Recent comments

  • Trails I've Hiked: Half Dome, Yosemite National Park   5 years 48 weeks ago

    Kurt is a fast hker! 9+ hours is flying! Most folks will take about 10-12 hours to do the hike. First timers may take 13-14 hours. Hey, it's not a race - have fun! I usually stay about 45 mins at the summit but I start to get stiff and it's time to head back. I suggest doing a little stretching on top. there is no reason to hustle along - have fun and make stops at the Falls. I get going about 5:30 am. On weekends I want to be at the cables by 11 am or face a line. Getting up the cables is way easier at your own pace. People freeze up (there is no one "in charge" to get people moving). Average time up unimpeded is about 20 mins. Figure 45-60 mins on a jammed Summer day after noon.

    Good luck - the cables are up mid-May depending on the weather/snow conditions. Late may is a safe date for your reservations.

    Rick Deutsch
    http://www.HikeHalfDome.com

  • Trails I've Hiked: Half Dome, Yosemite National Park   5 years 48 weeks ago

    Steve,

    For many folks this can be a 9+ hour hike, especially when you factor in time on top gazing around. I think I started at 8 a.m. and was back in the valley by 5 or 5:30 p.m. But, of course, it all depends on how fast of a hiker you and any others in your group are as well as if there's a line of folks working their way up the cables.

  • Trails I've Hiked: Half Dome, Yosemite National Park   5 years 48 weeks ago

    This article says "early start of the day" - how early do you recommend we should start the hike?

  • First Ladies National Historic Site Struggles to Attract Visitors   5 years 48 weeks ago

    -- Congress almost never sets the specific fund level for the operations of a national park. There is no line-item for park operations.

    Congress will increase overall funding to parks, sometimes across the board but more commonly by an increase that is distributed down the priority list by the National Park Service for needed park increases. That list is identified and prioritized by the National Park Service. Operation funding almost never funded through line-item allocation by Congress. It is true that congressional staffers are trying to lean more dangerously in that direction, and that the NPS does provide its priority operations list of needs to the Congress, but that list is almost never changed by line-item adjustments by Congress.

    Out of the hundreds of parks, if congress ever changed two a year, it would be notable.

    -- Just like visitation does not ALWAYS drive funding increases, reduced visitation cannot always permit a budget cut. The example Rangertoo gives of Grant's Tomb is an example. After the events of September 11, the number of visits dropped, as I remember by an order of magnitude of around 30%, more or less. But the size of the site has a bare minimum number of staff to accomplish the functions, regardless of visitation. For example, although Grant's Tomb is roughly the size of the Lincoln Memorial (that has many more staff), Grant's Tomb has only one janitor/maintenance worker at the site. Again, with the large size of the building and grounds, it cannot function without this worker, and frankly I don't understand how that one worker can accomplishe as much as she does. Even if you were to shut down the building to visitors altogether, you would still have significant tasks taking care of the grounds because they could not be closed to visits. There are several other examples at Grants Tomb, and several other parks around the country with similar problems, that could not be cut back without significant, and far more expensive, loss to the park resource itself.

    -- Because all the parks are so different, in size and resource character and in the kind of costs for their needs, trying to put together a "one size fits all" central management system has been the fool's errant for those who seem constantly to attempt it.

    Parks are strongest when the management is closest to the ground, closest to the visitor, closest to the specific character of that individual park. I have seen the budget manager in Washington try to get into decisions about the appropriate level of funding in an individual park, and it is a pretty sorry site to watch. Rangertoo, I fear your proposed central budget management system IS NOT A GOOD IDEA.

    The better system is to build strong communication networks among park managers in geographic zones to identify the greatest needs, and place the ultimately priority setting responsibility in the Regional Office, in the hands of the same person who supervises and is accountable for the performance of each superintendent. That Regional Office knows that if it sends bloated or unsupportable priorities to Washington, its Region will lose out to the other Regions.

    -- It would be great to think that this system could also redistribute money from the "fat" parks to the broke ones, and that method was tried by Roger Kennedy and John Reynolds in the 1990's when they were Director and Deputy. Although it may be true that part of the problem is one park is simply not going to try to raid the treasury of another and no distributions happened, it is the higher reality that almost all parks have been cut so much over the years that there are no fat parks.

    -- Efforts to cut park budgets more by "finding fat," the idea that some are wasting money and need to be found out so funds can be redistributed, have been a disaster. They have cost far more than they have saved.

