Recent comments

  • Blue Ridge Parkway’s 75th Anniversary Celebration Begins   6 years 1 week ago

    dapster,

    I would encourage you to look at two places to find the answer to your question.

    First, think of the North Shore Road controversy over in Great Smokies. http://www.northshoreroad.info/index.htm
    You can read about it for yourself but it basically boiled down to a 1947 agreement whereby the feds foreclosed on people's land to build a dam/lake and promised to build a road in return. The road was never built, and over time the environmental and monetary costs of building it skyrocketed. Did the government uphold its word? No, and people were justified in asking the road be built. But did we NEED said road? Not really.

    Second, think of the Interstate 26 extension that runs from Asheville, NC northward to the Tennessee Tri-Cities area (Bristol, Kingsport, Johnsonville) near the TN/VA line. The extension is essentially a widening of the old US Hwy 23. Again, did we NEED the extension? Umm....probably not. But was it built? Yep. See http://www.mountainx.com/news/2003/0716tennessee.php

    What's this mean? If the proposed road can be sold to the right people and shown to have a positive impact on the economy, chances are that it'll go through.

    Also, as a footnote, construction on the Foothills Parkway on the TN side of the Smokies is still proceeding. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foothills_Parkway The government owns the right-of-way, so it's being built as money allows.

  • Blue Ridge Parkway’s 75th Anniversary Celebration Begins   6 years 1 week ago

    That's a great question, and one that I get asked all the time. I usually say a couple of things in answer:

    1. You are certainly right that due to NEPA especially (1969), there would be *vastly* more requirements that the impacts of this project be considered than were in place when most of the Parkway was built. Now the good news of this would be that local people who were going to be adversely affected would have much more voice in the deliberations about what would be done. But the bad news, of course, might be the failure of the project. In the late 1960s/early 1970s, there was a proposal to extend the Parkway from North Carolina southward into Georgia, to a point near Marietta. The same standards were set out for the Parkway that had been applied up to that time on the NC and VA portions. But opposition soon arose, largely from the environmental community, it seems, who objected to more road building through wilderness areas. There were some public hearings, and maybe an EIS, and eventually the project foundered and died. So . . . in this regard, I can certainly say that this would be a much more difficult project to put forward today than in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and 60s when a majority of the Parkway construction was done.

    2. BUT, on the other side of this, it is the case that somehow as a nation we do manage to continue to build highways all over the country. New Interstate corridors are built, bypasses are put in, old roads are widened, etc -- all of which certainly entails quite similar "impacts" on property owners and local citizens, not to mention the natural environment. And all of this continues to go on the post-NEPA age. So from that standpoint, I'd have to conclude that it would not be *impossible* to build the Parkway today, although it would certainly be more difficult (though, as I said above, possibly more fair).

    Does that help? I know that's a bit mushy, but these things are mushy. Enjoy your trip this weekend! The color should be just about at its peak, at least in some areas.

    Best,
    Anne Whisnant

    Anne Mitchell Whisnant, Ph.D.
    Historian & Author of Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History
    Chapel Hill, NC

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    I promised not to digress, yet I feel I must. One last time....

    Having worked at Fire Island National Seashore, I recognize the materials used to close beaches TEMPORARILY to protect nesting plovers. While the beaches are closed, again TEMPORARILY, the interdune regions of barrier islands are usually open to access and the bays behind them are also not affected.

    Frank C, you are correct Sir, that the initial intent of these closures are to be "Temporary". However, couple these temporary closures with:

    -Overwintering Population Closures (Birds)
    -Critical Habitat Designation (Birds)
    -Nesting Season Closures (Birds)
    -Fledging Season Closures (Birds)
    -Turtle Nesting Closures (Eggs laid)
    -Turtle "50-day window" Closures (Hatching)
    -Wilderness Study Areas (Year-round)
    -Safety Closures (Storms, beach erosion, etc.)
    -Closure Entry Violation Buffer Zone Expansions (Sporadic and Subjective)

    …And you have overlapping closures that can last year-round. These closure windows can be also be manipulated so that immense stretches of beach are closed for the entire summer season. Also, please remember that CHNSRA is operating under a Consent Decree, which has changed the rules dramatically. The environmental groups that wrote said decree have their own agenda.

    And closing an area to bikes or motorized vehicles is not the same as closing it to all entry.

    Again, correct Sir. However, the former can quite easily, and often times will, lead to the latter. That has been my point this entire thread. Nothing is sacred when it comes to access.

    Kurt, I second Beamis’ motion that this is a great topic to be discussed in another posting.

