On Politics, Bureaucracy, and "Glamping" In the National Park System

"Glamping" in style.

The National Park Service's National Leadership Council met in Ohio last week. The meeting of the agency's top management was supposed to be the first under the direction of Jon Jarvis as Park Service director.

Political gamesmanship, and apparently a dose of bureaucracy, unfortunately left Mr. Jarvis wearing his Pacific West Region director's hat.

Why, nearly eight months into the Obama administration, is there still an "acting" director of the Park Service? In Washington, the political center of the universe, the answer, naturally, involves politics and bureaucracy.

Mr. Jarvis, whose pending nomination was anything but a secret, was officially nominated earlier this summer, and that nomination was quickly approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

But just a day or two before the Senate was to adjourn for its August recess, a hold on his confirmation by the full Senate was placed by, the Traveler has been told, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn. The gentleman from Oklahoma, a Republican whose office staff refers to him not as "Sen. Coburn" but rather as "Dr. Coburn" in deference to his background as a family practitioner with 4,000 deliveries to his credit, is the same gentleman who earlier this year succeeded with political sleight of hand to see that holders of concealed weapons permits could pack in the national parks if the prevailing state law allowed.

Senator Coburn's concern apparently is not with Mr. Jarvis himself, nor with his disgruntlement that the concealed weapons rule change wasn't immediate but rather takes effect in February 2010, but rather a collegial favor to U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who has been waiting since April for some requested information from Grand Canyon National Park.

What information was Mr. Bishop seeking that was so important as to justify a hold on Mr. Jarvis's nomination with hopes it might catch the attention of somebody at the Interior Department?

In a nutshell “all documents and correspondence of all types” between the park superintendent and the park’s science director and the media or any individuals working with the National Parks Conservation Association, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Grand Canyon Trust, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Arizona Archeological Council, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Sierra Club, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

That’s quite a shopping list, no? And the timeframe? Starting from January 1, 2007, and running to the present. Unfortunately, neither Mr. Bishop (who just happens to be my congressman) nor his press secretary could get immediately back to the Traveler to explain the need for this laundry list, what with the August recess in full swing. Nor could Sen. Coburn's press secretary. Nevertheless, that's for another story.

What's equally disconcerting about all this is that while it took Grand Canyon officials just two months to compile all that information (Rep. Bishop's letter to Interior was dated April 2, while park officials say they relayed the requested information to their Washington office on June 3), it has taken Park Service and Interior officials considerably longer to forward it to the Utah congressman. As of this past Friday, August 21, the information still was "working its way through the department." Is this the sort of transparency President Obama promised to usher in?

These sorts of political games and slow-paced bureaucracy create an unnecessary roadblock at the very time the National Park Service needs a hands-on director, one with a strong scientific background to see that science, not politics, guides management decisions in the National Park System. Jon Jarvis has such a background, and his reputation across the Park Service is such that his arrival at the helm of the agency will do much good for the moral of Park Service employees.

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What does it tell you when one of the latest rages in camping is to take everything, except possibly the kitchen sink, to the campground with you?

Admittedly, I'm coming late to the phenomenon of "glamping," a trend that, in short, is all about luxury camping, or "glamorous camping." This isn't roughing it by any stretch of the imagination. We're talking everything from family-sized tents rigged with electrical outlets to lighting systems on up to lavish "yurt hotels" that would make Genghis Khan envious. There's even a web site or two dedicated to this trend.

Last week the Washington Post was the latest to explore glamping with a story that attributed the trend, in part, to an effort to "entice the Internet generation."

"There's an expectation of a certain level of comfort or people won't go outside,'' Jeff Willard, senior vice president of global marketing and new product development for Coleman, told the Post. "It needs to be comfortable. Otherwise, people are going to stay inside and do Facebook."

Never mind that the latest trend to power your tent and beam Wi-Fi through campgrounds allows you to stay in your tent and "do Facebook" rather than venture out into the wilds unwired.

Mike Gast, vice president of communications for Kampgrounds of America, told Washington Post that today's campers, basically, want to be coddled.

"You have to offer the all-inclusive camping experience,'' he said. "Barbecues, ice cream socials. Some of our sites even have climbing walls."

Somewhere Richard Louv surely is shaking his head. Mr. Louv, of course, is the author of Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. In it he paints not only a disturbing picture of how we're losing bits and pieces of our natural landscape, but how we're failing our children by not working harder to introduce them to nature. Mr. Louv points out something that's frighteningly obvious, if we only take a moment to look around. Through urban sprawl, through the magic and wizardry of the Internet, through computer games, and through fear of many of the neighborhoods we call home, we're spawning generations of kids who don't know what it's like to have warm mud squish up through their toes as they wade in creeks to catch frogs or to hear the gentle whooshing of a forest's canopy under the breath of the wind as they play hide-and-seek.

And now there's glamping, a movement that some believe is vital to connecting younger generations with the out-of-doors. How exactly that will be accomplished remains to be seen. If you and your kids are safely ensconced within your cabin-sized tent with all the comforts of home, including electricity, lighting, Wi-Fi, video games and on and on, will you even notice when the owl hoots, or the wolf howls? Will you be able to fall slowly to sleep to the murmuring of the stream or wind rustling the trees?

Sadly, this movement doesn't seem to be one focused on getting back to nature, but rather one centered on bringing all the amenities of home-life into nature, and, in the process, numbing yourself to all that is natural in the out-of-doors.

