somewhat troubling.The bulk of the outdoors audience, says OIA, are Baby Boomers, those born from 1946 to 1964, and 'Millennials,' those born between 1978 and 2003, give or take a few years.

What's troubling is that while Baby Boomers "know the thrill of summiting a mountain, the solace of canoing pristine lakes and the excitement of having new experiences," Millennials are more focused on "action, speed and adrenaline," fixes they get more from a skateboard park, white water park, or bouldering, than from hefting a pack on their backs for a 50-mile backcountry adventure or slipping a canoe into a lake or down a river.

While both groups have non-sedentary lifestyles, which is good to note these days when media point out America's alarming battle with obesity and the dropping by many schools of physical education requirements, as Baby Boomers continue to gray there's a chance the following generations will not share their love for the landscape, and so not be concerned about its stewardship.

And then there's Mr. Louv's own research. "This new, symbolic demarcation line suggests that Baby Boomers -- Americans born between 1946 and 1964 -- may constitute the last generation of Americans to share an intimate, familial attachment to the land and water," he writes (on page 19 if you want to look it up).

As urban areas continue to spread, as iPods and iPhones and Wiis continue to dominate the minds of youth, where will the next generation of guardians for nature come from?

At the Leadership Summit I just returned from, the conference was concluded with a panel discussion involving University of Texas students. Sadly, many of those kids don't fully appreciate or understand the national park system. To lure college-age students to the parks they suggested staging concerts in the parks and that there be days when entrance fees to the parks are waived (Gee, isn't that already done?). They also suggested creating iPod tours of the parks (Gee, isn't THAT already being done?).

My concern, Beamis, is not with current visitation trends. My concern is who will be advocates for the parks when my generation is gone? And frankly, I think it's a very valid question, one that is quite legitimate for a director of the National Park Service to ask.

Please, Ms. Bomar, tell me you're not serious in your assertion that Lincoln's home town was Springfield, IL! He was a lawyer there, and twice elected State Representative, and was finally elected to the office of President while residing in Springfield, but by no means was it his home town. Born in Kentucky and raised mostly in Indiana, Springfield and the surrounding communities were indeed his adult home, and where he rose to national prominence. But even though the State of Illinois is proudly nicknamed the Land of Lincoln (just check the license plates), calling Springfield his home town is a bit of a stretch.

Fascinating repore you two have going. Beamis and Kurt that is...

I've spent a good portion of the past 4 years in the parks of Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, Colorado, and New Mexico. The connotation of "privileged rich kids" is straining the truth a wee bit. I've been accompanied by church groups, college groups from various states on summer class excursions, interns at various levels, volunteers, and WAY many kids on summer vacations, both the younger set with the folks and groups of teenagers trying to get away from the parents. Few of these qualified as "spoiled rich kids", although in reality some were indeed cut from that cloth. A small sampling, but there were some. It was my impression, or rather my personal experience, that not only were the "younger generation" missing, but domestics in general were the minority of people with whom I had encounters on the trails far removed from the main parking areas. Maybe the domestic tourists are the ones who tend to hit-and-run, and since my stays are typically a bit protracted, I missed seeing them and their cameras clinging to the overlooks and jumping back in the RV. But it's my impression that if you want the newer generations to become involved in park appreciation, you would be best served concentrating on having their guardians initiate them to the park system, and forget about the reliance on the parks themselves to sponsor concert night, or whatever other bastardization of the landscape would be required to bribe new visitation. It would amount to a colossal waste of time, effort and money that is already sorely lacking. Technological perks, such as pod-casts, electro-rangers, GPS route finders, tour-by-car, and the like would only enable service to a clientele already in attendence, not serve as a "hey let's jump in the car a take the virtual Mesa Verde Tour!" type of incentive to expand or generate interest among the "next generation". At least that's how I see it playing out..............

I too wonder about what the future holds for the National Park System. . .in terms of the political support for preserving and protecting the parks. . . . If we don't connect with people who vote or will vote, we will risk losing that support that has always been so important.

I thought that once a park was set aside, it was set aside for all perpetuity, or whatever the terminology used in charters in bygone eras. If that's not the case, if the protection of national parks is subject to the whims of politicians, then we better damn well devise a new system beyond politicians' purview that absolutely guarantees that our sacred lands will be protected no matter what, including loss of interest of some of the next generation due to MySpace and "evil" video games.

Oh, and by the way, one can love both video games AND nature, as I did growing up (I even remember playing video games in a national park during lunch breaks with one of the NPT editors). And national parks are not just the realm of the rich. I used to ride my Huffy to Lava Beds and explore the Stronghold on foot; this by a lower-class kid raised by a single mom.

The alarmist cacophony about future generations abandoning and evil rich people taking over our parks is meaningless drivel spewed by those who would divert us from real issues (i.e., the parasitic sinecurists that permeate the rank and file of the NPS; the inept and politically appointed NPS directors; the calcification of the federal government and its various bureaucracies).