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    This certainly has been an enlightening and productive discussion. It has reinforced that NPS should base its management decisions on science and evidence rather than emotions and anecdote. Closing areas to the public, like beaches, caves, and canyons, should be based on the best science available and should be temporary unless science recommends otherwise. (As a former Zion ranger, I was also forbidden from visiting Parunuweap Canyon and agree with Beamis’ assessment of the situation there; politics, not science, were at play in this closure.) Studies have shown that snowmobiles are negatively impacting Yellowstone, but NPS management has ignored the science. Likewise, studies have shown that mountain bikes’ impacts are not greater than allowing hiking or horses, and again, management has ignored the science. One of the great problems of centralized management is its ability to be swayed against science. Certainly not all parks are suitable for mountain bike usage, but some are, and the non-scientific, one-size-fits-all approach currently employed by NPS management is harming rather than helping.

    Thanks Kurt for bringing the mountain bike issue to our attention.

  • Natchez Trace Parkway – Colorful Choice for a Southern Fall Trip   6 years 1 week ago

    What part of the Trace did you work at/in?

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    Parunuweap Canyon (the East Fork of the Virgin River), which occupies a huge chunk of eastern Zion National Park, has been closed to any and all access since 1992. Depending on whom you ask it is to protect a variety of things, including, but not limited to: some very low grade archeological sites, a scattered population of big horn sheep or a "pristine" riparian habitat (full of tamarisk, Russian olive trees and old tires that have washed down from a dump near Mt. Carmel Junction). Others will tell you, privately, that it was done by a previous superintendent to appease a millionaire landowner that did not want people hiking across his property to access the canyon, even though Utah law stipulates that ALL waterways and river drainages are in the public domain. This landowner even took control of an old county road and barred use of it, with nary a peep from any of the officials, local or federal, who are supposed to represent the interests of "we the people".

    There still remains no consistent answer as to why this gigantic area has been closed to any and all public access for the past 16 years because by now it has become so thoroughly shrouded in the mists of bureaucratic decision making that, much like the embargo against Cuba, it is so institutionally entrenched that no one bothers to even ask why. It just IS.

    Kurt, this would make an excellent subject for a future posting.

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    These sort of temporary closures are part and parcel of the park system, although I doubt there are many. That said, I believe that in Yellowstone some areas near Mount Washburn are permanently closed to humans due to grizzly bear habitat.

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    Having worked at Fire Island National Seashore, I recognize the materials used to close beaches TEMPORARILY to protect nesting plovers. While the beaches are closed, again TEMPORARILY, the interdune regions of barrier islands are usually open to access and the bays behind them are also not affected.

    When I worked at Lava Beds, some caves were temporarily closed to protect endangered bat breeding colonies. The caves were again reopened after the bats left, just like those beaches will be open once the plovers fly off.

    That pesky ol' "conserve" clause of the Organic Act gettin' in the way of the "enjoyment" clause.

    And closing an area to bikes or motorized vehicles is not the same as closing it to all entry.

  • National Park Quiz 25: Threatened and Endangered   6 years 1 week ago

    Thanks, Rick. I've been thinking about going to a once-a-month schedule for the national park quizzes beginning in January. Could you live with that? BTW, I'm always open to suggestions for themes. Guest quiz submissions, too. Would you like to try your hand at creating a quiz?

  • National Park Quiz 25: Threatened and Endangered   6 years 1 week ago

    Good quiz, Bob. Thanks for continuing to test our knowledge of our nation's national park areas.

    Rick Smith

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    Kurt,

    You are correct about the signage in these pictures. They were used to illustrate the point that "No Access" by any means does indeed exist in our National Parks.

  • How Will the Next Administration Deal With the Environment?   6 years 1 week ago

    Although, a link is provided to the full story, I have to quibble with the following characterization:
    "The Bush administration also did away with the popular National Parks Pass, a $50 gem that got you into any and all of the national park units as many times as you could squeeze into a calendar year."

    It should be noted that the National Parks Pass was only introduced in 2000 - so it only had a 7 year run. Before that time, you could only purchase a Golden Eagle Pass - which was similar to today's America the Beautiful Pass. So you can still get a single pass that will get you into "any and all of the National Park Units as many times as you could squeeze into a calendar year." Its not that they "did away with" the Pass - rather they expanded the terms of the pass and raised the price.

    Historically speaking, the price of the Golden Eagle was raised to $50 in 1997 ($68.16 in today's dollars). In 2000, the price of the Golden Eagle was raised to $65 ($82.58 in today's dollars), but the new National Parks Pass was established for $50 ($63.53 in today's dollars - or about $3.50 cheaper than what you would have paid in 1997 if you were only visiting National Parks). In 2007, we basically returned to the pre-1997 situation with a single pass for all Federal lands, at the new price of $80. The $80 this year is the same as $58.67 in 1997 dollars, so we are slowly returning back to that level.

    The price increases have obviously not been exactly in parallel with inflation, but it is worth noting that today's America the Beautiful pass is a better deal than the circa-2000 Golden Eagle when the National Parks Pass was first introduced.