    But the worst thing about all the current "accounability" efforts has been that parks are distracted from managing the park, and are more and more managing the administrative system, in closed-loop communication with the Office of Management and Budget and Washington beancounters. If that effort were put back into the primary mission, managing the park and providing for visitor experience, parks would be better off. And taxpayers would get a bigger bang for the buck.

    These "accountability" systems are just a way of trying to blame the Victim -- the park and the public who wants to enjoy that park -- for the failure to fund the national parks at an operational level equal to the level provided in the '60's and the '70's (adjusted to today's dollars) Plus, often unfunded or incompletely funded are the new tasks required of the agency, such as the accountability systems, environmental compliance systems, safety and maintenance management systems, planning requirements, communications systems, contracting rules, etc etc etc.

    These REAL problems, the reduced (de facto) budgets and underfunded new obligations, so dwarf the "efficiencies" sought through new "accountability" systems and new "reorganizations" that it is silly to think these systems can possibly be the panacea.

    They are just ways to blame the victim, instead of forcing the President and the Congress to address the funding problems for parks. They are just devices for starving the National Park System out of existence, and blaming the parks and park people for the problem.

  • First Ladies National Historic Site Struggles to Attract Visitors   5 years 48 weeks ago

    Dear Frank C:

    Regarding your point on "an NPS business model," if you look early on in this thread, Rangertoo makes the point that Rep Ralph Regula made this park happen. Therefore, this was NEVER a concept within an original national park service plan, much less business plan.

    This park was established (my memory is it happened only around 8 years ago, not 28) at a time when the lead Republican staffer for the House Appropriations subcommittee for the Dept of the Interior, the NPS and other agencies, tyranized and micro-managed the NPS and terrified the not-very-distinguished group of NPS bureaucrats who ran the show in the washington office. They totally rolled over to Ralph Regula, and happily even drafted the bill in the way he wanted, and did not fight it. The appropriations committee would have eaten them for a snack if they had objected.

    Things like this, and like Steamtown, are pretty rare.

    The biggest thing wrong with the site is: there is no particular reason that this is the right place for it. Mrs. McKinley? Is she who you think about, is Canton the place you think about when you think of First Ladies (if you think about any other than Eleanor Roosevelt, that is).

    There have been several efforts to establish a National Park System Plan, or a blueprint, for establishing new parks or landmark theme studies. Under no circumstances would this site have been the place NPS planners would have thought about if they even thought a "first ladies" park was a good idea.

    PS: I was a little involved in the creation of Eleanor Roosevelt's historic site in Hyde Park. The overwhelming-stated attitude of the Republicans congressMEN at the time is that "First Ladies" should not have a site. Although, it frankly just sounded like a smoke-screen for the fact that they still hated Eleanor. Anyway, we needed to demonstrate that the accomplishments of Eleanor Roosevelt, as an historic figure in her own right, went way beyond her just being a first lady, just to get it established.

    But when a big dog like Regula, as a Republican, wants a new site in Ohio he gets it, and the point is driven home by the otherwise restrictive appropriations committee staff. It is events like this one and Steamtown that give the lie to the idea that Republican's restraint on the NPS is a budgetary matter. When they want to, they are happy to blow the money.

  • Survey Predicts Change in National Park Gun Regulations Will Lead to Wildlife Shootings, Management Problems   5 years 48 weeks ago

    I certainly agree with these true experts (in my opinion). Having a loaded gun handy will surely lead to problems. Too many people these days do not have any common sense and do not take responsibility for their actions. Guns in National Parks will lead to unnecessary wildlife deaths and unnecessary human conflicts.

  • Interior Officials Planning To Make It Easier for Mountain Bikers to Gain Backcountry Access in Parks   5 years 48 weeks ago

    While I do not support allowing bikes into the backcountry, I do think the current regulations are a little too strict. The current regulations prohibit bicycles on anything other than roads unless a special regulation is written as described in the story. In the middle are multi-use trails built specifically for bicycles and pedestrians. These are usually 8 feet wide and hard-surfaced. Even though these are built to handle bikes, parks must actually go through the long and expensive process of writing a regulation to allow bikes on these trails. As a result, most parks with these trails have never written a regulation - they just allow them. Since the trail planning process usually has public comment and NEPA compliance, it would be benefitial to have a regulation that allows bikes on trails designed and built for that purpose as long as the trail planning had the proper public comment and compliance.