Couldn't agree more Frank. I also really like the word sinecurists. I believe I shall add it it to my lexicon. Keep the fire under their chair bound butts burning my friend!

MS BOMAR! I don't think that ILLINOIS was ever revealed to be home to the Simpson's Springfield. How you could you make such a stunning error? :P

I still am stunned that people (on this site and in general) have such overwhelming faith in the free market, which in all essence doesn't really exist (protectionism, tax breaks, etc.) and even if it did would still not protect natural treasures like National Parks from plundering. While I have no question that it's absolutely the best system around, I'm sorry, it's not perfect.

Also, I agree with Kurt, someone has to reach out to the nation's youth. Even if you think the NPS should follow it's old, calcified strictures mandated far in the past, I disagree. If people don't value the parks, they aren't going to speak up for them and that backlog that everyone thinks the NPS should be concentrating on is only going to get larger. Frank and Beamis, while I always love your input and passion (really!), it seems like you're missing the point. This isn't about the sinecurists holding their jobs and getting promotions to jobs they aren't qualified for, getting unjustified raises and not being held to any performance standards, this is about the parks themselves... this is about the landscapes, not the agency in charge.

Taking this to my ever ignorant next level, I thought that the protection was accorded to any and all "national" designations, be they park, monument, battlefield, wildlife sanctuary, or whatever. At least in theory, this was the letter of the law (or more properly, the Act) as it was written. But as we all know, and have recently seen, especially out east, these once sacrosanct partitions of land have been subjected to rezoning in the name of the almighty Developer, and deemed too valuable to remain as open-spaces in the midst of our ever growing urban sprawl. This is a small but poignant commentary on the lack of reverence this country places on its' collective history, be it architecture demolished in the name of "urban renewal", poorly chronicled and factually inaccurate written historical documentation, preservation of historical sites of significance or their ilk. But I'm sorry to say Frank that little or nothing in this land comes under the heading of perpetual protection. It remains in it's protected state only until enough graft and profit can be arranged to justify it's demise. Such will be the case with the lands we love. When mining, oil and gas development, and God forbid even grazing, elevate their priority and status in the proper governmental eyes, and proceed to press the proper buttons long and hard enough, in the words of the poet.....

This is how the world ends, this is how the world ends,
This is how the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper

At least as the world pertains to the preservation of the parks, etc. But don't worry.....everything will be put back just as they found it, right?

Beamis & Frank: Perhaps, it was stretching it bit about the visitation of "priviledge rich kids" to the National Parks. Nobody is bashing the rich and the well do for their merits in attaining great wealth. Let me rephrase my sentence, I think we are all rich and priviledge to have the opportunity to visit our crown jewels called the National Parks. Perhaps that sounds like a trite sentence to you two (aka as two-peas-in-a-pod think alike). There's countless thousands of childeran in are inner cities that never heard of the expression (crown jewels) before, or had the slightest opportunity to visit one. I'm deeply aware of Ms. Bomar position and responsiblities as the parks top resource manager. Consider this, what is the greatest resource this country has? I would definitely select and choose our youth today. The National Parks should tap into this resource and give it all the energy that it needs to make the parks better. I'm not a doomsayer like you two-peas-in-pod, but I do advocate more emphasis on youth opportunities with the National Parks. Such as getting these kids educated with a good solid wilderness experience, and lessen the baby fat that's slowly killing them. Why doesn't the Bush Administration advocate higher standards for physical fittest. I can remember the famous Kennedy 50 mile walks for a certicate of merit for physical fittest. The inner city kids need this! I whole hardily share and support any direction that the National Parks wishes to go to bring forth more youth into the educational process of learning what is truly wilderness experience. Yes, the iPods are fine, but also have them read between the lines what Henry David Thoreau had to say: "In the wilderness is the preservation of the world". Not a bad line for youth to nourish on!

I probably shouldn't bite on this, but...

God I love it when preservationists selectively quote Thoreau! Do you not realize that Thoreau wrote Resistance to Civil Government (aka On the Duty of Civil Disobedience)? Do you not realize that Thoreau also wrote "That goverment is best which governs least"? Do you not know that Thoreau also wrote:

Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men, generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to put out its faults, and do better than it would have them?

Nourish on the full text: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/71/71-h/71-h.htm

Thoreau NEVER, not in a million years, would have supported governmental management of wilderness.

And please continue to use a cliched label to pigeonhole me, but it, like the bulk of the other "content" in these comments, like the "content" of Bomar's comments, is a diversion from the fact that governmental management of public lands has resulted in a political quagmire; the actual preservation of wilderness has been sacrificed by inept and corrupt politicians and politically appointed managers who scapegoat children (who are supposedly growing more apathetic by the day), video games, electronics, and so on to divert attention from the fact that they are bumbling idiots in a broken and corrupt political system.

I'm stunned that people have such overwhelming faith in such a broken system.

Frank, you're incredibly adept at tossing stones, some of which are more on target than others. But please put down your slingshot and take a minute to tell us how the national parks and wilderness areas should be managed without the government. As one other has noted, the current system ain't perfect, but it's a lot better than most, and I currently don't see any viable alternative.