  • Pruning the Parks: Mar-a-Lago National Historic Site (1972-1980) Was a Gift the National Park Service Couldn’t Afford to Keep   6 years 1 week ago

    According to the National Park Service, Mar-a-Lago National Historic Site never had a visible staff presence from the National Park Service and was never opened to the public. Unfortunately, the endowment left by Ms. Marjorie Merriweather Post for purposes of maintaining and operating the site proved to be insufficient for that purpose - and this was a major factor in the decision to delist this Unit. So sadly, you won't ever find a Mar-a-Lago National Historic Site NPS Brochure at a garage sale somewhere....

  • Natchez Trace Parkway – Colorful Choice for a Southern Fall Trip   6 years 1 week ago

    I am sure it was the people but after spending several years working at large western parks, I finished my short lived NPS career at this GEM. The folks that lived on and around this park truly knew the meaning of hospitality and the park staff were true stewards to their responsibility. The "Trace" is a great park.

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    Dapster, I might be wrong, but I believe those signs are only erected during nesting of migratory birds and have nothing to do with wilderness. I've seen similar signs at Cape Cod National Seashore to protect nesting plovers.

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    Sorry for straying, but it's still in context, sorta...

    So, when you talk about 2.58 percent of the lower 48 being designated as wilderness, is that so threatening?

    Not at all, when you look at just the percentages against the entire landmass. If that 2.58% includes 90% of your favorite area, then it makes a difference.

    And really, let's be truthful, wilderness areas are not off-limits to humans. They are off-limits to motorized and mechanical vehicles and devices, but open to those on foot, cross-country skis, canoes, kayaks, snowshoes and probably some other non-mechanical means that don't come immediately to mind.

    I can't speak for the WSA situation in Utah, as I've never been there. I will take your word at face value on that.

    What I can speak about are the signs that I now see in my favorite areas. If these areas are designated WSA’s, I’m certain the text on the signage closing them off will be strikingly similar to these:

    “No Entry”. Period.

    I don’t wish this on anyone.

    I won’t digress any further. My apologies.

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    Well, we're really starting to stray off-topic, but in a substantive way that begs a separate post of its own.

    Wilderness and wilderness study areas (WSAs) are interesting units. Some see them as protecting the last vestiges of true "wild lands" in this country, others see them as tools to thwart recreation, as Dapster fears is the case at Cape Hatteras.

    In Utah there are WSAs that seem to exist only in name, as ORVs run rampant across parts of them and county officials ignore travel restrictions, some of which were imposed to protect endangered and threatened species.

    Now, if you believe Wikipedia, "(A)pproximately 100 million acres (400,000 km²) are designated as wilderness in the United States. This accounts for 4.71% of the total land of the country; however, 54% of wilderness is in Alaska, although recreation and development in Alaskan wilderness is often less restrictive, and only 2.58% of the lower continental United States is designated as wilderness."
    So, when you talk about 2.58 percent of the lower 48 being designated as wilderness, is that so threatening?

    And really, let's be truthful, wilderness areas are not off-limits to humans. They are off-limits to motorized and mechanical vehicles and devices, but open to those on foot, cross-country skis, canoes, kayaks, snowshoes and probably some other non-mechanical means that don't come immediately to mind.

    I think the key is to keep things in perspective. I don't think wilderness designation or WSAs are going to lock humanity out of its recreational pursuits. And if they save some truly spectacular places for future generations to enjoy or simply take comfort in knowing they exist, what's wrong with that?

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    Beamis,

    Thanks for coming to my aid. Your quote below said it far more eloquently than my initial attempt:

    The truth of the matter is that the NPS has been closing areas to ANY kind of access at alarming rates over the past ten years. By taking the nebulous terms "pristine" and "wilderness" and then draping it over a particular piece of territory in a national park it can then be closed off to public access.

    A move is afoot in the CHNSRA to assign a "Wilderness Study Area" designation to some of the most beautiful and family oriented beaches on the island. These same stretches of beach have historically dismal bird nesting statistics, and the statistics are no better under the imposed Consent Decree of April 2008 and the removal of ORV’s and people for much of the summer. Such a designation will close these beaches to all humans, probably forever. These designated areas will almost certainly not decrease in size over time, and reasons for expanding them will crop up at every turn.

    So dapster isn't very far off the mark about the increasing hostility to ALL forms of usage by a militant and zealous element in public land management agencies that tend to see humanity as a scourge to be eradicated from the warm and fuzzy bosom of their sacred patch of dear Mother Earth.

    This statement mirrors my greatest fear about public land access. Once the banning gets started, it tends to gain momentum. As I have stated before, hiking could be eradicated for the exact same reasons people site for banning mountain bikes. If your chosen mode of access becomes unpopular with the wrong group, look out. A lawsuit to end it is generally the next step.