  • Threats to the Parks: Biscayne National Park   5 years 48 weeks ago

    Understanding what has gone wrong and why is a vital step in the process of repairing damage. In the case of Biscayne National Park, the National Park Service has a very good grasp of the basic facts -- that is, the agency understands the nature and severity of the problems besetting the park. The major obstacle is inadequate resources. There just isn't enough money, staffing, and other essentials, including political capital. Sadly, Biscayne is being so heavily used (and abused) that managers will be hard pressed to keep the park's natural resources situation from markedly worsening. It's very frustrating for resource managers, at Biscayne or anywhere else, to know that they must run faster and faster just to stay in place.

    Traveler will continue to monitor and report on resource management issues and actions at Biscayne. As you've suggested, we'll try to find out more about individuals and organizations that are helping out so we can tell our readers about that too.

  • Woman Dies in Fall From Angel's Landing   5 years 48 weeks ago

    My daughter & I hiked Angel's Landing 3 years ago--September 2005. She was not quite 11 at the time (very tall for her age, long legs). We read up on it first, including pics & videos, wore appropriate footwear, and approached the hike with respect & foresight. We didn't have any trouble. We hike regularly, but nothing as exposed as AL. She still talks about it at least once a month--it is a memory & accomplishment she'll have for a lifetime. You have to know yourself & whoever you are with; your strengths & weaknesses & respect your instincts. The most important trail advice is above--don't rely on the chains solely--have secure footing without holding on to them. They can be very dangerous--especially when someone in back of you grabs hold & "springs" the chain, making it bounce & fly around--if you are not sure of your footing, you could easily lose it there. In making the choice to take my daughter at her age; the biggest factor was that I knew that first, if she was too scared or unsure to go on, she would tell me; and second, that I knew she'd follow directions immediately (like STOP!) without any attitude or hesitation. Several kids in her Scout troop want me to take them when we go camping in Zion--NO WAY!! Because of those two factors--not sure which ones I could trust to behave. Good luck to anyone trying the hike--it is truly an experience to last a lifetime.

  • Threats to the Parks: Biscayne National Park   5 years 48 weeks ago

    this was really helpful!! It makes people inspired to help out.! You should make a page about how people have helped out.

  • Interior Officials Planning To Make It Easier for Mountain Bikers to Gain Backcountry Access in Parks   5 years 48 weeks ago

    Great thats just one more thing for hikers to think about; when some fool racing down a trail on his or her mountain bike runs you over comming around a corner; or over a rise. So much for a peaceful hike in the woods.

  • Woman Dies in Fall From Angel's Landing   5 years 48 weeks ago

    5 of us went on the AL trail several years ago. 1 stopped at the beginning of the "danger zone". 2 of us (including me) stopped at the next "landing" and 2 others did the entire trail. The key is common sense and knowing yourself. we laugh at each other now, but there was no "peer pressure" (age 29 then) from the others that day. Every person needs to decide for themselves. beautiful country from any viewpoint.

  • The Lost Arrow Spire Highline in Yosemite National Park is a Slackliner’s Dream and an Acrophobe’s Nightmare   5 years 48 weeks ago

    Interesting article, Bob, one that perhaps will raise a discussion about whether this a good practice/sport in the parks?

    The folks in Arches National Park have outlawed slacklining. I'm not exactly sure why off the top of my head, but it might have to do with protecting both an individual's safety as well as park resources.

    And while you note Dean Potter's slacklining in Yosemite, don't forget that he got in just a little bit of trouble for climbing Delicate Arch in Arches. He's not the best representative for the climbing industry.

  • Is Bush Administration Moving to Shuck Some Congressional Oversight on Public Lands Management?   5 years 48 weeks ago

    Rick, just like the bailout of corporate criminals on Wall Street and the clowns from Homeland Security who grope me every time I try to fly to Pittsburgh, you've gotta realize by now that centrally controlled government is the worst way to run anything.

    I mean ANYTHING!

  • Is Bush Administration Moving to Shuck Some Congressional Oversight on Public Lands Management?   5 years 48 weeks ago

    I hope everyone sees the pattern that is developing in the waning days of this Administration. The Interior Department proposes: changing gun regs in the parks; establishing new mountain biking regs for the parks; fast tracking 6 new management plans for BLM lands in Utah that will increase off road vehicle use and resources development in these areas; eliminating the requirement for USF&WS consultation on proposals that may impact endangered species; and ignoring Congressional action on mining around Grand Canyon. The Administration also ordered wildlife agencies to ignore global warming as a potential impact on endangered species, saying that no single cause could be isolated as causing direct or indirect impacts. These agencies were also told to ignore the cumulative effects of climate change because they are of no relevance in determing whether the proposed action has an effect on a listed species or critical habitat.