As I've noted many times before, a goal of this site is to encourage constructive debate and discussion of issues revolving around the national parks. Your incessant flogging of the Park Service suggests that you have some ideas of how the current scenario could be improved upon. Please, share them with us. How would YOU run the national parks? How would YOU provide access to, and management of, wilderness areas?

What group, organization, or company out there has the capacity and financial resources to conduct science in the parks, be stewards to the wildlife, forests, rivers and streams, provide law enforcement, and perform road work? Whom would you have take over the tasks of maintaining campgrounds and trails, of managing fisheries against non-native species, of rescuing those who go lost in the wilderness, of addressing the impacts of climate change within the parks?

Who would you have hold the public lands of this nation in the best interests of the folks who own those lands, the general public?

Should the parks and wilderness be given over completely to for-profit companies that will charge even more for access to these places and the activities they provide and, in the process, cater to an even more elitist crowd? You in the past have railed against ever-growing rates for lodging in the parks. Should we toss out the Park Service's efforts to contain costs and let these concessionaires charge what the market truly will bear?

If there truly is a viable alternative to working within the existing system with hopes of improving it, I'd love to hear it and would gladly get behind it.

I'm not denying all your castigations of the Park Service. Politics do a severe injustice to the Service and the park system. Past surveys (and my own conversations with folks within the agency) have shown dead wood can be found within the agency's ranks. Management in various sectors is somewhat of a morass.

But I would offer that it'd be a great and tragic mistake to toss away the Park Service out of bitterness without identifying a viable, realistic, and sound alternative.

Frank, your intellectural wit slays me, but what do you advocate in fixing the NPS system...since you've been there? I can quote from great books (like you) and refute much in what Thoreau had to say about "Civil Disobedience", but that's not my bag...parks and kids are! So again, how do help the next generation to be more knowledgeable about one of our greatest resources called the National Parks? Sorry to pigeonhole you. Oh, you poor man!

Kurt, you beat me to the punch with this one. Excellent response, it couldn't be better expressed.

Frank and I have made solid suggestions in the past but these generally get ignored because it is much easier to castigate us for our "anti" stance on federal governance of the national parks.

Just for the record I will go over a few tangible steps that could be taken to begin to improve things (which, if you review my past comments, I have already stated in this forum).

A good first step would be to have a non-partisan commission convene to examine the current inventory of national park units and determine if all of them are worthy of national park status, much like the military base closing commissions of the late 80's and early 90's. Since many areas have been created by pork barrel politicians it would be wise to take stock and see what fits and what could be transferred, eliminated or sold off. This would save money for the more important and truly unique areas that very few of us would argue belong in the system.

For example, I have suggested before that Canaveral National Seashore would make a wonderful Florida state park. There is nothing special about the beaches there, they certainly aren't even close to the most scenic or pristine in Florida. They are NOT of national significance, but would make a great addition to the Florida system or even a nice regional park. The interior marsh and river sections could be easily transferred to the Fish & Wildlife Service, which already maintains adjacent lands. At least it would be worth studying. See where I'm going with this?

That's just one example of starting a process to streamline the current inventory of parks and begin a prioritizing mechanism to maintain adequate funding for the "crown jewels".

I could easily see Civil War parks being run by private non-profit historical societies, trusts, universities, states & municipalities or a combination of entities. Do we really need park rangers leading cave tours in Carlsbad and Mammoth Cave? I can easily see these places being run by their respective states or non-profit trusts as well. Am I pricking raw nerves yet?

While we're in a questioning mood I'd like to ask why the citizens of greater New York (Gateway), San Francisco (Golden Gate) and Cleveland (Cuyahoga) can't run their own regional parks? Why should taxpayers in Alabama and North Dakota be on the hook to provide them with expensive federal parks that none of them will probably ever use? Should money that is needed in Glacier and Yosemite be funneled to urban parks that are definitely not in the category of "national treasures"? Just a thought for further reflection.

On the subject of the agency itself it vitally needs a good overhaul that would remove it from the same civil service malaise that is par for the course in the rest of the federal government. That, unfortunately, is only a wistful dream as long it remains tethered to the politics and ineptitude of the Department of the Interior. This will remain a central problem in achieving efficient operations and will plague the agency as long as it remains nearly impossible to fire incompetents and to easily hire people outside the cloistered green & gray convent that don't possess the coveted mantle of "permanent" status. Federal government work rules will remain the most compelling reason to privatize.

I've just gotten started but will stop and see if anyone has comments on what I've already said.

Remember most of the things you treasure in your everyday life are produced in the private sector economy of free choice and voluntary transactions. Your car, computer, home, food, leisure products and just about everything else. Why is it so hard for many of you to think that wild and historic lands could not also be cared for and shared with the public without the beneficent hand of Big Brother? Why just this week a harmful decision was made in Yellowstone concerning snowmobiles which vividly showed that federal politics are just as venal and corrupt as the so-called sins of the marketplace. I personally think that private owners of wilderness would be more concerned with preserving their product for future use than a career bureaucrat who retires fat and happy, oblivious to the long term long term consequences of a clearly political decision.

