Reader Participation Day: Have You Ever Called A National Park In Search of Information?

GRSM-Cherokee Mac's Indian Village

Mac's Indian Village was an old motel in Cherokee, North Carolina with fake teepees in front of each cabin. It was used in the movie Digging to China.

When I was a volunteer at the desk at Oconaluftee Visitor Center at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most frequent question on the phone was, "Is US 441 open through to Gatlinburg?"

That was easy to answer officially, either "yes" or "no."

But they were not all that easy. A woman called and asked if I knew where in Cherokee, North Carolina, the movie Digging to China was filmed. She was looking for the motel in the film. My first thought was, "It's a good thing that I answered this phone. I just happened to have seen this obscure movie."

I don't call a national park lightly. I scour the website several times for the information before I telephone. Then I ask to talk to someone who will know the official answer. And if the right person is away, he or she has actually called me back -- something that rarely happens when I call a company or store.

So the question is: Have you ever called a national park with a question that was not answered on the website? What has been your experience? Has anyone in the park called you back, if needed, with the information you requested?

Bonus question: If you work for the National Park Service and have worked in a visitor center, what was the most unsual question you've ever been asked?


I have called Great Smoky Mountains Natioanl Park on several occasions, either for myself or in response to calls we've received here at Friends of the Smokies. In my experience, whether dealing with a Park employee or a well-trained and experienced volunteer like you, Danny, it's better (faster & more accuaret) than Google!

I prefer e-mail over a call anytime, sending and receiving. The results with regard to mails to parks or NPS offices are mixed. Some answers were excellent, thorough, quick and incredibly helpful, far too many don't answer at all. Very few fall between that. So in my experience, when they answer, the reply usually is of high quality.

We were racing 80-90mph from Harlingen to Corpus Christi to get
Passport stamps and were running very short on time at Padre Island ...
not knowing how long the island was. I called ahead to ask them if they
were closing on time [yes!] ... and if we didnt make it, would they
stamp for us and tape an envelope to the door. "Of course" ... we got
there just as the Rangers were walking to their cars ... so we got our
stamps AND a chance to thank them personally.

Worked and volunteered in a few different visitor centers. My favorite question is "are you open?" Folks, if we weren't open, I wouldn't have answered the phone. I always stifle the sarcastic reply but it does give me a chuckle each time.

The last time the Grand Canyon engineered a flood on the Colorado River to restore beaches, someone called my boss:
My boss thinks, uh, oh. This won't be good.
"Dude! They're flooding the Grand Canyon! Where's a good place to go cliff jumping?"
Myself, I probably would have recommended the Skywalk.

I've called Rocky Mountain NP to get an up-to-date trail condition report before we decided to head out of the house for the hour drive up there.

Yes, on a number of occasions I've called Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and others. And I was never disappointed with the information I rec'd. But, I haven't done it since the internet was 'born.'

I once called the Jackson Visitor Center direct line at Mt Rainier. I wanted to ask about their showers in advance of my visit. They actually had two pay showers for 25 cents for 7 minutes. The guy who answered the phone was pleasant about it, but he described it as "7 minutes of warm water if you're lucky". That was the only pay showers I've ever heard of at an NPS visitor center. I guess now we're not even lucky enough to get any public showers at all in Mt Rainier. The new visitor center has no shower facilities. It's like they really don't want people to camp, or perhaps they want people to smell bad enough to scare off wildlife.

However, I couldn't find a live NPS employee or volunteer phone number for Yosemite other than the wilderness permit reservation line. I thought it might be intentional.

Um, yeah. I have been to around 100 NPS sites and I call every single one of them at least once before coming. Most of the rangers and volunteers are awesome and provide great info not found on the website. Events are not frequently posted for some sites which is important in getting the best experience. I also frequently get the best restaurant advise!

It's usually hard to get thru to the front desk of any of the parks lodges to ask questions-- you typically need to go thru Xanterra or something similar and if its short notice they never have an opening. If you can find the # to the dining room however you sometimes can get them to transfer you directly to the from desk. I've done ot twice--- at Grand Canyon( El Tovar) and Yellowstone (Old Faithful Inn) and got reservations at the last minute after Xanterra told me they were all booked up!!

Dick G has it nailed re trying to call park lodges. On 2/2/12, as I lay on the walkway on Geyser Hill at Yellowstone with what turned out to be a broken ankle (broken in 3 places!), my husband needed to call to alert the Rangers that we needed help. The only number we had in the cellphone was Xanterra. He got the switchboard, who DID NOT WANT to transfer his call to the Snow Lodge to get the ball rolling. After having to tell the operator more than twice that I was lying injured on the boardwalk, they finally transferred the call. Here I'll take the time to commend the Rangers, EMTs, etc that responded to our call for help. It wasn't easy getting me off those snowy, icy walkways but they managed it. The ride out of the park in a mattrack-ambulance was no picnic either but they all did their best not to cause me further discomfort and to put me at ease. A truly caring and professional group of people. They did the NPS proud that day!

Several years ago, I became interested in how Mount Rainier National Park apportioned it's annual budget amoungst it's various departments. Repeated requests by phone, e-mail and letter were ignored. Six months after I contacted the DC FOI office, the park mailed a copy of the page in the national NPS budget with a single line listing the park's annual budget amount for the previous year.

I was definitely left with the impression that NPS management considered such information none of the taxpayer's business. It seems to me the information I sought should be routinely posted on each park's website, if not on campground bulletin boards.

I don't call a national park lightly. I scour the website several times
for the information before I telephone. Then I ask to talk to someone
who will know the official answer. And if the right person is away, he
or she has actually called me back -- something that rarely happens when
I call a company or store.

I was once asked when the ranger's painted the Blue Ridge Mountains blue, because they were green when that visitor was there. I really don't know if she was serious. But she certainly fooled me.