Better that tents remained lit by lanterns and flashlights, that you can count the stars overhead, and that you discover a love for nature because you're enveloped in it, not cocooned within your "all-inclusive camping experience."

Comments

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn should be embarrassed along with every member of the state of Oklahoma. Holding our National Park System hostage while he plays politics. You give every good republican a bad name. Step aside and allow TRUE Americans to take over and resue our park system for future generations.

Boy, that picture says it all! And what is that square thing on the tent directly to the left of the doorway? Is that an AC UNIT???? I went to the site mentioned above, and found that for a mere $200 a night I could get the complete experience in Joshua Tree, only 10 minutes from the National Park. The website states, "you can bring your friends and crank up the amp, or just listen to the silence". Amenities include a spa, fully equipped kitchen, and an iPod docking station! Somebody's making some serious money - clever way of exploiting us lazy Americans. Anybody know how I can get into this racket?

As a Civil War re-enactor, I often get incredulous looks when I tell people that yes, we actually sleep in those tents, and yes, we actually cook on the fire. And no, they didn't have i-pods or cell phones during the Civil War, so we can't have them either (one of the true joys of re-enacting, if you ask me!).

I can't see how "glamping" is going to solve this problem (and I do see it as a problem).

Is anybody surprised that when we need a hands-on director, Mr. Jarvis' confirmation is going to be buried in an avalanche of paper? I'm ever amazed that Washington ever gets anything done.

As for "glamping," my first thought was WT*! and I rarely say WT*. I was under the impression that particular niche was filled with ultra-posh RVs equipped with everything AND the kitchen sink. Oh ya, the RV industry has tanked in this recession, putting thousands out of work, so of course, who would be so gauche as to go that route when "glamping" is apparently the new standard in luxe?

I don't own a RV, or would ever consider "glamping". I do have a 17 year old nylon tent with so many layers of seam seal I'm amazed it doesn't stand up on its own without the poles. Amenities are 2 air mattresses for my son and me, and a can of bear spray. I'm not as limber as I used to be after waking up on a foam pad, nor do I want an up-close and personal experience with a bear. Our security system is our very yappy mini dachshund and a SIG, not concealed here in Montana where if you don't show your firearm, you're obviously up to no good. If we can't cook it over an open fire, or eat it cold when there are Red Flag warnings, we don't bring it. No chefs, maids, or butlers in sight!

Want to be pampered? Go to a spa hotel. Leave the camping to people who know what they want without the racket of all those generators, AC units and iPod speaker systems. I can't imagine you'd enjoy the glow of a Coleman lamp.

Let's hope this is just another fast-passing fad, because if it isn't, we'll be inundated with designer fishing gear and even more idiots with little common sense and way too much money flashing concealed weapons when they get homesick for a more "urban" experience.

What good is a "hands-on" director (as opposed to the previous hands-off kind) if all they have to look forward to is a position dominated by political games and a slow-paced bureaucracy? The NPS needs more than a new director to turn things around but, unfortunately, those kinds of changes are not coming to the nation's capital anytime soon.

Beamis, it's the swampy climate. It turns their brains to mush. Politics is a rich man's game, and so they don't have to care. Here's hoping Mr. Jarvis spends most of his time OUTSIDE of Washington. I'd hate to see good talent go to waste.

As long as the NPS maintains roads, this is what they're asking for. If you can drive it in, expect to see it in a national park. If you want people to get back to nature in national parks, you've got to remove all un-natural roads. And lodges, too. Funny how this site on one hand promotes lodging deals, while in another post lamenting that "glampers" won't be able to see the stars overhead. Absolutely laughable.

Frank, laugh away, but some folks actually like to see a variety of information on the parks, be it SARs, things to see and do, climate change topics, or even lodging deals.

Several years ago Joseph Sax gave the Horace Albright Lecture at UCBerkeley. In it he addressed management of recreation on the public lands. His last paragraph addresses the issue of introducing non-campers to the wild:

The challenge is to resist seeing the public lands as a static resource in which various visitors simply find a comfortable niche, and instead to manage the lands as part of a progressive experience over time. Nearly forty years ago, the Forest Service published a book entitled Forest Outings, in which the task of mediation that faces public management officials was captured precisely, spelling out policy objectives that steer the middle course between making the lands familiar and unchallenging to the novice, and ignoring his needs altogether. The goal, it said, was "to provide graded steps through which the individual may progressively educate himself from enjoyment of mass forms of forest recreation toward the capacity to enjoy those demanding greater skill, more self-reliance, and a true love of the wild. Most men or women previously unacquainted with the forest in its natural state would experience discomfort and fear.... But if progressively they may experience the urbanized forest park, the large forest campground, the small camping group, the overnight or week-end hike, and so gain a sense of confidence in their own resourcefulness and lose the fear of wild country, then the final step is simple and natural,"

For the whole lecture visit: http://calforestry.cnr.berkeley.edu/lectures/albright/1978sax.html

Kurt, I agree with your take on "glamping." How is making the outdoor experience the same as the indoor experience teaching people about the great outdoors? I agree it's very important to get people outside, but if they don't see the forest or the trees when they're there, how does that help them appreciate nature?

Shenandoah National Park's seminars shouldn't have been categorized as glamping, though. They have the right idea - teach people how to take care of themselves in the woods. Showing someone how to pitch a tent is very different from doing it for them.

I, too, had to comment on that article: http://www.welovedc.com/2009/08/18/glamping-oh-come-on/