Maybe I'm just a hopeless romantic of the free market but I know that voluntary works better than coerced. There is a lot of good will in the hearts of free people.

Support Ron Paul for President!

Are you suggesting the free market would have banned snowmobiles from Yellowstone? And how would a private owner of a wilderness benefit if they didn't sell access?

Let's not delude ourselves with the "wonders" of the free market. There are many instances of corruption and taking advantage of the public. Remember Enron? Here's a snippet from a story that ran a few years back in the Guardian of London that might be of interest.The author? Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Laureate in Economics and Professor of Finance and Economics at Columbia University. I would venture his thoughts are just as true today as they were then.

Advocates of privatization also lauded the private sector's ability to compete. But I'm not sure these private sector advocates quite had in mind the abilities that American corporate capitalism has demonstrated so amply recently: corruption on an almost unfathomable scale. They put to shame those petty government bureaucrats who stole a few thousand dollars or even a few million. The numbers bandied about in the Enron, WorldCom and other scandals are in the billions, greater than the GNP of many countries.

Think the snowmobile and personal watercraft manufacturers would be so concerned about the special places known today as national parks and seashores that they wouldn't place rental shops within their borders at a moment's notice?

And do you really believe that the struggling state park systems across the country are up to the task of managing national parks? How would they go about funding that endeavor? Boost their state's taxes or build bigger entrance stations with higher entrance fees?

That said, I agree there should be a close look at all those places that constitute the national park system and perhaps some spinning off of units that could fit better someplace else. And much good also could be arrived at by overhauling the civil service system. But gutting the Park Service as you and Frank propose would be akin to tossing the baby out with the bathwater.

Bermis, finally were getting somewhere instead of this anti everything. Some of your ideas do provoke good thought, but I do question in how we might set up such a non partisan commission (or God Squad) that will pick and choose who should go or stay in the NPS. This isn't quite like a pawn shop where we trash something that doesn't benefit or appeal to us, but to a select priviledge few...like developers, gas and oil monopolies...etc... I get the general feel that your more comfortable with strong thoughts of privatization of the NPS. I think Kurt has answered this very well about such thoughts. Why is it that we can't have a ad-hoc commission composing of prominent citizens, environmental groups and the busness community all working together to re-tool the whole (interna and external) apparatus of the National Park Service, but keep the original framework which it stands for. This is not saying destroying the concept of the parks, but to enhance the virtue which it should stand for: to best serve it's people and maintain it's resources to the highest degree of sacred perpetuity for future generations. Not to tear down Frank, but to embolden a new frame work of refreshing ideas that youth might inject. Maybe the next generation has the keys, the ideas, the brains to make it work with less demeaning individuals who rather tear down system then make it work. I say give the keys to the next generation with there cute iPods.

If you've ever visited a Nature Conservancy property you would know first hand how much emphasis is placed on every detail of preservation and the integrity of the visitor experience. I see the same type of devotion and care being ladled out to other areas that would come under the ownership of dedicated entities serious about the task of preservation and helping individuals enjoy natural and historical lands. If there is a market demand for wild places I know that there will be entrepreneurs willing to provide it. It is true for every other want and desire that has been dreamed up and this would be no different.

It's interesting that your quote mentions Enron and WorldCom (now shrunken back to Verizon), both companies that no longer exist. It seems that malfeasance indeed has consequences in the world of private enterprise, whereas the corruption of the federal government goes on and on. Every April 15th you either pay tribute to Moloch or get put into jail. This form of accountability results in a situation where 70% of the population is firmly against an un-Constitutional overseas war of aggression, which our so called democratic leaders blatantly ignore. Need I mention illegal spying, wiretapping, indefinite detention, torture, transporting live nuclear warheads over civilian airspace, burning banned toxic substances in the Nevada desert, suspending habeas corpus, political assassination, supplying dangerous weapons to rogue nations and lining the pockets of corrupt corporations that manufacture products no one in the free market place has any use for? That's just a start. I've got more if you want to hear it.

I'd like to know if you think that most of the things that you buy and own are the result of "corruption on an almost unfathomable scale"? Is your personal computer, automobile and toothbrush the result of wholesale corruption? Do you feel morally sullied whenever you go to buy food at the grocery store? When buying mulch at Home Depot? Or shoes at the Foot Locker?

I don't know where you get the idea that voluntary free exchange is somehow more intrinsically evil than the wholesale theft of wealth through the tax code. The results speak for themselves. I am very happy with my voluntary participation in the marketplace. I enjoy owning goods that were freely produced and which I bought with the fruits of my own labor, get this, VOLUNTARILY! When was the last time you enjoyed giving the government your hard earned money and please tell me what government office was as fun to visit as a Whole Foods store? Or even a gas station?