    They are trying to accomplish through regulatory change that which they could not accomplish legislatively. It's not a pretty picture.

    Rick Smith

  • First Ladies National Historic Site Struggles to Attract Visitors   5 years 48 weeks ago

    This is a great discussion. I agree, that cost per visitor is not a valid measure of the value of a park or its costs. Somethings are worth protecting, not at any cost, but at a reasonable cost for effective preservation and management. I mention the cost of Isle Royale per visitor because it is a direct analogy to the original story of the cost of managing First Ladies. I would support taking the $1 million from First Ladies, de-authorizing, the site and giving the money to Isle Royale even if that did increase the cost per visitor there!

    The point is, the funding of the national parks make no sense at all. Current park budgets are a hodge podge history of add ons, boosts, and additions over time that only go up and never go down. Even with declining visitation at places like Carlsbad Cavers or Grant's Tomb, you will not see a park's budget decrease and the money allocated to a park with growing visitation, added lands, or new challenges. This is unique among all federal agencies: no other agency is funded by Congress from the bottom up. National Forests, wildlife refuges, even military bases, are not funded by line-item allocations from Congress. This means that inefficiencies and the ineffective expenditures of budgets will continue because the central office of the NPS has no ability to analyze needs across the national park system and allocate funding accordingly to meet those needs and emerging challenges. In my opinion, advocating for a change to the budget system is the single most powerful thing the Director and the Secretary of the Interior could do to improve the national parks. True, more money is needed, but we could be doing a lot more with the current budget put in the right places.

  • Yorktown Day – Our Country's "Other Birthday"   5 years 48 weeks ago

    Jim,

    Thanks for a great article about this event. I wish I could attend this year, but sadly have prior commitments.

    Yorktown and the "Historic Triangle" areas including Jamestown and Williamsburg are a must-see if your ever in that part of Virginia. The area is rife with Colonial history and period structures, as well as National Battlefields and parks from both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

    I've been on the Godspeed several times, as she makes fairly regular visits to assorted events in the area throughout the year. It's quite a sight to behold, and all the hands on deck actually sail her to and from the various locations. Said crew members are also more than glad to show you below decks, as well as answer any questions as to vessel design and operation. Built as part of the Jamestown 400th anniversary celebration, she sailed as far as Boston harbor on an East Coast tour beginning in 2006. May she continue to ply the seas for many years to come!

    Many of the Colonial-era reenactments can be seen during other times of the year at the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area, for
    those who cannot make the Yorktown event.

  • Musings from Yosemite National Park   5 years 48 weeks ago

    Mr. Repanshek provided a fair and unbiased account of Yosemite. The park is so huge and diverse (ranging from a few thousand feet in elevation to over 13,000 feet) that it would be difficult to mention in detail Hetch Hetchy, sequoia groves, wilderness, and the biological diversity in every article.

    Many thanks to Mr. Repanshek for this article.

  • First Ladies National Historic Site Struggles to Attract Visitors   5 years 48 weeks ago

    The point, thought, is to protect for American interest and education what is important to America, and not the money.

    Gosh, I wish that was reflected in my visit to Lewis and Clark NHS this weekend. I visited Fort Clatsop on Sunday, and my wife and I had some substantive questions (not just "Where's the bathroom?") that required an interpreter. Unfortunately, the uniformed ranger at the VC desk seemed more concerned about taking entrance fees than answering our questions (even though there were three volunteers at the desk who could have taken the fees at the register). She blew us off mid-answer to collect fees at the register. I know this is only one instance, but I've seen similar examples at other parks. (I won't go into the double taxation of the current fee structure here.)

    But coming back to my previous question. d-2: You mention that many parks have business plans. What about business models? If so, what model do they use? Can you describe a business plan in use? It might be a semantic difference, but a general management plan and a business plan/model seem two different things.

    There are units in the system for protection only.

    MRC, if this is true, then why are so many FTE employees needed for these protection-only units? Which units are for protection only (and not enjoyment by the people)? It seems to me that the Organic Act's dual mandate indicates otherwise. (However, I'd readily vote to alter the Organic Act to mandate only protection, in which case,it would not seem that the NPS would need so many maintenance workers, LE rangers, and most importantly, administrators.)

  • First Ladies National Historic Site Struggles to Attract Visitors   5 years 48 weeks ago

    Dear Frank C:

    --There is a process, in law, for the establishment of new national parks.