    I pray that you folks never have to hear the words “Buffer Zones” and “Wilderness Study Areas” in context to your chosen mode of access, or your favorite access sights. However, I fear we shall all hear these words and phrases ad nauseum in the years to come. These designations simply mean that humans are not welcome, for any reason, under any mode of transport.

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    Thanks for the links. Definitely some interesting reading. As to some of your other questions/points:

    >>...why does NPT challenge only certain "recreation activities"? Why not challenge driving and lodges since those high-impact activities are provided elsewhere?<<

    Well, for starters, it'd be pretty hard -- fiscally, politically, and socially -- to tear out the lodges and roads. I think one needs to look at realistic possibilities, and to lobby for the removal of these facilities would be tilting at windmills. That said, at the Traveler we have had internal discussions about how one would design the perfect national park and there was mention of locating all the lodging facilities outside the boundaries and using public transportation to minimize that footprint. We're still evolving this idea and hope to have something relatively soon.

    >>I don't think allowing mountain bikes on old fire roads in the backcountry is inappropriate; I don't think anyone's asking for new trails to be cut.<<

    We agree on that point, of opening old dirt roads, administrative roads, to mountain bikes. And considering Traveler's stance on that, I think it's unfair -- or, to use a word that seems to have caught on with some on these pages, "disingenuous" -- to say the Traveler is entirely "challenging" mountain bike use in the parks.

    As for new trails being cut, well, that's what's transpiring at Big Bend.

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    One study that found that "biking and hiking generally had similar effects on vegetation and soil." It also cites a 1994 study where the authors found that "horses made more sediment available to erosion than mountain bikes, hikers or motorcycles, which did not differ significantly from each other or from the control."

    Another study found that opinions of bikers by hikers "are found to be more positive among those walkers who had actual encounters with bikes. By contrast, more negative opinions were found among those who had no such encounters."


    Yet another study
    demonstrates "the findings from this study reinforce results from previous research that certain impacts to mountain bike trails, especially width, are comparable or less than hiking or multiple-use trails, and significantly less than impacts to equestrian or off-highway vehicle trails."

    The IMBA published summary of studies on mountain bike effects.

    Kurt asked, "But why is it necessary that all recreational activities be permitted in national parks? Put another way, must the national parks be open to any and all activities simply because there's a support group that wants access?" Well, Beamis gave the short answer. But additionally, why does NPT challenge only certain "recreation activities"? Why not challenge driving and lodges since those high-impact activities are provided elsewhere?

    I don't think allowing mountain bikes on old fire roads in the backcountry is inappropriate; I don't think anyone's asking for new trails to be cut.

    "Let the people walk. Or ride horses, bicycles, mules, wild pigs -- anything -- but keep the automobiles and the motorcycles and all their motorized relatives out."

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    Perhaps you could point out where those studies can be found, Zebulon.

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    Bikes don't cause more damage than hikers. It's been scientifically proven. On the other hand, horses do. Well designed trails last for a long time, especially, if they're closed to all use for a reasonable period of time after a rain.

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    Both bikes and horses definitely can be more damaging per user to trail tread and adjacent vegetation than hikers. Bike damage is usually incision on steeper grades. Strings of pack animals can also do this in weak soils, but their specialty is churning the flatter riparian sections to mud holes. At least bikes don't defecate, so they spread fewer weed seeds, especially with conscientious tire washing.

    Parks that allow extensive stock use end up subsidizing that very small user group with higher trail standards and more expensive bridges. Decades ago, Mount Rainier concession pack strings avoiding lingering snow banks caused most of the trail/meadow damage now blamed on hikers and skiers at Paradise. I'm not arguing for bike use, just agreeing with Beamis that the NPS has been inconsistent at best on access for various recreation types.

    Beamis correctly points out the broader context and political meddling in many access issues. See http://www.powdermag.com/onlineexclusives/crystal_110504/ for another example of the questionable NPS manipulation of "pristine" & "Wilderness" along the NE boundary of MRNP. Some in the skiing community saw this as an attempt to shakedown the USFS or its ski concessionaire to obtain a NPS concession license,

    Sometimes excluding the public or restricting an activity is just the easiest and most convenient arrow in management's quiver. Accident statistics don't rise, and there’s less chance of a hard-working Ranger having some pesky visitor emergency make him late for dinner.

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    Key words: fire truck.

    I can understand your point of view if it was a truck randomly driving around...but it's a fire truck. I'll take whatever damage fire trucks cause instead of a giant fire.

  • IMBA: Not Every Park Suitable For Mountain Biking, No Interests, Currently, For Trails in Wilderness Areas   6 years 1 week ago

    Richard, the box you refer to came from a page on IMBA's web site regarding frequently asked questions and wilderness areas.