What's more fun, a trip to the DMV or the dentist? I'll take Dr. O'Connell any day of the week.

Also you might want to study some other economists besides Stiglitz. I suggest Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek.

Good string we've got going on your website. It is much appreciated.

Kurt, I have attempted to provide alternatives, and people generally don't respond or create strawmen arguments or distort what I'm proposing. This isn't about privatization of public lands. Public lands should remain public. I agree with the suggestions Beamis has made. I've also pointed out that parks, like art museums, could be run as a trust, although this would be a public trust. I've provided a link, and I'll do so again, outlining how parks could be managed
as public trusts: http://www.free-eco.org/articleDisplay.php?id=479

Here's the bulk for those who refuse to click and read:

When avarice first threatened the Park’s values, the cavalry came to the rescue. At that time, naked private interests tried to stake claims on public resources. Now, their descendents utilize the political process to achieve similar goals. ...
...the parks will always offer values that attract potential exploiters, folks with little interest in promoting the public interest. Poaching, a huge problem in the 1870s, remains troublesome. And poaching is trivial compared to the ecological damage caused by ORVs. There are multiple opportunities for exploitation, and their value is growing; there have always been huge political incentives to pander....
Third, the federal government is facing huge and growing deficits. The park system now carries a maintenance backlog (estimated at roughly $5 billion, twice the entire annual Park Service budget), and it will be ever more difficult to allocate funds to relieve it. Concurrently, there will be seductive opportunities to use the national parks as cash cows. It’s easy to imagine how a budgetary tradeoff between controlling noxious invasive species or vaccinating children might play out.
A public treasure does not inherently require governmental management. Public, nongovernmental trusts present sensible alternatives to federal management. Both Mount Vernon and Monticello are clearly “public” and both are run by trusts rather than government agencies.
Endowment boards, like those running museums, hospitals, and private schools, would operate under a legal charter to steward individual parks. After receiving a one-time Congressional endowment, each park’s individual trust would be “on its own.” The board, established by local environmental groups, business leaders, and citizens, would promote ecologically sensitive economic activities as part of their trustee responsibility.

That's what I'm advocating.

How would YOU provide access to, and management of, wilderness areas?

How can something that is wild (self-willed) be managed? Doesn't the management of something make it by definition unwild? Civilized? I think we need to completely rethink the paradigm of wilderness "management". Wilderness ought to be places set aside FOREVER as blank spots on the map, left to nature, without management, without trails, without anything. In a word, wild. (I'm reminded how as an NPS ranger, I was instructed to tell visitors concerned about dying wildlife that the NPS "lets nature take its course". I can cite plenty of examples of how the NPS really does the opposite, but isn't that what it and we SHOULD be doing?) Access? Access would be provided right to the edge of the wilderness and then it's up to wilderness visitors to provide their own access in the form of hiking boots. Education should be provided for those who don't know how to behave in the wilderness. This can be part of the parks' mission carried out by management trusts.

So my slingshot is down. When anticipating your response to the previous posts, I wondered if you'd use the well-worn phrase "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." Now I urge a move beyond over-used expressions to encapsulate a complex concept and move toward explicit and accurate language and dicsussion.

Thank you, Kurt, for allowing me to participate in this discussion. My motives come not from bitterness, but from a genuine concern for the protection of our public lands and my perception that the current political system has failed--and continues to fail--to protect them.

Beamis, you're starting to sound like an anarchist, not a free-marketer;-)

Do I look forward to April 15? Of course not. But it's not because of the basic system, but rather the way the system has been bastardized by politicians over the decades. The tax code, and Social Security, both need dire revisions to make them more user friendly, rational, and productive. But as long as those with pockets much deeper than mine control the Congress it's not likely to happen any time soon.

And really, as easily as you toss out a litany of federal government woes -- "illegal spying, wiretapping, indefinite detention, torture, transporting live nuclear warheads over civilian airspace, burning banned toxic substances in the Nevada desert, suspending habeas corpus, political assassination, supplying dangerous weapons to rogue nations and lining the pockets of corrupt corporations that manufacture products no one in the free market place has any use for" -- one could just as quickly assemble a list of corporate malfeasance starting at Love Canal, running through countless Superfund sites, touching on the manipulation of the electricity markets in California a few years ago, subprime mortgages and more.

I'm sure we could go back and forth all day, but am equally sure we both have better things to do. (The gorgeous autumn afternoon here in Park City is insisting on a bike ride). Just as the free market has its place, so, too, I believe, does government, be it local, state or federal. In all sectors public and private, though, we need checks and balances to make them work. I would agree that the checks and balances at the federal level are not working as best they could, but would suggest it's the process, not the underlying system, that is at fault.

And who is controlling the process? Is it not the very free market system you so tightly embrace? I think a sound argument could be made that many of the problems you cite with the government can be laid at the feet of the corporations at play in the free market.

Yellowstone snowmobiles? This ping-pong case is fueled by one industry, the snowmobile industry, which somehow has gotten the ear of the administration, which has kept this beast alive despite best science that says snowmobiles are not in the park's best interests.