    -- Many parks do have business plans.

    -- MRC is right about what matters in establishing a national park. These are places the nation decides it needs to set aside for the sake of what it means to be American. Visitation matters, but ultimately it is not what is essential about every park site. The site itself, and why it is important to America is what matters.

    -- On generating money from sites, people have been trying to get the balance right since parks were first created. The point, thought, is to protect for American interest and education what is important to America, and not the money.

    -- There is a charming feature of the character of America, that, like you and perhaps me and most of us to some extent, sees itself as living beyond or dispite of the efforts of the last 3000 years to bring civilization to the human condition, but only survives because of that civilization. Most peoples who settled America brought with them these charming tales of the good anarchist, such as Robin Hood. Even the act of setting aside wildlands and some of our national parks reflect this contrarian american spirit. But in the end, most sane people accept the need to sustain civilization and order; this spirit of cooperation is also part of America, and more to the point than coersion.

    Parks are part of that great sense of American cooperation. We can work to perfect how they work, but in the end just shaking our fist at the sky, objecting to any government at all, is a whole other discussion.

  • Musings from Yosemite National Park   5 years 48 weeks ago

    MRC, if you're going to beat up on poor Mr. Repanshek for failing to mention Hetch Hetchy in a Yosemite article, you're going to need to build a better case. Go to the Search box at top right on the Traveler home page, type in "Hetch Hetchy," and do a search. You'll note that Kurt has repeatedly mentioned Hetch Hetchy in his Yosemite-relevant Traveler articles. (The count is actually higher than what you'll see; we have a seriously deficient Search feature here at Traveler). We strongly agree that drowning Hetch Hetchy was a travesty, and nobody will be happier than Kurt and me when the O'Shaughnessy Dam is removed and that gorgeous valley is revealed and healed.

  • Musings from Yosemite National Park   5 years 48 weeks ago

    This is the second article on Yosemite National Park in a short time - and both failed to mention Hetch Hetchy. Is it really appropriate for the Traveler to showcase the park without mentioning the single most destructive event in the history of the National Park System?

  • First Ladies National Historic Site Struggles to Attract Visitors   5 years 48 weeks ago

    The per visitor costs are leading nowhere. Do you want to apply it to Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve with its 26 visitors in 2007? Or Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska with 13,521? There are units in the system for protection only. Protection of nature or of historic places or buildings. Those can't be evaluated by the number of visitors. Of course it is valid to ask if a unit deserves the protection. And I won't defend First Ladies NHS. I am unsure if the First Ladies deserve a unit at all and I certainly believe Ms McKinley's home is the wrong place for it.

  • First Ladies National Historic Site Struggles to Attract Visitors   5 years 48 weeks ago

    d-2:

    The "business model" comment was originally Mr. Repanshek's. I was asking what type of business model the NPS uses. It doesn't seem like there is one, but I stand ready to be corrected. As you and Rangertoo have aptly pointed out, there seems to have been no business model for First Ladies. And while it's debatable how "rare" Steamtowns and First Ladies have become in recent years, there seems to be no business model for most national parks because the government does not operate like a business; its revenue is appropriated indirectly through a coercive political system. Since it's a monopoly funded by coercion, the "customer relationship" is one-sided.

    Mr. Repanshek that "some units of the National Park System [are] invaluable in what they represent to the country and so worth the investment", and I agree but think those "some" that are worth the investment usually could be self-supporting. (Yosemite comes to about $7.50 a person; Zion $2.50; Yellowstone $10.71; Crater Lake $10.00; even smaller parks like Lava Beds only cost $15 per person.) The subsidization of some parks causes inefficiencies. Do we need 19 FTE federal employees at Grant-Kohrs Ranch for 20,000 visitors while Fort Vancouver serves 35 times as many visitors with only 4 more FTE?

    I think that if something is important enough to be preserved by the federal government, there should be enough demand to efficiently operate a site. There must be enough "target customers"; if there is not enough demand, the federal government should not assume that merely by the creation of sites will the demand arise afterward. That's a poor business model by any standard.

    So, yes, the NPS should take a serious look at their business models, especially in light of the upcoming bankruptcy of the federal government.

  • Sky-High Ginseng Prices Boost Illegal Harvest in Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park   5 years 48 weeks ago

    I would have to say you are still wrong in that Aspect of "quality" I have found roots well over fourty five years old in a woods of only about 6acres, (my own woods.)