ORVs at Cape Hatteras or Big Cypress National Preserve? Hunting brown bears in Katmai National Preserve? Anyone want to venture how the Park Service might have come down on these issues had someone in the free market not complained loudly to Washington?

Frank, I actually think we both have many of the same concerns and desires for public lands management. And I wouldn't be surprised if you would hold the Park Service in higher esteem if the agency were fully funded and civil service were wiped out.

That said, trusts are an intriguing option for public lands management, but I still have to wonder if they have the capabilities to take on a place as big as Yellowstone or Yosemite or Canyonlands. Bryce Canyon and Arches probably would be more "bite-sized" for such an endeavor, and possibly Acadia, just to name three.

However, who would be responsible for erasing the backlogs that are spread across the park system? If Congress can't erase them today, where would it find the funding to create endowments for each park? Who would take on such assets with such financial baggage? Would you look to the existing friends groups to take on the responsibilities of trusts in managing the parks?

Again, it's an intriguing proposition, and one I think could be employed with your previous suggestion that a good, hard look be given to the park system to determine if some units could be shucked off. A move in such a direction perhaps could reduce the size of the national park system as managed by the NPS and thus make it more manageable, and affordable, for the agency, while also creating a network of other public lands/sites managed by trusts.

Finally, I'll ask you the same question I asked Beamis: What, or who, is behind the failures of the current political system? In addressing the problems of the NPS, we should look beyond the symptoms and get to the root cause.

Beamis- I have worked both seasonally for TNC and NPS and frankly, I don't see eye to eye with you on TNC's ability to effectively manage a large and/or small but heavily used unit of the NPS system. They aren't an organization that manages for recreation, they manage as a private property owner that gets TONS AND TONS of donations (READ: CORPORATE MARKETING BY ASSOCIATION! DONATIONS AS TAX BREAKS!) from major sponsors and grants from.... from... THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT along with state and county entities as well. In my experience, regarding access to their lands, it wasn't the public that got to see some prairie chickens on a lek, it was rich donors. So while I love TNC, I don't see them as a replacement. Also, specific anomaly examples aside, they don't manage for people using the wilderness/resource... they don't need to clean toilets, staff info centers, etc. on the scale that NPS does. Do you KNOW how hard that is to get privately funded? Additionally, given TNC's focus on nonpolitical approaches to operations, I doubt they could handle the middle position that the the NPS must take, or attempts, I should say. Politics are reality and I have yet to see any suggestion that would replace the "broken" NPS. Please don't take this as TNC bashing, but come on, they and/or a similar model can't replace the NPS.

Kurt, following this line of discussion, it'd be interesting for the hard working staff of NPT to investigate how the park in New Mexico, Valles Caldera or something, is faring under a non traditional, non-federal land management agency approach.

The best thing about this forum is that people like Beamis, Frank & others, who dare to speak "blasphemy" against the sacred service, can't be swept under the rug. This is all too often the case when "disgruntled" employees attempt to challenge the system in NPS meetings, usually dominated by those who are content to think and speak in step with the horde.

You'll be seeing Bart more frequently in these postings. I'll be presenting simple proposals to help clean up the agency. Most, if not all, of my suggestions will deal with changes at the park level...I'll resist the temptation to blame the problem on someone in Washington DC, even though such criticism is often warranted. Stay tuned!

Ohhhhhhh, Bart! Oh, Oh, we can't wait! *dripping with sarcasm*
Do you have an inflated sense of self-importance (aka Michael Moore), perhaps?

Bart, looking forward to your forthcoming comments.


Politics are reality

If this is the diagnosis for national parks, and as long as parks at subjects to the whims of politicians, I am afraid the battle for preservation has been lost. Some interest groups will always be able to use our current form of democracy (ha!) to apply pressure to our elected officials who fear being voted out of office.

I know, however, that cinder cones like Schonchin Butte shall endure long after humanity and its bureaucracies have come and gone. Thirty thousand years from now, the rest will be just details. I only hope that if I have grandchildren, they will not blame me for not doing more to protect our sacred lands.


Your concerns for the long-term health and future stewardship of the parks is well justified. But in many aspects Beamis, Frank and others are also quite justified in their contempt for the current NPS management regime, specifically their inability to effectively handle the exact issues that you all are addressing in your latest series of posts. True, I am also a blatant advocate of scrapping the current system as a whole, based in no small fashion on this particular ineptness. The list describing the reorganization of the network is far too vast for this forum, but I would like to submit a few short notions for your consideration.

First, total privatization is not the goal. It has too many pitfalls, mainly pertaining to the same sort of mismanagement that we are currently blessed with the burden of under the existing umbrella. If I may, "publicazation" is what I have targeted and advocated mucho times within many posts on this site. This next item won't be popular either, but if the governing bodies can tax and spend for irrational wars and foreign subsidies, then an internal usage of funding, existing or brought through new revenue sources, while not popular, if either in part or wholely derived from those current wasteful expenditures, should prove to be at least palatable for those of us lablelled as the "general public". I, for one, would most certainly prefer my tax dollars to be used on the homefront for security, medical, preservation and the like as opposed to literally bribing foreign dignitaries and lining pockets and making their retirement MOST comfortable, along with their Swiss bank accounts. All this accomplished by a seperate entity, removed from the federal government ranks. I am quite aware that under our current legislature, only governmental bodies are authorized to function as taxing bodies. That can be ammended quite easily and limited quite specifically all in one fell swoop. Not popular, but quite doable.
Second, the concessionaires are truly non-essential. Although I have previously stated that the park system should be most highly focused on the preservation aspect of the system, it doesn't take a great deal of time of intelligence to manage lodging network. I'll get blasted for that comment, but the truth remains that no matter who is driving the boat, the lodges will maintain their capacity where they currently do, and others will continue to have peak-season vacancies due to less than advantageous locations. Employee-wise, their are many who freely choose to make a career of it in the various hotel / motel chains, so the reality of it is that the jobs themselves aren't that unattractive. Placing the proper people in the proper positions is the trademark of any successful business endeavor, and this would be no exception for the new management team.
And briefly, third, Congress is most capable and has been enabled to erase the current backlogs that are a justified concern of us all. But the fat and happy old buggers aren't motivated by internal issues as much as they seek continued self-gratification and simultaneously insulating themselves from all blame internationally, along with cementing their precious faces on the Hill for all eternity, or at least their own personal eternity. I believe that we would just be relieving them of a burden that they are neither willing nor frankly, interested in rectifying anytime in the next millennium. Let's face it, what's 8-10 billions dollars in the grand scheme of things, governmentally speaking? It amounts to less than the monthly waste of the current fiscal budget, and yet nobody can find "extra" monies to be dedicated to a domestic issue. On the other hand, a miles-long fence is budgetally obtainable in a heartbeat? Gimme a break!

I'll send you a more "itemized" proposal, similar to something you can play "W" with, peruse at your leisure and line-item veto while having a good laugh over after ski season commences and you need to relax by the fire for a spell.

Yes Kurt I suppose I am an "anarchist" in the real, or classical sense of the word: "Absence of any form of political authority."

My disdain for political power as opposed to free markets notwithstanding I think many of the ideas put forth by Lone Hiker, Frank and others to keep the lands public but to place the management of them in other hands is a good start. I think a wide variety of entities should be encouraged to look into taking over many of our national park units and other management teams should be created as the need arises.

I disagree that it is the process and not the underlying system that is at fault. The "system" is a colossal failure in everything it attempts to do. If it was so good why does it have to resort to the force of arms to get citizens to pay for it? Don't you think people would volunteer to pay for foreign wars, an obvious Ponzi scheme for their retirement and lifelong careers for civil servants if they thought these were wise investments that contributed to their overall well-being?

Is it because we are too selfish and unconcerned with the good of society to truly understand the superior moral values inherent in the benevolent actions of the federal government that they must coerce us into paying for their good works, most of which would land all of us in jail if we attempted to perpetrate them ourselves?

The sooner these lands can be taken out their sullied hands the better. How it starts matters less than the notion that it MUST be done.

What, or who, is behind the failures of the current political system?

We the people

No Random! I't's corporate America and the media...and the rich & the powerful. Rome lives on!

What do you propose "we the people" do Random Walker?

I think individual states seceding from the union and a tax revolt would be a good start. Short of that "we the people" are as responsible for the current state of the regime as the peasants under Stalin or the Vietnamese boat people were for their corrupt political rulers.

Until the Constitution is again reinstated as the law of the land it is no longer "we the people" who are in charge.

Oh and by the way support Ron Paul for president.

Some unthoughtful, unedited and mindful mosey meanderings…
Americans all excited and satisfied with voting every four years for the presidency bothers me. It is difficult for me to believe in and support a government that is voted into office by 51% of 47% of eligible voters. I believe that only when "We the People" vote wholly at the State and Local level (do you know your commissioner of the sewers?) will these states be united.
It is a pacified public which allows the incorporation of the feds. When did freedom become defined as a choice between a ford or mercedes?
Seceding from the union perks my interest, it does have its romantic side (as in a departure from the public’s pacified sensibility, towards idealistic expectations.) Though talking outright revolution, a take over of the federal government gets me down right excited (as I believe it should all Americans.) I will even start it with a rewording of the Declaration of Independence, from the stale “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” to Aldo Leopolds "Adventure without regard to prudence, profit, self-improvement, learning or any other serious thing"
Anyway.... should probably head outside, rake up some leaves and check the gutters.

Fallen leaves? Lucky you. I'm still swatting at gnats and sidestepping cotton mouths. See you at the revolution.

Best regards,


Firstly, let me again commend Beamis, Frank & others for challenging the status quo at higher levels. Such dialog is essential. For my purposes, I've chosen to attack the problem at the park level, by offering some simple, common sense solutions that I believe will help to get the NPS back on track.

Not long ago I worked at a park where, within a short period of time, three of its seven top managers moved on to other parks. Their positions remained vacant for a cumulative period of about three years. When I'd ask employees if they missed these managers, the typical response was "H--- no, now we can actually get some work done!" Meanwhile, the park's janitor left his job. The remaining managers convened an emergency meeting, during which they decided to hire a replacement janitor by the following week. Estimated savings to the taxpayers for the lapse of the three managers was over $200,000.

That was a "good park." The bad ones hire more managers and don't rehire janitors, trail crew staff, and information desk rangers. Those positions siimply disappear, much to the detriment of the parks and their visitors.

Some may argue that large numbers of managers are needed to complete such processes as writing reports, developing plans, implementing initiatives, attending meetings, etc. In a future Simple Proposal I'll spell out how these tasks can be elminated or significantly minimized, thereby allowing a return of funds to the truly important front-line jobs.

Simple Proposal #1: Hire more Indians and fewer Rajahs.

What, or who, is behind the failures of the current political system?


"...the fact is that seven out of ten Americans belong to at least one association [interest group]...and one in four Americans belongs to four or more. . . half of the respondents [of the survey cited] said that the main function of most associations is to influence the government. . . . Almost every American who reads these words is a member of a lobby." Source.

Groups have overrun Washington. They fight not to generate wealth but to transfer it. Hence, interest groups are parasites seeking their slice of the tax dollar pie. As long as government manages public lands, funding and policy will be heavily influenced by interest groups.

Were government removed from the picture, I doubt NPT would have to run articles on snowmobiles in Yellowstone or the maintenance backlog or Bush or Dick using parks as a photo op.

And I wouldn't be surprised if you would hold the Park Service in higher esteem if the agency were fully funded and civil service were wiped out.

Again, if the funds come from taxpayers and are allocated though a political system, the NPS will still be at the whim of politicians and interest groups, and we'll continue to see politicians using parks as poker chips in the election game. "Hey, environmentalists! I'm at Sequoia! Ain't that cool? I'll give the parks lots of money if you just vote for me! I promise!" So, I don't think I'd ever be satisfied with a Park Service that is part of the political process. Certainly, were the civil service wiped out, that would be financially beneficial and would improve efficiency. Is there a way to depoliticize the NPS, and can different sources be found from which to garner funds?

However, who would be responsible for erasing the backlogs that are spread across the park system? If Congress can't erase them today, where would it find the funding to create endowments for each park? Who would take on such assets with such financial baggage? Would you look to the existing friends groups to take on the responsibilities of trusts in managing the parks?

I don't think it's a matter of Congress' lack of ability to eliminate the backlog rather than a lack of desire. Money can always be found, but interest groups and political pressures often prevent it. Annual funding for operations and maintenance (even the backlog) could be raised though donations, memberships, entrance fees, and revenue currently garnered by concessions. Annual costs could be reduced by reducing excessive park infrastructure, too. Yours are important questions that need considering. Thanks for participating and thinking about the issue.

Bart: That's one simple proposal to do more with less, and it's one I've suggested in recent comments on NPT. You're a great addition to the NPT voices!

Beamis: I'm supporting Ron Paul for president!

You all rock. Thanks for posting, for thinking and for not being sheep. Heh. This thread has made my day for some unknown reason.

Even if you all disagree on what needs to be done, we agree something needs to be done.

The other day I was talking to a community member who was lamenting the lack of knowledge NPS staff have of their own parks. Citing the most recent of many examples, he asked an entrance station employee (and one who'd been working there for several years) a simple question about the wildlife. The employee (yeah, that would be a park ranger) didn't have a clue what the visitor was talking about, didn't know where to look for an answer, and didn't seem to care. I've spoken to other park visitors and staff who are appalled by the general lack of knowledge many NPS employees have about the fantastic places for which they're responsible. The problem seems to be getting worse, rather than better. Maybe that's because employees (and their bosses) are too enamored with the latest initiative, their career ambitions, and podcasting to care about rocks, plants, ring-tailed cats and old cabins.

While many Park Service employees take very seriously their credibility as sources of interesting and meaningful information (I've been extremely impressed with the good ones), most don't seem to have a clue. While I'm not suggesting that everyone be an expert on their park, I do suggest that everyone (including janitors, administrative assistants, and yes, superintendents!) have a moderate knowledge of their site and why it was established. This will not only give the NPS greater credibility as an agency, it will give staff a greater sense of purpose, and maybe even passion, for what they do. Plus, it will make each employee a better servant to his/her taxpaying visitors.

Every NPS employee should be REQUIRED to learn about his/her park through a variety of means, including attending lectures, accompanying knowledgeable staff or local experts on field trips, reading books, taking tests, etc.

I know, I know, some folks may reply: "But we're so busy with our jobs, how can we take the time to learn about our parks?" In a previous post I promised to address simple time-savng proposals, and I haven't forgotten. Stay tuned.

Simple Proposal #2: Know--and Love--Your Park!